Ohio State baseball preview 2014: Starting pitchers

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Ryan Riga is expected to step into a starting role. - Photo courtesy of Ohio State Athletics

Ohio State enters the 2014 season in the unenviable position of replacing all three weekend starters. Who will emerge as the Buckeyes seek their first Big Ten championship since 2009?

The 2013 Buckeyes finished in a tie for second in the Big Ten, two games behind conference champion Indiana. After opening their season-ending series with a 2-1 win over the eventual College World Series participants, Ohio State fell 7-2 and 8-1 to the Hoosiers, unable to win one of their final two games to claim a share of the Big Ten title.

The series loss also deprived Ohio State of a marquee series win for its postseason resume. Needing to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the field of 64, Ohio State knocked off Nebraska, 3-2, before falling 11-3 to Indiana and 5-0 to the Cornhuskers as their season came to an end. Finishing 35-23, Ohio State was left outside of the NCAA Tournament field for a fourth-consecutive season, the program's longest since an eight-season drought from 1983-1990.

Though the scores over the final two weekends would not attest to it, Ohio State's being on the tournament bubble was in large part due to their pitching. Ohio State's 3.24 ERA, the team's lowest since 1970, helped overcome a team batting average of .258. The program's worst hitting clip since 1971, only one Buckeye batted above .300, only one slugged north of .400, and once in the team's final 15 games did the club score more than three runs.

Now, a year after seniors Brad Goldberg and Brian King were third-team All-Big Ten selections, and junior Friday starter Jaron Long signed a professional contract with the New York Yankees following an all-star summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League, Ohio State must replace all three weekend starters.

Here is a look at the pitchers competing for a spot in the weekend rotation.

Junior right-hander Josh Dezse

Selected in the 28th round by the Yankees out of Olentangy Liberty High School, Dezse turned down a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $500,000 to attend Ohio State. Ballyhooed thanks to premier arm strength, Dezse was the 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year serving as Ohio State's first baseman and closer. Dezse resumed the two-way role in 2012, and while he did not show the 100 MPH fastball that garnered national attention the year before, his progression as a pitcher showed as he ERA decreased from 5.53 to 2.86, and batting average against from .286 to .188. Expected to move into the rotation in his draft eligible junior season, the potential first-round draft pick did not pitch at all in 2013, garnering a red-shirt as rested and eventually had back surgery for a stress reaction in his back. Dezse enters the 2014 season as healthy as ever, but he has not pitched in a college since May 25, 2012, and only has 56 collegiate innings under his belt. Dezse's raw stuff merits more than serving in the bullpen, but Dezse's stamina as he returns to full-go will hold him back at season's start.

Senior right-hander Greg Greve

Greve was another pitcher drafted out of high school in Ohio State's recruiting class of 2010. Picked by the San Francisco Giants in the 45th round, Greve has had an up-and-down career to date for the Buckeyes. The 6'4, 210-pound right-handed began his collegiate career as a weekend starter, making 12 starts over 14 games in 2011, holding a 5.00 ERA over 68.1 innings. Greve's role would transition in 2012, returning as a starter before relief duty and spot starts were how he was used by season's end, as he battled shoulder soreness, duplicating a 3-3 record but seeing an increase in ERA to 5.15 over 50.2 innings. As a junior, Greve was used exclusively in the bullpen, making 18 appearances. The role produced the best of Greve as he maintained a 3.65 ERA over 24.2 innings, striking out 17 against eight walks as one of the first right-handers out of the pen for Beals. With the entirety of the weekend spots vacant, Greve will have first crack at claiming a spot and returning to his starting role. The key for Greve will be carrying his velocity. Greve has been clocked as high as 95 MPH, but the velocity would taper after an inning or two. Without premium off-speed and breaking balls, maintaining and commanding the velocity will be critical for Greve as he expands beyond his relief role.

Freshman left-hander Zach Farmer

Two years ago it looked like the thought of freshman southpaw Zach Farmer in an Ohio State uniform was a fantasy. Though he committed to Ohio State early in the summer following his junior year, at the time Farmer was one of the premier prospects in the country. With a fastball that can sit 89-90, a curve that showed promise and potential of being an elite pitch, Farmer entered his senior summer on the watch list of every area scout. But a summer on the showcase circuit in which Farmer injured his ankle, was never 100%, and potential overuse saw his stock dramatically drop. Undrafted, Farmer arrived in Columbus, and his fall showed why he was once a coveted prospect. Arguably one of Ohio State's best pitchers in fall camp, the Piketon, Ohio native was back to his former self, with his low-90s fastball with life, a breaking with bite, and command of both. Every freshman encounters a learning curve when jumping into the college game, but Farmer has all of the tools to be a special pitcher and be a serious contender for the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Sophomore right-hander Jake Post

Serving as Ohio State's go-to midweek starter, Post flashed signs of being a prominent pitcher for Beals and pitching coach Mike Stafford. Making seven starts with one relief appearance, Post pitched 30.2 innings, finishing with a 4.99 ERA. Post showed strong control, issuing only nine walks, striking out 26 batters. Post has a three-pitch repertoire, a 90-92 fastball, change, and curve with good two-plane actions. Over a stretch of three games from April 3-17, showed what he can do when all three are on, pitching 14 scoreless innings, surrendering six hits, walking none and striking out 12. The three starts showed why the Pirates selected him in the 29th round out of Chesterton (Ind.) High, and what is within Post's abilities.

Junior left-hander Ryan Riga

Pinpoint command was Riga's calling card in his first season as a Buckeye. A transfer from Wabash Valley College, Riga was Ohio State's high-leverage relief pitcher, often the setup for closer Trace Dempsey. While Riga doesn't have the 90+ fastball velocity as the aforementioned pitchers possess, Riga can pitch 86-88 thanks to his ability to go in and out in the strike zone, up and down. With the best command on the team, Riga compliments that with a slider that can be a wipeout pitch and a repeatable delivery making a transition to the rotation possible. In Riga's lone start in 19 appearances, the lefty shutdown a vaunted Georgia Tech lineup, scattering five hits over seven innings as he walked one and punched out five. For the season Riga was 3-0 with a 2.14 ERA, 35 hits and nine walks allowed with 38 strikeouts in 46.1 innings.

Freshman right-hander Travis Lakins

Lakins is a second freshman expected to be in the mix for a rotation spot. Though he likely will not be one of the first out of the gate, don't discard Lakins as a possible starter as the season progresses. The Ohio State coaching staff likes Lakins' makeup, his ability to be an all-around athlete, the poise he shows on the mound and the command of his pitches. Lakins showed what he can do against college pitching in the team's intra-squad series. In game three of the Scarlet and Gray World Series, Lakins pitched a complete game, going seven innings, allowing just three hits, walking none while striking out five in an efficient 66-pitch outing.

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