Kaletha sets the table for Hoosiers

Of course it hurts.

A pitch to the knee, a ball to the ribs — those kinds of shots to the body can leave Logan Kaletha with a piercing, needling pain. But Kaletha inevitably shakes it off, trots out of the batter’s box and takes his base.

Right now, the Indiana leadoff man is doing whatever he can to set the table.

Since joining the Hoosiers as a junior college transfer prior to the season, Kaletha has given IU virtually everything it’s needed atop the order. He gets on base, he hits with pop, and he brings a coveted speed component, too.

“I like to get the team rolling,” Kaletha said, “just getting on any way I can to get runs in and have Matt (Lloyd), Logan (Sowers) and Luke (Miller) hit me in. I’ll take that risk of getting hit any day.”

In a season that is only 22 games old, that’s been abundantly clear.

Kaletha has been plunked 12 times, which ties him for third nationally. For Kaletha, it’s a departure from last season, when he was hit 11 times in 52 games at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Ill.

It’s also added evidence of just how committed he is to being the leadoff hitter the Hoosiers want him to be.

After slotting into the middle of his JUCO lineup, Kaletha has made a home atop Indiana’s.

The Michigan City native has reached base safely in 20 consecutive games entering Friday’s series-opening doubleheader against Butler. In all, Kaletha has gone only one game this spring without getting on base.

That’s led to a team-best .477 on-base percentage and a growing reputation as a Big Ten player worth accounting for.

It’s all part of the remarkable transformation Kaletha has enjoyed since graduating from Michigan City in 2014.

He didn’t have any college offers until May of that year, when John A. Logan reached out. With only a single JUCO offer, Kaletha decided to give that route a try. He dedicated himself to the weight room during a redshirt year in 2015, transforming his body and adding a power stroke that is visible today.

“Not having any offers out of high school, I feel like it was more of a positive for me than a negative, because it just made me work harder,” Kaletha said. “My dad always said there’s 1,000 players out there, but whoever works hardest is going to get the opportunity. That’s stuck with me my whole life.”

After earning Freshman of the Year honors in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference in 2016, Kaletha hit .354 with six home runs, 59 RBIs and 17 stolen bases last season. He led the league with three triples and his six home runs were good for third.

And as appreciative as Chris Lemonis has been of Kaletha’s early contributions in Bloomington, the Indiana coach believes he’s even better than he’s shown.

“The base stealing piece is a big one,” Lemonis said of Kaletha’s five steals so far. “He’s a really good base stealer, and I just think there’s a little bit left in that swing. He’s had some really good games, so I’m probably being a harsh critic.

“Like I tell them, I think they’re really good, so I expect their best. But he’s played great. He’s been a great spark plug for us, a great leadoff man filling that spot.”

Kaletha, too, is eager to tap into his full potential.

He’s long held an aggressive approach at the plate. But in his new role, Kaletha is trying to settle down and demonstrate better patience. Naturally, that’s led to more walks and some plunkings, too.

As long as he’s getting on base, Kaletha will take it any way he needs.

“I just lean into it, and I take it,” he said. “If it’s in there, I’m going to lean a little bit, and hopefully they give it to me. If they keep missing in, I’ll just keep leaning.”