Hoosiers dealing with pitching dilemma

On one level, it’s hard to say Indiana has a pitching problem. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten and rank 26th nationally in earned run average at 2.81. They’ve had strong starting pitching for much of the season, and even after the loss of closer Ryan Halstead to an early season ACL tear, the bullpen has been strong throughout with a versatile anchor in Scott Effross and a number of long-relief options.

Still, the season-ending injury to junior left-hander Kyle Hart and the struggles of sophomore left-hander Will Coursen-Carr have Tracy Smith concerned about the structure of his pitching staff. The Hoosiers have a pair of reliable starters in senior left-hander Joey DeNato and sophomore right-hander Christian Morris, but that only gets them through Friday and Saturday in weekend series. Mid-week non-conference games are extremely important for the No. 21 Hoosiers, who have been deemed a likely NCAA Tournament regional hosts in several bracket projections this week. That means the Hoosiers not only have to solidify their Sunday starter situation, but also decide on a plan for their Wednesday non-league games. 

Also, tournament play often requires four starters. Indiana had to go four deep to win the Big Ten Tournament last year. They were fortunate in the Bloomington Regional that they only had to play three games, but had they lost the opening game they trailed against Valparaiso, they would’ve needed to use four starters to win that one as well.

“That’s the million dollar question because that’s the part,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “Every injury, every struggle of guys that shouldn’t struggle thins that scenario out. If you’re talking about biggest difference from last year, we knew, here’s what’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Then it allowed us to have a quality pen for the entire weekend. It allowed us to have quality mid-week. We’re in, I don’t want to say a dilemma, but we’re still playing to have a national seed, so the mid-week stuff is important. In a normal scenario, if we’re as banged up as much as we are, you just kinda throw the mid-week stuff to total development and be ready for the weekend. We feel even our mid-week games are as important as our conference stuff. It’s thinned us out.”

The Hoosiers have been able to survive in the two weeks since Kyle Hart actually suffered his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament — for which he had Tommy John surgery on Tuesday — because of the performance of several long relievers, most notably right-handers Thomas Belcher and Luke Harrison as well as versatile closer Scott Effross. Indiana beat Indiana State last Wednesday with three innings from left-hander Brian Korte, four from Belcher, an inning from right-hander Evan Bell and an inning from Effross. The Hoosiers lost 8-7 to Morehead State on Sunday when Coursen-Carr only lasted an inning, but they had a chance because Harrison pitched four scoreless innings of relief before giving up three runs in the eighth.

That proves the Hoosiers can win games with unconventional pitching approaches, but it’s not something they’re trying to live on.

“It’s very important that some guys step up and get us five or six,” Smith said. “We can’t have what we had last weekend, which was two out of our three starts were not quality starts. I just don’t think … we’re that deep, but I don’t think we’re going to live that way consistently and play at the highest level. We need three guys to step up on the weekend and chew up some innings as Joey DeNato has been doing, as Kyle Hart had been doing prior to his injury.”

Smith is still primarily hopeful that Will Coursen-Carr regains his freshman year form that led him to a 5-0 record, 1.93 ERA and wins in the Big Ten Tournament, Bloomington Regional and Tallahassee Super Regional last year, but he’s also focused in on several relievers that he hopes can step into starting roles. He’s hopeful sophomore right-hander Evan Bell can make a leap and he’s kept his eye on right-hander Jake Kelzer, but he’s giving the first  opportunity to senior left-hander Brian Korte, who has mostly been used as a left-handed relief specialist and has been often used to simply get one left-hander out. Korte will get the start today against Western Kentucky at 6:05 p.m. and Smith said if Korte throws well, he will be given the innings to try to win a starting spot.

“We’ve got some special arms that hopefully given a chance will succeed,” Smith said. “… I would love to see him come in and throw multiple types of pitches over for strikes. (Today) is a very, very important game in a larger sense. We’ll just see. If he goes out and throws a complete game, (great). … I’d love to see him grow up and take us in to six or seven. That would be great.”

3 comments

  1. Good story, good discussion. Enjoy the quotes from Coach Smith, they are revealing of where the Hoosiers are in respect to their pitching and make it clear we’ve had two critical losses in Hart and Ryan Halstead. Reading Smith’s comments is an educational look at strategic planning; and, makes it clear to me IU is very lucky to have a quality coach leading our baseball program. Great read. Your giving it structure and framing it with well-defined relevance with your commentary. Instructive and enjoyable.

    Not surprising DD…and, truthfully, the same has happened with some of your ‘deeper’ stories after interviews with CKW. Part of the issue with you DD, for me, is that it leaves us looking for consistency at that level of analysis over longer periods of coverage and it doesn’t happen as frequently as what (at least I) would want.

    The impact is that, at that point, and without some form of moderation… (could that be why they call the functional role ‘moderators?).. Scoop readers become ‘anarchic thinkers’ and that’s dangerous;…they turn their attention to cannibalism…of each other. Without guidance from your commentaries, the blog, which depends on the professional ‘moderation’ (by you, Jeremy or Andy) – (Scoop) then begins to resemble “Alive!”, the story of the rugby team that crashed in the Andes and the passengers (all team players) ate each other. Here, in Scoop, without moderation, despite our mutual claim to love of our Hoosiers, it becomes: ‘you bring the meat, I’ll bring the salad’…

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