Three weekends are in the books for the Ohio State baseball team, or roughly 20 percent of the season, and the team is still searching for an identity. After a 1-2 weekend at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida, the Buckeyes' 6-4-1 overall record seems about right for a squad that has yet to find any real consistency at the plate or on the mound.
"We have not found ourselves, not at all," head coach Greg Beals said in an interview with Press Pros Magazine.
One reason for the shaky start has been the inconsistent performance of several players that entered the season as major cogs in both the lineup and the pitching rotation. Chief among them are outfielders Troy Montgomery and Ronnie Dawson and Saturday starter Adam Niemeyer.
Montgomery, a preseason All-American, missed three games two weekends ago while in the concussion protocol, and struggled in his return at the Snowbird, going 1-for-11 at the plate. On the season, the Indiana native is hitting .233 with just one stolen base.
Dawson just had an eight-game hitting streak snapped, but is still only hitting .250 and went 2-for-12 last weekend. For Ohio State's offense to really get rolling, its talented outfielders need to break out of their slumps.
Niemeyer has had some rough outings. While the redshirt sophomore has displayed superb command, striking out 17 and walking just two in his three starts, an earned run average of 4.76, a WHIP of 1.24, and an opposition batting average of .271 show that hitters have been able to make solid contact and put runs on the board.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the most productive Buckeye this season is at risk of missing the next several games. Right fielder Jacob Bosiokovic, who has been tattooing the ball to the tune of a .325 batting average, five home runs, 13 RBIs, and a 1.179 OPS, pulled a hamstring in Sunday's loss to Boston College.
All of this is not to say that no one on Ohio State's roster is performing. Friday start Tanner Tully has shown a return to the form that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2014, going 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in his three starts. Co-captains Nick Sergakis and Jalen Washington are also having a positive impact. Sergakis is hitting .381 and just had a nine-game hitting streak snapped, while Washington is hitting .294 and throwing out 50 percent of would-be base stealers from his catcher position.
As Ohio State tries to figure out what kind of team it will be moving forward in the season, they head west for a stern test in the desert against UNLV. Let's take a look at what to expect from the Rebels.
UNLV Rebels (5-6, Mountain West Conference)
UNLV (which coincidentally also refers to itself as the scarlet and gray) has faced similar struggles to Ohio State this season. Both at the plate and on the mound, the Rebels are still searching for consistency.
The team is hitting an anemic .223 and averaging under four runs a ballgame. Left fielder Payton Squier has been the lone bright spot offensively. The sophomore from Phoenix has a .429 batting average and a .919 OPS.
What little power has been generated by the UNLV lineup has come from first baseman Corey Pool and second baseman Justin Jones. Pool is hitting .250 with a home run and a team-leading nine runs batted in. Jones leads the team with two homers and places second with eight RBIs, but is batting a meager .186.
The Rebel pitching staff has not had much more success, collectively sporting an earned run average of 5.40, a 1.50 WHIP, and a .285 opponents' batting average. The result is a team that has been outscored nearly 2-to-1 through its first 11 games.
Friday starter D.J. Myers has been the most reliable arm on the staff, with a 3.86 ERA, .242 opposing batting average, and 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Beyond Myers, though, UNLV's hurlers have had their struggles.
Saturday starter Dean Kremer carries a WHIP of just 1.11 and holds the opposition to a .246 average, but his ERA of 5.29 in 17 innings of work suggests that when he is hit, he's hit hard. Sunday starter Kenny Oakley, a preseason all-conference selection in the Mountain West, has not fared much better. The righty is 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, and astronomical .333 opponents' average.
Despite the statistical woes, though, the Rebels are on a three-game winning streak. They also took two of three games against the Buckeyes in Columbus last season, although the entire series was decided by a total of five runs. Ohio State needs to rebound from last weekend's disappointing performance and start building momentum before heading back to Bill Davis Stadium for the home opener next week, and a series win in Vegas would be a solid start in that direction.
Game times and probable pitching matchups
Friday, Mar. 11, 9:05 p.m. ET
Tully (2-0, 2.70 ERA) vs. Myers (0-0, 3.86)
Saturday, Mar. 12, 5:05 p.m. ET
Niemeyer (0-1, 4.76) vs. Kremer (0-1, 5.29)
Sunday, Mar. 13, 4:05 p.m. ET
John Havird (0-1, 4.68) vs. Oakley (1-2, 4.76)
Tuesday, Mar. 15, 9:05 p.m. ET
Ryan Feltner (0-1, 3.09) vs. TBD
All four games of the series will be available for live streaming here.