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2018 Indiana baseball preview: Pitching set to power Hoosiers

From Stiever to Lloyd, the Hoosiers’ pitching staff should be the Big Ten’s best. They may just be good enough to earn a trip to Omaha.

Indiana will turn to Jonathan Stiever on Friday nights.
Eddie Koton

The Hoosiers are now just eight days from opening their season in Myrtle Beach against the Oklahoma Sooners. In Part II of our 2018 season preview, we talk about Indiana’s pitching staff. Stay tuned in the coming days for a look at the schedule, the rest of the Big Ten, and some Crimson Quarry predictions.

At this time last season, an incredible amount of uncertainty surrounded the Indiana pitching staff. Kyle Hart, Caleb Baragar, and Jake Kelzer were gone and a slew of mostly-inexperienced, young arms were left to fill some might big shoes. But by the time Big Ten play was beginning, several young Hoosiers had settled into their roles nicely and the staff got its act together enough to earn the Hoosiers a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

This season, Indiana returns one of the most experienced staff’s in the country, and the Big Ten’s best.

Projected Weekend Starters

Jonathan Stiever - In 2017, Stiever had an up-and-down campaign that started in the season opener, when he held the No. 1 Oregon State Beavers to just three hits and one run in 5.2 IP, but picked up the loss in a 1-0 defeat. For most of the season, Stiever gave the Hoosiers similar performances, but he gave up eight, seven, and six earned runs, respectively, to Northwestern, Minnesota, and Ohio State in the heart of the conference season. But a complete game, seven-hit, two-run win over Ohio in the NCAA Regional was a great ending to Stievers season. He built upon that success with a 3-1 record for the Brewster Whitecaps in the Cape Cod league over the summer. There is no question that Stiever will be a mainstay in the Hoosiers’ weekend rotation.

Pauly Milto - By the end of March 2017, Chris Lemonis desperately needed a change to his weekend rotation. After Pauly provided 6.1 innings of scoreless relief in a huge comeback win at Northwestern, he went with Milto as his new starer and it was just what the doctor ordered. Milto made just 10 starts on the season, but was dominant in six or seven of those starts, racking a 6-3 record and solidifying himself as Indiana’s most consistent option down the stretch. One thing to watch with Milto is whether he can bring down his ERA on the road - in five home starts, his ERA was just 1.24. In his five starts on the road or in the Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments, that number was 6.49.

Cal Krueger - Early in his freshman campaign, Cal Krueger looked like he would provide a solid bullpen arm for the Hoosiers throughout the entire season. But when Chris Lemonis tinkered with his rotation again after adding Milton to the mix, it was Krueger who got the nod as the Sunday starter. And he killed it. Krueger finished with a 5-2 record and the second best ERA on the team, 2.82. The six starts he made in 2017 will double, at least, in 2018, and, if the ERA is consistent with that 2.82 number, it would not be the least big surprising to see, by the time the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments roll around, Krueger to overtake his battery-mates as the ace of this staff.

Possible Weekday Starters

Brian Hobbie - Brian Hobbie’s junior year did not go at all how he and Lemonis must have envisioned it. With all the questions surrounding the rotation when 2017 began, it was Hobbie who we all felt most comfortable with. After all, as a freshman in 2015, he went 3-1, contributing both as a midweek starter and a weekend reliever. During his sophomore year, he only made eight appearances, but still brought more experience than any other pitcher on the staff last season. But save two complete games (one which resulted in a Hoosier loss), Hobbie’s 2018 was disastrous. He posted the worst ERA of any player on the club who logged 10.0 IP or more - 6.61 -, went just 2-5, and didn’t pitch for nearly a month between his final midweek start - where he gave up six hits and four earned runs in 1.2 IP at Kentucky - and a one-inning relief appearance in a 14-9 regional loss. As a senior, Hobbie may get a shot as a midweek starter, but if his WHIP hovers around 1.60 as it did in 2017, expect him to transition into a long-relief role.

Andrew Saalfrank - Andrew Saalfrank appeared in 16 games as a freshman, starting eight times. And while he gave the Hoosiers some solid innings throughout the entire season as a starter, his ERA - 5.58 - was high enough that he doesn’t appear at this point to be a threat to break into the weekend rotation. But he will probably still get some starts, especially early in the season when the Hoosiers will play four games on two different weekends and will host Western Illinois for back-to-back midweek games in March.

Tim Herrin - Of the returning Hoosiers, Tim Herrin would appear to have the pole position in the race for the midweek gig. Herrin made eight starts in 2017, and went 3-3 with a 3.91 ERA. A 1.57 WHIP is somewhat concerning, and may ultimately open the door for someone else to fill the role. But regardless of whether it’s as a starter or a reliever, Herrin will play a huge role and his success, either in picking up midweek wins or holding weekend leads, will directly impact whether the Hoosiers are threatening for an NCAA bid or whether they’re threatening to host a regional at the Bart.

Nick Eaton - Given the starting experience returning Hoosiers have and the quantity of those guys, it might be hard to imagine a freshman breaking through for anything more than a spot start. But Nick Eaton is different. In leading Cathedral to the 4A State Championship last season, Eaton started 11 games for the Irish. His record? 11-0. He threw four complete games, including a 4-3 win over Penn High School in the State Championship game - an extra innings affair. The year before that? Eaton went 8-0 with a 0.78 ERA. Will he immediately have the same kind of success for the Hoosiers? Almost-certainly not. But with that kind of talent and pedigree, one has to think that Lemonis will give him at least a few opportunities to start and build toward a future where Eaton is the Friday night ace that everyone wants to have to ball in his hand.

The Bullpen

Kade Kryzsko, Cameron Beauchamp, and BJ Sabol - The loss of Austin Foote and Luke Stephenson, who gave the Hoosiers 34.2 IP combined last season, may cause some questions on the backend. But what Lemonis has going for him is is the return of Kade Kryzsko and BJ Sabol, who had great campaigns in 2017. Kryzsko may have been the most pleasant surprise. As a transfer-junior, Kryzsko gave the Hoosiers 25.1 IP in 18 appearances, and with an ERA under 4.00 and a WHIP hovering around 1.20, Kryzsko was a stalwart in the bullpen at the end of the regular season. Though Sabol’s ERA and WHIP numbers weren’t as impressive, he did pick up five wins out of the bullpen, stealing multiple games for the Hoosiers from the bullpen, highlighted by a 4.1 IP outing and win over Louisville in May. As for Beauchamp, he’ll need to be much-improved for the Hoosiers, and will need to bounce back from a rough appearance in the final game of the season, elimination at the hands of Kentucky, when he allowed three runs on two hits and failed to record a single out. But flashes of greatness in 2017 were enough to believe that, with another year of experience and maturity, Beauchamp could step into, and succeed in, an important role for the Hoosiers.

The Closer

Matt Lloyd - In 20 appearances last season, Matt Lloyd was simply outstanding. He notched nine saves and went 3-2 with a 2.23 ERA. What the Hoosiers hope Lloyd offers in 2018 is a closer who turns the game into a 7- or 8-inning affair. And given the strength of the starting rotation, that should allow a bullpen that appears to be the weakest part of the staff to rarely be responsible for bridging too wide of a gap from the end of the start to the beginning of the close. The bottom line on Lloyd is this: if he gets the ball with the lead, Indiana will expect to win. And almost every time, they will.