Let there be no doubt. Pauly Milto belongs in Indiana’s weekend rotation.
Milto provided further evidence on Sunday, tossing six scoreless innings to lead IU to a 4-0 victory over first-place Minnesota at Bart Kaufman Field.
Used primarily as a reliever during the first year and a half of his college career, Milto has been a revelation for the Hoosiers (19-14-2, 6-5-1) since being named Indiana’s Sunday starter two weeks ago. He’s been IU’s most reliable starting pitcher this month, allowing only six earned runs across the 19 2/3 innings he’s pitched in April.
Sunday’s series-clinching appearance against Minnesota (21-10, 7-2) was more of what IU has come to expect from the sophomore right-hander.
“He’s a big piece,” IU coach Chris Lemonis said. “It’s been nice to run him out there on Sundays and have him pitch.”
Milto scattered three hits against the Gophers, walking five and striking out seven. He may have lasted longer than the six innings he did throw had he not gone deep into counts during the first few innings.
Even with his five walks — which equaled the amount of free passes he’d issued all year prior to Sunday — Milto locked in and made his best pitches when needed.
That’s the Milto IU has come to know, whether he’s pitching in relief or in the starting spotlight. He was one of Indiana’s most reliable relievers as a freshman in 2016 and he’s now bringing stability to the back end of IU’s starting rotation.
“I think it’s just a couple mechanical adjustments (pitching coach Kyle) Bunn has been working with me on, and just the confidence, getting in there, making pitches and executing wherever he tells me to throw them,” Milto said.
A close call on a check swing kept Milto on the mound longer than he would’ve liked in the top of the sixth. Milto and catcher Ryan Fineman were convinced Gopher left fielder Jordan Smith went around on a 2-2 offering with two outs. Instead, umpires ruled Smith checked his swing.
Smith walked on the next pitch to load the bases, but Milto bounced back with a three-pitch strikeout of Luke Pettersen to end the inning — and his afternoon.
Largely, Milto did well working his fastball and off-speed offerings in and around the strike zone, showing a three-pitch arsenal that has transitioned well to facing a lineup two or three times in a game.
“(He was) gutty,” Lemonis said. “He really had to fight early. He threw a lot of pitches early on in the game, then settled in about the fifth inning and pitched great.”
Indiana supplied all of Milto’s run support in the bottom of the fifth.
A beautiful sacrifice bunt by Laren Eustace put Jeremy Houston on second base with one out. Eustace came around to score when the next batter, Luke Miller, followed with a single through the middle.
For good measure, Logan Sowers absolutely crushed a three-rum homer to left field, his fifth of the season, to give the Hoosiers a 4-0 lead.
“The last two games there were (36) runs scored,” Sowers said. “It was a crazy offensive weekend. You’re never gonna complain if you keep scoring runs. We’re just always trying to add on.”
Out of the bullpen, Timmy Herrin followed Milto’s example. The left-hander from Terre Haute tossed three outstanding innings to close the game and give IU a crucial series win.
It was a rare relief appearance for Herrin, who has been used primarily as a weekday starter during the past month. Herrin started Tuesday’s game at Indiana State and was disappointed when Lemonis pulled him after only three innings.
Lemonis told the sophomore at the time that there was a good reason for the early hook.
“I like it when they don’t want to give the ball up, but I told him I need him for Sunday,” Lemonis said. “That was as good as Timmy Herrin has been his whole career.”
Sunday’s win clinched IU’s second Big Ten series win of the season. It also boosted the Hoosiers to No. 31 in the RPI rankings ahead of next week’s important series at Michigan, which is No. 27 in the RPI.
After getting spanked in an 11-0 loss Friday and struggling during the first half of Saturday’s 13-12 win, the Hoosiers responded with one of their most impressive wins of the conference season on Sunday.
“We had to make up some ground,” Lemonis said. “We’ve let a couple go by, so it was huge for our guys. It shows a lot about the character of your team to get your tail beat on Friday night and even halfway through Saturday. They just kept playing, which is a good sign. We have a good team.”