Baseball is a fickle game. One game you can be unstoppable, the next can kick your teeth in. This weekend series was the latter for Indiana.
Over the weekend, the Hoosiers traveled to Knoxville, TN for a three-game set with the Tennessee Volunteers. They’re heading back to Bloomington without a single win to show for their efforts.
On Friday IU got off to a rough start. Pauly Milto allowed a trio of runs in the first inning and Tennesee didn’t look back from there as they won 5-1. After that inning Milto recovered to provide a quality start, going six innings and not allowing another run on the day. He gave up eight hits and struck out nine batters. The lone run of the contest for the Hoosiers came courtesy of a Logan Kaletha solo homer in the sixth inning.
Things took a turn for the worse on Saturday. The Vols scored a pair of runs, one unearned, in the second inning to take a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish in an 11-0 win. Hoosier starter Tanner Gordon went four-and-a-third innings, giving up five runs total on five hits and four walks, also striking out three. The Tennessee pitching staff had quite the game, they combined to strike out 21 Hoosiers while allowing just three hits in the shutout.
Sunday began on a promising note. Cade Bunnell kicked off Indiana’s attempt to avoid the sweep with a solo shot in the first inning. That lead got extended in the second inning as Ryan Fineman hit a solo shot of his own. In the fourth inning, IU scored its third and final run of the ballgame as Cole Barr hit his second career homer to give the Hoosiers a 3-0 lead. From that point on it was all Tennessee as they got back a run in fourth on an RBI groundout and then reclaimed the lead in the fifth as Andre Lipcius ripped a three-run double to the gap in right-center. That double knocked Hoosier starter Tommy Sommer out of the game. He ended the day having allowed four runs—three earned—on four hits and three walks. He also had a strikeout in his four-and-a-third innings on the bump.
Indiana’s woeful offensive production certainly wasn’t helped by the absence of preseason All-American outfielder Matt Gorski. The junior left the series finale against Memphis with what coach Jeff Mercer called leg tightness and then didn’t make an appearance against the Volunteers. Mercer said that removing Gorski from that game was just a precautionary measure, but it appears that the injury might have kept the star out of action against Tennessee.
Indiana has been striking out at an unreal pace so far in 2019. Through six games, they’ve fanned a total of 83 times. That’s not a typo. That’s 13.8 strikeouts per game. That’s nearly double the number of strikeouts per game the Hoosiers had last season (7.8) and in 2017 (8.1). Obviously this is a small sample size, just six games in a season that could stretch to 60ish games with the postseason, but this is something to continue watching as the season progresses because you typically don’t win ballgames striking out this much unless you’re also hitting three or four home runs per game and hitting them with runners on base.
Jeff Mercer and his staff have emphasized defensive play this far at IU, but it might’ve been hard to tell if you watched this series. The Hoosiers committed six errors on the weekend after committing just two in their opening series against Memphis. Some of those errors proved costly as they led to unearned runs for the Volunteers. This is something that the Hoosiers will need to clean up quickly if they want to get back on the right side of things.
Possibly the lone bright spot for the Hoosiers this weekend was a group of bullpen arms that showed they could come in and limit the damage when their team was struggling or behind.
On Friday Grant Sloan pitched the seventh inning for Indiana and didn’t allow a baserunner. This was his second appearance on the season. In his first he pitched just one inning as well. This might be his role moving forward, but it could be very valuable late in the year.
On Saturday Braden Scott made his Hoosier debut. The JUCO transfer from Olney Central College and Jasonville, IN pitched a pair of innings, allowing just one run on two hits. He also struck out three and walked three.
On Sunday it was the always reliable Cal Kreuger making an appearance after Sommer got removed from the game. The junior got a pair of outs without allowing a hit, striking out one to get the Hoosiers out of the inning.
Connor Manous also pitched well on Sunday. He threw three innings of two-hit baseball, allowing just one run while striking out a batter and walking a batter.
The sweep is certainly disappointing for the Hoosiers, but now they’ll have to hope that the Volunteers can make some waves in the SEC. If they can pick up some big wins over well-regarded foes like Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, or Florida that could help change the impression this sweep has on the NCAA selection committee come tournament time.
The Hoosiers will be back on the diamond for a pair of midweek games this week. On Tuesday they’re scheduled to play their home opener against the Cincinnati Bearcats at 3 p.m. and on Wednesday Butler is set to come to Bloomington for another 3 p.m. first pitch. These games could very well get moved up, postponed or cancelled due to the weather, but the forecast appears to be favorable on those days.