FAU Baseball Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
Friday, February 24, 6:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, February 25, 4:00 p.m. ET
Sunday, February 26, 12:00 p.m. ET
Friday: Jonathan Stiever, RPH (0-1, 1.59 ERA) at Alex House, RHP (1-0, 3.00 ERA)
Saturday: Tim Herrin (1-0, 0.00 ERA) at Jake Miednek (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sunday: Brian Hobbie (0-1, 5.40 ERA) at Nick Swan (0-0, 21.00 ERA)
The conference affiliation and school name might not suggest that Indiana is in for a tough test when they face Conference USA’s Florida Atlantic Owls this weekend, but the Hoosiers know that is not the case.
Chris Lemonis said that the Owls have a “physical lineup,” and “some really good arms,” at media availability on Wednesday. He added, “It’s a program I don’t know if people in our part of the country realize how good they are. They’ve been in a couple of regionals, John McGormick, their head coach, is a really good head coach and they’ve got it going on down there.”
It will be the second weekend in a row to start the 2017 season that the Hoosiers face stout competition. Last week, in Surprise, Arizona, they faced 2016 NCAA qualifier Gonzaga and No. 8 Oregon State twice each, sweeping the Zags and falling twice to the Beavers. “We purposely put together a schedule that would test us with regional teams,” Lemonis said. “Our first two weekends have been all regional type teams and some of the better teams in the country.”
The Owls will trot out the same three starters that went on their opening weekend, which resulted in three wins over a lowly Monmouth program. The Hoosiers can also expect to see Sean Labsan and Marc Stewart, two of the FAU’s starters from last season, make their season debuts from the bullpen.
Indiana’s pitching will need to be just as sharp as it was over the first three games of their opening weekend as it was the Owl offense that carried the club to a 3-0 start, erupting for 34 runs. They were led by Tyler Frank who, in those three games, had 10 hits in 17 at-bats, four of the extra base variety, and drove in 7 runs. Not to be totally outdone, Esteban Puerta hit two dingers and drove in 11 runs. In all, the Owls recorded 41 hits for a .373 average over the first weekend and hit five home runs to help the cause.
FAU knows, however, that they are not facing another Monmouth this weekend. Indiana is a big and physical Big 10 team," FAU Coach John McCormack said. "They're going to pitch well and defend, and look for some timely hitting. They're good baseball players and are well-coached. Chris and his staff do a really good job and come from really good programs. It's a very rich baseball and athletic tradition and we're looking forward to playing them. It's going to be a good weekend.”
The Hoosiers were led offensively by Ryan Fineman and Jake Matheny while in Arizona. Fineman went 5-for-12 and Matheny, in his first collegiate contests, hit two home runs and drove in five RBIs. But they will need more this weekend, and moving forward, from Craig Dedelow (3-for-16) and Logan Sowers (2-for-15), as well as Austin Cangelosi and Scotty Bradley who went a combined 1-for-15.
Indiana fans should also keep an eye on Luke Miller. The sophomore who was a standout freshman a year ago had just one at-bat over the weekend. When asked on Wednesday if that was due to injury, Lemonis said that was the case and that while Miller is day-to-day, he expects him to see a lot more playing time this weekend. “Yeah, he’s just coming back. He’ll be used a lot more this weekend. It’s a day-to-day thing with him so we will see him out there and he’ll be back.”
First pitch on Friday is at 6:30 p.m.
WHAT TO EXPECT
You generally expect the pitching to be slightly ahead of the hitting at this point in the season as offenses have not had enough live work to get their timing down and round into form. We saw this in each of the games that Indiana played last weekend, except for the 12-run outburst in their second game of opening day. But that was not the case for Florida Atlantic last weekend against Monmouth. The Owls were way ahead of the curve. If they stay hot, it will require Indiana’s young pitching to be just as good as they were last week to give the Hoosiers some wins.
It’s hard to imagine that the young arms can turn in such stellar performances as the ones we saw from Stiever, Herrin, and Andrew Saalfrank two weekends in a row. But it’s also hard to imagine that Dedelow, Sowers, Cangelosi, and Bradley go 6-for-46 again. Don’t be surprised if we see two or three games in the mid-scoring range this weekend, 5-4, 8-6-type games.
Also, don’t be surprised to see Luke Miller back in the lineup for a couple games, at least at the DH position. And thus, don’t be surprised to see Indiana’s lineup fare better than last weekend. Miller makes the Hoosiers’ lineup that much longer as a tough out anywhere he hits.
And finally, hopefully you can expect to see more patience from the Hoosiers. Last weekend, Indiana struck out 45 times in just four contests. Out of 152 plate appearances, that comes out to a 29.6% strike out rate. Just as a comparison, last year’s Big Ten regular season champions, Minnesota, struck out in just 16.3% of their plate appearances. The Hoosiers will need to make sure it was a one-weekend problem, not foreshadowing for the rest of 2017.