Column | Pitching struggles negate one of Big Ten’s top lineups


Cameron Krasucki

The Illinois baseball team meets on the pitcher’s mound to discuss strategy against Purdue April 18. The Illini are currently struggling with pitching.

By Carson Gourdie, Staff Writer

In Major League Baseball, if a player gets a base hit three out of 10 times, fame and fortune follow.
While Illinois isn’t quite at that mark, the Illini have a combined batting average of .286, the highest team batting average in the conference.
But despite players like Branden Comia and Jackson Raper having very productive seasons while anchoring the lineup, Illinois is sitting below .500 at 15-16 because of consistent pitching struggles.
“We walk too many people, and we are behind in the count on a consistent basis,” said head coach Dan Hartleb. “We have a number of guys who need to make adjustments and get better and help us more.”
While Hartleb has a right to be disappointed with his pitchers throwing balls, the Illini are in the middle of the pack when it comes to walking batters.
But Illini pitchers rank first in home runs allowed this season, hurting the team’s chances to keep the run totals down to a minimum.
Illinois’ pitching staff is currently registering a team earned run average of 7.27, with Minnesota being the only team in the conference with one higher.
But Minnesota’s record sits at 4-26, while Illinois is flirting with a winning record, a testament to the strength of the lineup.
Playing against conference frontrunner Michigan, Illinois was able to split the series despite being outscored by 18 runs over four games.
The Illini were able to put up at least four runs in each game, topped off by a 13-run performance in a victory in game on Sunday.
Third baseman Jackson Raper has transitioned well from Division II to Division I, as he’s been Illinois’ breakout star this season, batting .330 with nine home runs.
Despite facing tougher arms, the North Carolina native’s experience and patience at the plate has produced solid numbers as he leads the Illini lineup with Comia.
But giving up 18 and 19 runs makes it hard for any lineup to keep up with the opposition.
However, the Illini bats try to remain focused on themselves and avoid chasing runs.
“It’s better when you are on the winning side of those for sure,” Raper said of losing high-scoring games. “It’s kind of what we have dealt with this year. (But) we’ve been on both sides. We don’t let the score affect what we do.”
While pitching hasn’t performed as well as the lineup has, the rotation has shown signs of life, which gave the team confidence.
It was just over a week ago that pitchers Riley Gowens, Ryan O’Hara and Cole Kirschsieper threw a combined no-hitter in a 1-0 victory over Purdue after surrendering 20 runs to them a few games prior.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but that was a huge up,” said pitcher Andrew Hoffmann. “We are trying to build off of that. The pitchers have been lagging behind, but we thought we were starting to turn around.”
But after the 11th no-hitter in the program’s history, Michigan was able to turn the tide and average 12 runs per game over the four-game series.
“We need to believe in ourselves,” Hartleb said. “We need to take the things we do in practice and take it out to the mound to get hitters out. We have great role models on the pitching staff like Andrew Hoffmann. We just need other guys to be consistent with what they’re doing.”
Despite facing a Wolverine pitching staff with the third-best ERA in the Big Ten last weekend, the Illini were able to consistently put runs on the board, signaling that Hartleb’s lineup will allow the team to compete against any team in the conference.
With only 12 games left in the regular season, time is running out for the Illini to secure a higher seed in this year’s Big Ten tournament.
Maryland, Rutgers and Iowa remain on deck for Illinois, which all rank within the top eight teams in the conference in runs produced, so the slate doesn’t get any easier for the pitching staff. However, Illinois’ sophomore ace believes the rotation can still be an asset for the team.
“I think we are right up there, but we need to clean a few things up,” Hoffmann said. “If something goes our way, we will be there. We proved we can beat anyone.”

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