Hoosiers looking for further pitching development in ’18

For the third time in as many trips to the NCAA Tournament, Indiana’s season ended in a regional.

To get Indiana back to the super regional level, Chris Lemonis is looking to his pitching staff.

The IU coach is optimistic about the future after introducing several young and inexperienced arms to significant roles on the staff this year. After graduation forced the Hoosiers to completely revamp their weekend rotation entering the 2017 season, Lemonis hopes the developments from this spring carry into 2018.

“You want to have great pitchers and great hitters at the same time,” Lemonis said. “I think that is a big piece of it. I feel really good about our staff going into next season.”

For the most part, Indiana’s bats did their jobs. The Hoosiers boasted one of the most powerful lineups in the country this season, finishing 17th nationally in home runs (75) and 23rd in homers per game (1.25). They also clubbed the third-most doubles (111) in the Big Ten.

Getting the pitching to match the potency of the lineup was the challenge. Given the turnover, both in the rotation and the back end of the bullpen, that was clearly going to be a hurdle entering the season.

As IU’s new Friday starter, sophomore right-hander Jonathan Stiever pitched admirably for much of the year. He posted a 4.31 ERA, while walking only nine batters in 77 1/3 innings.

Fellow sophomore Pauly Milto emerged as a decent Saturday starter midway through the year and freshman Cal Krueger was arguably Indiana’s top starter down the stretch after sliding into the Sunday role late in the year.

Those three had their moments of inconsistency, too — as did a bullpen that was, at times, unreliable as it worked through growing pains.

As a staff, Indiana finished 11th nationally after yielding merely 2.67 walks per game. With that, the Hoosiers were 44th with a strikeout to walk ratio of 2.53. They could have benefited from missing a few more bats after allowing an average of 10 hits per game, but guys like Milto, Andrew Saalfrank and Tim Herrin displayed nice swing-and-miss breaking pitches that can be honed for the future.

“That whole group of pitchers, I’m excited about,” Lemonis said. “We were up and down a little bit. That’s experience and maturity. I think that group will be really motivated to come back and play, especially those three sophomore pitchers: Milto, Stiever and then Tim. I think Herrin’s a big piece. He kind of struggled maybe (Sunday) a little bit, but he’s had a really good year.”

Now the Hoosiers will wait to see what will happen with next week’s draft.

Two-way player Matt Lloyd, who slid into the closer’s role midway through the season, could be selected for his bat after hitting .301 with 11 home runs, 46 RBIs and 16 doubles. So, too, could junior outfielder Logan Sowers and sophomore third baseman Luke Miller.

Sowers and Miller, who turns 21 this summer, are draft eligible for the first time and might see themselves picked at some point during the third and final day of the draft.

Should all three of those players return, Indiana would have a strong veteran core to anchor its lineup and provide support for developing pitchers next season.

“You know we’re really experienced in some spots and really young in some spots,” senior outfielder Craig Dedelow said. “Our pitching was really young and it’s just going to mature over this fall. Obviously, it matured a lot over this spring with Cal Krueger stepping into the (starting) role. That was big for us and I can just see him progressing. The same with Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto and Tim Herrin.

“Offensively, we still got a good part of our order that can come back. It will just be interesting to see what happens with the draft and with the team for next year.”

It bodes well that the Hoosiers were able to win this spring with a group of youngsters earning prime roles, both on the pitching staff and in the lineup.

Shortstop Jeremy Houston has the potential to be one of the top defensive shortstops in the country. Fellow freshman Matt Gorski was a pleasant surprise this season, hitting .288 and posting a fielding percentage of .997 at first base.

Those two, along with Krueger, earned All-Big Ten Freshman honors. Lemonis is also intrigued by the potential of freshman catcher Jake Matheny, who may have some of the most impressive raw power on the team.

“We weren’t relied upon that much when we were freshmen, so I just wanted to get that out there how proud I am of all the young guys,” senior infielder Austin Cangelosi said. “Gorski, Houston — when you’re playing in the type of atmosphere like (a regional) — they answered the bell. I’m really proud of them. I mean, I didn’t have to do that freshman year. I kind of just sat back and watched guys named Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis.”

Schwarber and Travis achieved great success during their college careers, helping the Hoosiers achieve the first of four NCAA Tournament appearances in the past five years, including the 2013 run to the College World Series.

Indiana now hopes the current crop of young players, especially its pitchers, can achieve a similar degree of success in the years to come.

“I feel confident that they’ll make another run for a Big Ten championship and make a regional next year,” Dedelow said.

The goal, of course, will be to not only make a regional, but win one.