Smith still unsure on starter for regional opener

Indiana coach Tracy Smith narrowed down his options for a starting pitcher for the Hoosiers’ first NCAA Bloomington Regional game Friday at 7 p.m. against Youngstown State, but he said he hasn’t made a decision yet.

Smith said he still hasn’t ruled out the idea of throwing ace Joey DeNato, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and a third-team All-American, but he’s also considering starting No. 3 starter Brian Korte and relievers Evan Bell and Scott Effross. He said he he may not make a decision until after Indiana State and Stanford play at 2 p.m. on Friday in the regional’s first game.

“What makes this time of the year different is every decision moving forward is critical,” Smith said. “You’re trying to put yourself in the best position to win the weekend. Right now, the only team that we really have any sense of, having played them, is Indiana State. You can go over all the scouting reports you want. You can go over all of the video, but until, to me, you see the guys in person, you watch the swings yourself, it’s hard for me to make a matchup decision. The luxury of playing in the second game is it gives us time to evaluate the other two opponents. … I wouldn’t anticipate making a go decision on that until realistically sometime tomorrow.” 

Smith said Tuesday that he liked the idea of digging deep into the bullpen on Friday knowing that either DeNato would likely take the game to the seventh inning or later on Saturday and give the relievers a day to rest for Sunday when they would come in behind right-hander Christian Morris, also an All-Big Ten pick. The concept is much more palatable because of the strength of the IU bullpen. Effross and right-handers Luke Harrison, Thomas Belcher and Jake Kelzer all have earned run averages of 2.15 or lower and Bell isn’t much worse at 3.50. No active pitcher on the Indiana staff has an ERA greater than 3.68.

“We’ve pulled guys in the first inning, second inning and third inning quite frequently,” Smith said. “We feel like the depth of our pitching staff is key and we think it will be a factor in this tournament in our favor. … We’ve been playing matchups, getting a guy one or two times through the order. We’ll just try to see how that goes, but our goal is to try to win Game 1 using the least amount of pitching as possible.”

Korte didn’t pitch in the Big Ten Tournament because of stiffness in his left elbow. Smith said he expects him to be available, but he’s been watched closely.

“He’s day-to-day with just some slight discomfort in his arm,” Smith said. “He’s been throwing. He’s been throwing his bullpens. He’s been preparing again. We’re going day-to-day with him to see how he feels. … We’ll know more tomorrow based on the medical stuff. He cranked it up on a bullpen the other day full speed. He looked pretty good, we just want to see how he’s responding to that.”

Bell started a game in the Big Ten Tournament, and the 6-foot-9 right-hander has a starter’s build. Effross was a starter in high school. He has yet to start a game at Indiana, but he’s been used as a long reliever several times, having thrown 111 2/3 innings in the last two seasons. He threw just 1 1/3 innings in the Big Ten Tournament and hasn’t been relied on as heavily thanks to the emergence of Luke Harrison and Jake Kelzer.

“We played 36 innings of baseball and he pitched (1 1/3),” Smith said. “I’m sitting here saying, ‘My goodness, this is one of the top arms of the country and we didn’t use him.’ So I think he has to be in the discussion on that because of the emergence of what Jake Kelzer has done out of the pen. Some times guys are different in a starter’s role, and I just don’t know yet. That’s why he’s in the discussion for sure.”