This is the final installment of our 2021 Indiana baseball preview series, a peek at what the IU starting rotation may look like this season. Read more on the outfield, infield, starting pitching and Big Ten here.
On the eve of every new season, Jeff Mercer asks himself a question.
The Indiana baseball coach thumbs through his roster, focusing on his pitchers. Three or four, he knows, will be tabbed for the weekend rotation. But what about the rest? Does he have a couple of bullpen arms that he likes and trusts while the rest of his arms settle into various roles?
Each year, it’s one of the biggest, most important questions Mercer must answer. At least this year, the answer is a big, ol’ “Yes.” That’s because right-hander Connor Manous and left-hander Braden Scott, among others, are poised to give Indiana the arms it needs to anchor the ‘pen.
Start with Manous, considered one of the best relievers in the country. Here’s the thing about Manous: he doesn’t give up many runs. At least, he didn’t last year — and that’s counting all three leagues in which he appeared. Here’s the breakdown:
Indiana: 6 app | 8.0 IP | 5 H | 0 R | 3 BB | 12 K | .179 AVG
Macon Bacon (Coastal Plain League): 11 app | 13.1 IP | 6 H | 1 R | 1 ER | 5 BB | 21 K
Manous pitches in the upper-80s to low-90s, while mixing in a plus curveball. Over three years at Indiana, the Munster native has worked to a .258 ERA over 76 2/3 innings and held opposing batters to a .217 average. He’s good, someone IU can depend on in high-leverage situations.
Scott, too, has turned into a pitcher Indiana can — and will — count on for outs. If you want a recent comp, think B.J. Sabol — nothing flashy, just a reliable worker who gets the job done. He made five appearances last season, pitching a team-high 14 2/3 innings of relief, notching 20 strikeouts and holding hitters to a .160 average. Notably, he didn’t allow a run over his final 11 2/3 innings of the season, yielding just six hits and recording 16 punch outs over that span.
“If Braden Scott could throw every game, he’d throw every game. I’d give it to Braden Scott,” Mercer said. “He’s the adult in the room.”
Obviously, Mercer isn’t going to use Scott in every game. And he doesn’t have to. There are a bunch of other arms to choose from in what should be a solid bullpen. Grant Macciocchi will play both ways for IU, likely serving as Mercer’s closer when needed. Macciocchi has had an interesting career so far, beginning at Missouri, then transferring to Murray State College, then Kentucky, and then, eventually, IU. In 2019, he made 11 appearances for UK, including five starts, working to a 6.75 ERA.
Matt Litwicki authored a nice start to the 2020 season, allowing only one earned run on six hits over 10 innings spanning his five relief appearances. In his final outing, the right-hander worked three scoreless innings against Cincinnati on March 11.
Braydon Tucker will be back in the bullpen after making four starts for the Hoosiers in 2020. His season started well enough, when he earned the win at LSU after allowing just one run on four hits over six innings in Baton Rouge. Over his final two starts, Tucker gave up 16 hits and nine earned runs over a combined 8 2/3 innings in starts against Ole Miss and San Diego. As a reliever in 2019, Tucker made five appearances and worked to a 2.70 ERA.
Righty David Platt was an early-impact player as a freshman in 2020, tying for the team lead with six appearances in his first year with the program. Platt struck out 15 batters in 12 innings, making one start and posting three scoreless outings out of the ‘pen.
Those are likely to be the main guys in the bullpen, but others such as sophomore Alex Franklin and freshmen Reese Sharp and Zach Behrmann are likely to see time, as well.