Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Josh Dezse is currently on the mend. The two-year Buckeye closer has not played this season in recovery from a stress reaction in his back. With 13 career saves, Dezse was projected as a top-100 draft pick prior to the season thanks in part to a fastball that has been clocked at 100 MPH.
The void Dezse's absence left in the back of the Buckeye bullpen could have been a mighty blow to Ohio State's pursuit of its first Big Ten championship since 2009. But Dezse's roommate, sophomore right-handed pitcher Trace Dempsey, has emerged as not only the Ohio State closer, but the best in the Big Ten.
Even if he doesn't possess the triple-digit heat of his roommate, noting Dezse isn't afraid chide him on only topping out at 92 MPH.
Away from their off-campus house, there is similarity into how both are what they are.
Dezse's burst unto the national scene came on May 11, 2011 when he closed an Ohio State 3-2 win over Oklahoma State, an outing in which he first recorded his 100 MPH radar reading. Fast forward to May, 9, 2012, Dempsey's breakthrough moment occurred in Stillwater, where he received his first career start, stymieing the Cowboys with 5.2 innings of three-hit, scoreless baseball as Ohio State downed Oklahoma State 4-0.
When it was ruled Dezse would be out at least two months, Dempsey's outing against Oklahoma State resonated in the mind of Ohio State head coach Greg Beals.
"That was something in the back of my head," the third-year head coach said. "That a freshman would take the ball against Oklahoma State, a freshman is going to take the ball in the conference tournament and handle that."
Dempsey picked up his second start in the Big Ten Tournament against Michigan State. Though the Spartans would eliminate the Buckeyes and end their season, Dempsey allowed only two runs in 4.2 innings, giving the Buckeyes hope to carry on with their backs against the wall.
How Dempsey showed in those two starts Beals feels put in him in the position he is now, leading Ohio State, sitting tied fourth nationally with 11 saves.
"It's part of the maturation process. Last year he would not have been able to have the role he has this year. But you also saw him take the ball against Oklahoma State, get the start and go five, six innings, take the ball in the conference tournament in that fifth game when we didn't have anyone else in give us a quality outing. He's shown signs of being able to handle situations."
Dempsey, heading into the weekend riding a 19.1-inning streak without allowing an earned run, a 0.40 ERA, agreed.
"Absolutely not, absolutely not," the sophomore from Huntington says on whether he would have been able to handle the role of being Ohio State's closer this season.
The success Dempsey has sustain thus far is unrivaled in the Big Ten.
The 11 saves Dempsey has recorded is seven shy of the Big Ten record set by former Ohio State right-handed reliever Jake Hale in 2009. One shy of a dozen, Dempsey's save total equals the next-best team total, that of Michigan. As he has finished a Big Ten-best 17 games, the second-year standout has a .160 batting average against over 22.1 innings, scattering 12 hits in 75 at-bats, walking eight with 18 strikeouts in 19 outings.
Strong as his numbers are, perhaps the most impressive aspect of Dempsey cannot be measure numerically, it is one of those intangibles, his attitude.
Ohio State lead Michigan State 6-4 going into the eighth inning of their series-opening contest on March 29. The Spartans got to Ohio State reliever Brett McKinney, chasing him with the bases loaded and two outs. Sophomore Ryan Riga surrendered a game-tying two-run double to even the score before Beals turns to Dempsey.
Before on could blink an eye, Dempsey fired two wild pitched in the same at-bat, giving Michigan State the go-ahead and eventual game winning runs in the 8-7 loss.
Dempsey's next two outs were two scoreless innings as he picked up two saves.
The reliever feels a year ago he would not have been able to rebound from such an outing so quickly.
"It's experience. This summer was big for me, it was the best thing that happened," Dempsey said. "Getting 32 extra ninth innings, that's 32 more reps you can't take back, that's really helped me."
"I had a lot of success over the summer but I blew a couple of games. I became used to coaches coming to me saying 'you blew it, but be ready tomorrow.' That's what I love about Beals and Staff, Newman and the whole team. They knew I was down, that I didn't want to throw two wild pitches, I didn't come in the game to do that, but they told me 'hey man, get over it, we need you tomorrow'."
Following the loss to Michigan State, Dempsey says he was over the rough outing as soon as he got out of the shower. That amnesia was present this past weekend.
In the second game of Ohio State's weekend set against Nebraska, the Cornhuskers benefited from a two-out throwing error from catcher Greg Solomon which allowed a stolen base attempt to place a runner all the way at third from first. Though unearned, the next batter drove in the game-tying run off Dempsey, sending the contest into extras as Dempsey blew his first save.
Dempsey responded with two scoreless innings in extras as the Buckeyes won 6-5 in 11. If any doubt remained in Trace's physical and mental capabilities, as Ohio State was seeing a 7-0 lead slowly evaporate, Dempsey stepped to the mound in a bases loaded no-out situation with Nebraska bring the tying run to the plate in the series finale.
The closer surrendered a sacrifice fly but that would be all as Ohio State captured a key series with a 7-4 win.
Dempsey knows the importance of his role, to help Ohio State capture every game if they're going to reach their goals.
"If you check our locker room it says 40-plus (wins). Every team, I don't care if we're playing Miami (OH), Xavier, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Indiana – they're in our way of 40 wins and a Regional."
That mentality makes him head coach smile.
"Trace just has a make-up, a toughness," Beals said. It's more of a sense than anything I see out of Trace. He's just got... I'm trying to figure it out, it's just the 'it' maybe it's the S-H 'it', but he has some of that it in him."