Entering the season, Ohio State had to feel good about its bullpen. The Buckeyes had a preseason All-American closer, were hopeful for the return of a former closer with a 95 MPH fastball from injury, and had a variety of young arms ready to contribute.
While the stable of relievers was solid on the whole for skipper Greg Beals, the lingering feeling from the 2014 campaign is one of underachievement and nightmarish blown late leads.
We continue our recap of the Buckeyes' season with a look at the arms expected to put out fires and close the door in the game's most tense moments.
Trace Dempsey, RHP
After a sophomore season in which he saved 17 games and earned first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-America honors, expectations were high for Trace Dempsey in 2014. The righty was a preseason All-America selection, and was locked in to the back end of Ohio State's bullpen. There was even speculation that if Dempsey could bolster his fastball velocity, given his excellent off-speed pitches he could garner interest from the professional ranks at season's end.
To call the season a disappointment for the Huntington, WV native would be a massive understatement. Dempsey went 1-4 with a 5.94 ERA in 24 relief appearances, saving just eight games. Opponents hit .269 against him, and his career-high 18 walks allowed led to a WHIP of 1.59, which is much too high for someone expected to close out ballgames. The righty's final appearance of the season was emblematic of his struggles, as he surrendered four runs while recording just one out against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament, taking the loss as the Huskers came back to win 7-6 in the last at-bat.
If the MLB Draft does not come calling for Dempsey, it will be hoped that he can bounce back in a big way as a senior. When he was at his best in 2013, the Buckeyes were nearly guaranteed victory if they held the lead late in the game. If Dempsey can return to form next season, Ohio State could be set up for bigger things than it accomplished in 2014.
Travis Lakins, RHP
Along with Tanner Tully, Travis Lakins gave Ohio State a peek at a bright future on the mound for the program in his freshman season. The right-hander, who much like Tully will garner serious pro discussion in a couple of years, was solid for head coach Greg Beals, serving primarily as a setup man in the back end of the bullpen, though his future may be in the starting rotation.
Lakins finished up his freshman campaign with a 1-3 record and a 2.45 ERA. He made 25 appearances, two of which were midweek starts, and threw 55 innings, by far the most of any reliever on the team. The opposition hit just .250 against the righty, who boasted just under a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.27 WHIP.
It remains to be seen if Lakins' future will remain in the bullpen or if he will contend for a spot in the weekend rotation. He certainly has the stuff to be a front-end guy, and after a very successful first season in Columbus, has a bright future ahead of him for the Buckeyes.
Tyler Giannonatti, RHP
One of just three seniors on Ohio State's squad this season, Tyler Giannonatti put together a solid campaign, and became one of Beals' most trusted relievers. The righty tied Dempsey for the most appearances out of the bullpen on the team, and closed out his career in fine fashion.
Giannonatti put up a 1-0 record in his 24 trips to the hill, with a 3.24 ERA and a save. In 33.1 innings of relief, opponents hit just .238 off of him, and he allowed a strong 1.23 WHIP, striking out twice as many as he walked.
The veteran presence Giannonatti brought to the pitching staff will be missed next season, as will his ability to eat up innings out of the bullpen. As one of only three pitchers to log more than nine appearances in relief for the Buckeyes, Beals will need some of his young arms to step up in 2014.
While Dempsey, Lakins, and Giannonatti ate up the bulk of the relief innings for Ohio State this season, several young arms gained valuable experience pitching in stressful situations. Freshmen Curtiss Irving, Yianni Pavlopoulos, Shea Murray, and Adam Niemeyer (who was lost to Tommy John surgery early on), and sophomore Michael Horejsei all saw game action out of the bullpen, and will be expected to pick up the slack in the wake of Giannonatti's graduation and in the event Lakins makes the jump to starter. Beals can breathe a little easier knowing that these young guns have a few innings under their belts early in their careers.
One notable absence from the bullpen was junior Josh Dezse. A former Big Ten Freshman of the Year who saved 13 games in 2011 and 2012, Dezse redshirted a year ago due to a stress reaction in his back. It was hoped that the righty from Powell, OH with the blazing fastball may be able to contribute on the mound at some point in 2014, but it never materialized. Dezse is still a potential pro pitching prospect, and if he does not get drafted in June, or opts to return to Columbus to improve his stock, will be looking to re-establish himself as a hurler.