One of our readers made a good point about leaving Eric Arnett in the 9th and not going to the bullpen, and I thought this deserved a post. Basically, the question posed was why not go to a reliever in the 9th? Although Arnett pitched great, why not limit his pitch count and go to a "closer?" Not just in yesterday's game but throughout the year I find myself saying that we left a pitcher in just a little too long. That begs the question, does IU really have a "closer?" Does IU really have relievers that can get the job done? Essentially, will IU's bullpen cost us wins down the road?
I do agree that we oftentimes leave the starters in too long, and it has hurt us in some cases this year. Yesterday may have been an exception, though, since Arnett was still hitting 94 on the gun in the 9th. However, he did throw 129 pitches, and the last time he threw what I consider an excessive amount of pitches in an outing (it was 145 in a complete game loss against then #20 East Carolina), he struggled in his next start, pitching his worst game of the season in my eyes (he gave up 5 runs in 6 innings with only 2 strikeouts in a win over Bowling Green down in Florida).
Our starters are obviously one of our best attributes as Arnett, Matt Bashore, and Blake Monar are a tough 3 guys to face in a weekend series. I fully understand that it is tough to pull these guys when they are throwing the ball well, but it must be done at some point if IU has any hope of developing continuity and consistency out of the pen, something that will be crucial in order for the team to realize its postseason aspirations. I know Coach Tracy Smith said the bullpen was a team weakness heading into the season, but how big of a weakness is it?
With Chris Squires now a weekday starter, we are left with Matt Carr (4.76 ERA) and Joey O'Gara (8.04 ERA) as the primary relievers. Since Carr gave up the homer in the 9th to cost Squires a win this past week against Xavier, it would have been tough to bring him in against Minnesota in the 9th with only a one-run cushion. O'Gara was warming up, but he is 0-2 in 7 appearances so I'm sure the coaching staff was hesitant about him too. Jake Dunning (6.35 ERA) is another possibility, but it is difficult to bring him in now with an infield that has been depleted due to injuries (plus we have to take DH Alex Dickerson out when he comes in to pitch, assuming Dunning starts in the field). Joe Vicini, arguably the most productive LH reliever on the team, is currently injured and it is uncertain when he will return. We also have 4 freshmen in Drew Leininger, Marshall Gorham, Matt Igel, and Wyatt Hoff...none of which have been consistent.
That leaves us with Kyle Leiendecker, who has probably been the biggest disappointment thus far on the pitching staff in my eyes as he was expected to compete for a weekend spot but has only logged 2 innings on the season. He has great stuff, so hopefully he can get himself under control on the mound and develop into a valuable reliever moving forward.
Ultimately, we will need several of these guys to step up soon, and I have no doubt that one or more can do so. If not, maybe Coach Smith can do like IU basketball Coach Crean and hold walk-on tryouts throughout the season. Who knows, maybe we can teach 7 footer Tijan Jobe to pitch. Everyone loves Tijan! I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts, so feel free to comment below.
Next game: 3/31 at 3pm EST vs. Chicago State (2-22) at Sembower Field in Bloomington, IN. Quick stats: Chicago State currently has a 14.03 team ERA and a .230 team batting average.