Ohio State baseball is now two weekends and eight games into its new season, and much as was anticipated the Buckeyes have shown some growing pains. Head coach Greg Beals has a host of newcomers on the squad, and Ohio State is still searching for some consistency at the plate, in the field, and on the mound.
“I said all along that we would have some bumps and take a few lumps early on, and I feel like that’s what’s happening,” Beals said to Greg Hoard of Press Pros Magazine.
Despite dropping three of four in Arizona during the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, and sitting at 3-5 overall, the Buckeyes have shown signs of the kind of team they could be. They scored five runs against an excellent Oregon State club, the No. 5 team in the country at the time, and got a masterful pitching performance out of redshirt junior Yianni Pavlopoulos, in pulling off what was probably the program’s biggest upset in at least two years.
Pavlopoulos earned Big Ten Co-Pitcher of the Week honors for his six innings of three-hit, scoreless ball against the Beavers. It was the right-hander’s first career win as a starter, but as Beals indicated on Wednesday, Pavlopoulos will now be headed back to the bullpen to reprise the closer’s role he held last season. The weekend rotation going forward will include redshirt junior Adam Niemeyer, redshirt senior Jake Post, and sophomore Ryan Feltner.
Offensively, Ohio State is averaging 4.5 runs per game, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the team’s five losses, the lineup has averaged fewer than two runs per game, while in the three wins it scores nine. Only three regulars are hitting .300 or better, and five are at .207 or worse. The quality of at-bats and hard contact should improve as the Buckeyes see more live pitching, but the Jekyll and Hyde routine of the bats is something to keep an eye on.
Redshirt senior Zach Ratcliff continues to swing the bat well, slashing .367/.387/.633 with two doubles, a pair of home runs, seven runs scored, and six driven in through his first 30 at-bats. Sophomores Brady Cherry and Jacob Barnwell have also been hitting the ball hard, and the two holdovers from last year’s team, Tre’ Gantt and Jalen Washington, have been solid at the top of the order.
Another alarming trend worth watching is that Ohio State has been sloppy defensively, committing 16 errors in eight games. Washington and Cherry have five apiece, so the left side of the infield hasn’t been providing the kind of backing the pitching staff needs. Neither player has seen extended time at their positions in the past, though, so with more game experience they should be able to clean things up.
The Buckeyes next opportunity to do so comes this weekend in Buies Creek, North Carolina, where they will travel for the three-game series with Campbell. The Fighting Camels come from a solid Big South Conference that produced last year’s national champion Coastal Carolina, and are fresh off a series win last time out.
Let’s take a look at what Ohio State will be up against in the Tar Heel state.
Campbell Fighting Camels (4-3)
Third-year head coach Justin Haire saw Campbell’s four-year string of winning at least 30 games come to an end in 2016, with the team finishing 26-27, good for fifth in the Big South. Haire has 22 newcomers on his squad this season, but it’s the experienced veterans that will determine how successful the Camels will be this season.
The most important player for Haire is redshirt senior Cole Hallum, who is returning after injuries limited him to just six games a season ago. Hallum, a designated hitter and pitcher, was named a preseason second-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and in 2015 earned Big South Player of the Year honors. Through seven games, the Bakersfield, California native has a slash line of .250/.484/.650 with two doubles, two home runs, six runs scored, and 11 RBIs, anchoring the middle of Campbell’s order.
Senior outfielder/catcher Drew Butler is also off to a good start from the leadoff position. Butler is slashing .435/.594/.522 with a pair of doubles, 12 runs scored, and a perfect nine stolen bases in nine attempts.
On the mound, the Camels have a duo of junior righties coming back from injuries in 2016 that are among the more highly-touted prospects in the conference in Alan Winans and Andrew Witczack. Along with Hallum, the trio has thus far thrown 16.2 innings, yielding eight runs and striking out 18.
The Buckeyes will also see freshman Ryan Kirk. The right-hander has thrown 9.1 innings in three appearances that include one start. He’s been roughed up to the tune of eight runs in those innings, with eight strikeouts and seven walks.
Out of the bullpen, Campbell has gotten a great start to the season from sophomore Tyson Messer, who has won two games in relief and allowed just one earned run in 9.2 innings of work.
Game times and probable pitching matchups
Friday, March 3rd, 6:00 p.m. ET (streaming live on Big South Network)
Niemeyer (1-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. Winans (1-0, 1.80)
Saturday, March 4th, 3:00 p.m. ET (streaming live on Big South Network)
Post (0-1, 4.50) vs. Witczak (0-1, 6.00)
Sunday, March 5th, 1:00 p.m. ET (streaming live on Big South Network)
Feltner (0-2, 5.23) vs. Kirk (1-0, 7.71)