A cure-all for the winter blues is a tropical retreat. If one can afford the luxury of doing so, trading the snow and blistering cold of a Midwestern winter for the white sands and coastal breeze of the Florida shoreline can elevate stress, turn misery into pleasure and surely loosen even Ebenezer Scrooge.
A cure-all for uncertainty surrendering a program is winning. To turn away those who may doubt a team's ability, aiding to close the chapter on as bleak of a time a program has even seen, nothing does so as winning can.
The Ohio State baseball team was able to do both over the weekend. Escaping the chilling grip of Columbus' February, the Buckeyes went down to Florida, went 3-0 in the Snowbird Classic and showed signs the Scarlet and Gray are to be contended with in 2015.
3 things we learned
1. Expect the expected. For the first time in Greg Beals' five seasons in charge of the Buckeyes, there were few questions entering the season. Ohio State had an incumbent Friday night ace leading the way as the to-be rotation was known, sophomores Tanner Tully and Travis Lakins would be joined by senior Ryan Riga, a left-right-left lineup of starters.
The position players and lineup were the same. Around the horn and at Designated Hitter, a quintet of juniors would be found, with a pair of seniors splitting duties behind the plate. The outfield would be roamed by two fleet-footed left-handed hitting sophomores and a senior stalwart. As Beals penciled his lineup, there were no surprises.
Without Beals rotating players, position battles still ongoing there's a coach at ease and clarity of mind for the players. From leadoff hitter Troy Montgomery to nine-hole batter Craig Nennig, the players know what is expected of them, and the coaches know what to expect of their players. Whether or not any lack of uncertainty, an absence of players trying to prove they deserve playing time played a part, Ohio State saw contributions from batters 1-9 in the lineup. Putting together a complete game to cap the weekend with an 8-0 victory over Pitt after come-from-behind victories over George Mason and Saint Louis were spurred by the bottom one-third of the lineup, Ohio State's 3-0 opening weekend was the first under Beals.
Ohio State getting consistent production from the entire lineup is instrumental if Buckeyes plans to claim its first Big Ten champions since 2009. If the players with speed can wreck havoc on the bases, the players with thump drive them in, and the players expected to drop a bunt or sky a sacrifice fly do their jobs, Ohio State will be a force.
2. The bullpen just reloads. Ohio State pitching coach Mike Stafford is something of a magician. It doesn't matter who is lost to graduation, the draft or injury, the Buckeyes continue to trot out pitchers on the mound who perform.
It was known junior right-hander Jacob Post possesses good stuff, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him out of high school. That Post pitched four innings of brilliant shutout baseball in relief against George Mason, conceding one hit while striking out five, isn't shock. Junior left-hander John Havird was a JUCO All-American before transferring to Columbus, his 3.1 shutout innings against Saint Louis, striking out five, issuing one walk, isn't something that's extraordinary.
But that Ohio State could use those two for long relief appearances, then turn to redshirt freshman right-hander Kyle Michalik for a perfect inning of relief, send a second redshirt freshman righty in Adam Niemeyer out for a two-strikeout, one-inning appearance, have junior left-hander Michael Horejsei pitch a scoreless inning, and still have 2013 All-American closer Trace Dempsey at its disposal to close the door seems almost unfair.
After losing three pitchers to Tommy John surgery a year ago and Zach Farmer's leukemia diagnosis, Ohio State's depth was greatly tested. But the Buckeyes still compiled a respectable 3.61 ERA on the season. Now with a pitching staff full of health and able arms, as the weekend showed, the Buckeyes are deep and talented in the pen. Ohio State's bullpen concluded the weekend with 0.00 ERA over 11.1 innings, striking out 14 batters against two walks.
3. Running game still a concern. If there was a knock on a weekend where the Bucks batted .280, carried a 2.33 ERA, it is the running game. Ohio State successfully stole one base in three attempts and was picked off another time.
More concerning where when the blunders occurred. Against George Mason, one of the caught stealing was at third base by Ronnie Dawson with nobody out, the tying run at the time already in scoring position. Later in the at-bat Pat Porter collected a triple and was stranded there. The picked off runner was Montgomery, two innings after Dawson's caught stealing. Montgomery's leadoff triple in the eighth inning was wiped away as he was nabbed.
Ohio State would rally in the ninth, but it was due to George Mason gifting the game with two walks, a hit by pitch and wild pitch. For Ohio State to compete and win against tougher competition, the running game needs cleaned up.