Smith considering changing rotation for regional

Tracy Smith said after practice Tuesday that he’s considering starting someone else other than ace Joey DeNato in Friday’s Bloomington Regional opener against Youngstown State.

“We’ll probably bump Joey back,” Smith said. “We’re still trying to figure out what we want to do Friday. I think the good thing for us is we have a lot of confidence in the other guys. With the way we’ve worked the non-Joey days anyway, we’ve been quick to the pen. As we gather reports we may — I’m not 100 percent sure — but we may bump him back.”

The move to bump DeNato back has nothing to do with any displeasure in the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, who enters NCAA Tournament play with a 12-1 record, a 1.77 earned run average and 77 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings. Smith said he’s doing it because it might help him better manage the bullpen. If the Hoosiers dig deep into the pen on Friday night as opposed to Saturday, the relievers they use on Friday would be better rested for Sunday’s game or games.

“We feel like some of our strengths are our arms in the back of the pen,” Smith said. “In an ideal world for us, we could throw some of those guys on the Friday so they could bounce back on the Sunday. I’m still a believer you’ve gotta win today, so I’m not 100 percent that we’re going to do that yet, but it’s something that we’re considering doing. It has nothing to do — and this is the truth — it has nothing to do necessarily with the opponent as much as it does trying to have the arms we want fresh over a three-day span, possibly four. Joey goes out, he usually gives you seven or eight anyway. When you’re using your pen, it’s usually with our two and three guy, and now your relievers are burned back-to-back days. It has more to do with which relievers we can use and spread them out in that period of time.” 

Of course, it’s difficult to believe that it has absolutely nothing to do with the opponent. Youngstown State enters the regional with a 16-36 record, having stunned the Horizon League by winning the conference tournament championship as the No. 6 seed. The Penguins have been outscored 389-243 this season and have a team earned run average of 6.90. The Penguins announced their starter, left-hander Jared Wight, on Tuesday. Wight is 1-3 with a 6.97 ERA, opponents hit .323 against him. He has six starts this season and he hasn’t thrown more than 4 1/3 innings in any of them. It is of critical import to win the first game in a regional because spending that many games coming back through the loser’s bracket is taxing, but it would help the Hoosiers if they could not only win that game but save DeNato and possibly right-hander Christian Morris in the process.

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