Ohio State baseball: Three up, three down, Week 2

After the second of back-to-back season-opening trips to the Sunshine State, the Buckeyes return to Columbus as Central Florida Tournament champions following a 3-0 weekend.

A 3-0 weekend makes this week's three up, three down one to savor.  The good helped the Buckeyes pick up a trio of victories over quality competition while the bad didn't prevent the team from posting a perfect Florida trip.  Still, there were things the Buckeyes took note of, hope to stick with, or find a fix for going forward.

Three up

Freshmen sizzle

A repeat of last week? Yes.  Merited?  Absolutely.

The freshman class is again the marquee story of the weekend, with outfielder Ronnie Dawson and pitchers Travis Lakins and Tanner Tully picking up where they left off.  The trio were joined by Zach Farmer, the Buckeyes' Sunday-starter, who shut down Oklahoma in a 6-3 win.

Dawson's bat may have cooled a little, as he only went 5-for-14, lowering his average to .455, but he recorded Saturday's game-winning hit, driving in second baseman Troy Kuhn with a bases loaded, opposite-field single in the bottom of the ninth against the Citadel. The prior evening, Dawson opened the weekend with a 4-for-6 effort against the host Central Florida Knights.

On the bump, Lakins and Tully continued to bring the heat, holding Central Florida in check before the Buckeyes captured the game with a six-run 13th inning.  With a fastball working 88-92, Tully was first out of the bullpen, relieving starter Greg Greve with one out in the sixth.  The left-hander pitched the Buckeyes through the remainder of the scheduled nine innings, allowing just one run on four hits in 3.2 innings.  With the game in extras, Lakins, whose fastball clocked in 91-95, pitched three innings of no-hit baseball, keeping Central Florida off the scoreboard, though he issued four walks.

It was Farmer's turn on Sunday to show his stuff, providing a 180-degree turnaround from his season-opening effort against Indiana State.  Pitching 5.1 innings against the Sooners, the lefty held Oklahoma to two hits and one unearned runs, walking a pair and striking out two.

Bullpen's brilliance

The outings provided by Lakins and Tully fueled a memorable weekend for the Buckeyes' bullpen.  Ohio State's relievers combined to allow one earned run on seven hits with nine strikeouts in 15.1 innings pitched over the weekend.

In addition to the two freshmen, Ohio State received an extended outing from sophomore right-hander Jacob Post.  Post recorded a career-high six strikeouts, pitching scoreless frames over the final four innings in the win over the Citadel.  Though he has yet to record a strikeout, the weekend was bookended by junior closer Trace Dempsey finishing Buckeye wins.

Though their outings were limited, senior Tyler Giannonatti and sophomore Michael Horejsei came up big against Oklahoma.  Giannonatti entered the game in the sixth with Ohio State leading 4-2, a Sooner on base, and one already in.  Giannonatti ended the inning.  Spotty defense would put the Buckeyes in a bind in the seventh.  With the lead down to 4-3 and the tying run at third, Horejsei struck out Nick Buentello to get the Bucks out of the inning.  Between the two, 2.1 innings were pitched, with only one hit allowed and one unearned run scored.

Porter picks it up

Pat Porter's line is beginning to reflect what was expected of him coming into the season. Going 5-for-13 on the weekend, Porter upped his average to .276.  Though he has yet to tally an extra-base hit, Porter is doing a good job getting on base, holding a .371 on-base percentage with the aid of five walks, while only striking out twice in 29 at-bats.  When the Buckeyes get underway in the Keith LeClaire classic this weekend in North Carolina, Porter will enter with a six-game hitting streak.

Three Down

Slumping sophomores

It's been a rough start to year two for the four Buckeyes that man the infield positions, sophomores Jacob Bosiokovic, Troy Kuhn, Craig Nennig and Zach Ratcliff.  With progression expected among all, the quartet needs to pick things up in the season's third weekend.

Third baseman Bosiokovic does have a team-high seven RBI.  Driving in runs is dependent on who is on base in front of you, and for Bosiokovic that means second baseman Kuhn, who, though only hitting .192, has a strong .382 on-base percentage thanks to five plunkings.  Bosiokovic's RBI total should not hide his .188 average, with nine strikeouts in 32 at-bats.  Bosiokovic's left-infield counterpart, Nennig, has also struggled with strikeouts, going down in 10 of his 25 at-bats.  But Nennig has a .240 average, which is good for fourth on the light-hitting team through the first seven games.  Ratcliff continues to put the ball in play, as only five of his official 25 at-bats have ended with a strikeout. But he is yet to show is the power expected of the first baseman, as all five of his hits have been singles, and he is batting a meager .200.

The season is young, and the four will continue to grow and develop their offensive games, but only one weekend remains before the Buckeyes head to the Pacific Northwest for a series against Top-5 Oregon and a mid-week date against Top-10 Oregon State. Hopefully the sophomores can turn the page before the Bucks fly west.

E...Everywhere

A win is a win, even if it is an incredibly ugly victory.  This was the case Sunday, as the Buckeyes defeated the Sooners despite committing four errors.  Of course, it helps when the opponent commits four errors of their own.  For the weekend, Ohio State finished with eight errors, the second consecutive weekend with such a total.

The outfield has yet to commit an error, and only two blunders have occurred among the pitchers.  Unfortunately, the struggles the sophomores are encountering at the plate are being compounded by woes in the field.  Kuhn committed three errors over the weekend, and a pair of E-5's were bestowed upon Bosiokovic.  For the season, the infield quartet has combined for 11 errors.

There is some solace to take in the fact it is only the second weekend, the winter of the Polar Vortex limiting the opportunities Ohio State has had to practice on an actual diamond.  But if the Buckeyes' bats struggle and the team continually finds itself in close contests, not giving the opponent extra at-bats and lengthening innings will be vital for Greg Beals' squad to continue its winning ways.

Lacking punch(outs)

In the grand scheme, it's not a huge concern how you get outs, just that you get them without letting the opponent score.  And as Ohio State works to break in the amount of young arms that they are, yeah, just give me outs, freshmen.  But the lack of strikeouts for Ohio State catches one's eye, as only Post has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and three Buckeyes with at least five innings under their belts have more walks than punchouts.

Through 67 innings, Ohio State has collected 37 strikeouts and walked 27 batters.  Last year's veteran club, compiled 393 strikeouts in 483 innings, against just 143 walks.  That breaks down to 7.32 strikeouts-per-nine-innings and a 2.74 K:BB ratio.  Through two weeks, the 2014 outfit has a K-per-9 of 4.97, with only a 1.37 K:BB ratio. Ohio State does have a lower ERA thus far this season, 2.82 compared to 3.24 a season ago, as well as a better batting average against, .237 to .249., albeit in a sample size that is incredibly small, as the team has played only one-eighth of its schedule.

The strikeout and walk rates are something to watch, particularly to see if there is an upward trend as players like Farmer, Lakins and Tully adjust to the college game, and Greve and Riga learn what it takes to turn a lineup over multiple times in their first seasons as full-time starters.  If the Buckeyes can generate more swings and misses, that should help the team lower its walk rate, which currently sits at a bloated 3.62 per-nine-innings.

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