Eric Beiersdorfer / Lantern photographer
Baseball is a funny game sometimes. What might seem like the tiniest change in a swing, arm release or stance might make the biggest difference in a player’s game. For Ohio State’s Tim Wetzel, a simple drop in the batting order, from leadoff to second, meant comfort and success.
The freshman center fielder started the year as the Buckeyes’ leadoff hitter, and through nine games was only hitting .182 with a .300 on-base percentage. The most important task for a leadoff hitter is to get on base, and Wetzel was not accomplishing that, resulting in just five runs.
In the ninth game, against Illinois State, Wetzel was hit by a pitch and injured his wrist, keeping him out of the next six games. When he returned on March 25, he batted second.
Since the change, Wetzel’s stats have skyrocketed.
He is now hitting .311, and his on-base percentage has risen to .415. In the 15 games since his injury, he has 10 RBIs and has scored 12 runs.
More importantly, Wetzel now feels comfortable with where he is hitting.
“I’ve never really been a leadoff-type guy, and I’ve always actually thought I should be in the two hole, so when coach said I was going there I got real excited real quick,” Wetzel said. “Now that I get to play a little more and not have to be relied on to get on base, it has just made my confidence go up.”
Coach Greg Beals said another factor in Wetzel’s surge has been time. He said it takes at-bats for freshmen to get used to the game’s speed and rhythm, and Wetzel’s wrist injury slowed that process.
“Timmy’s just been getting better and better. You are starting to see the college baseball player he is going to be,” Beals said. “He’s starting to be aged and matured and starting to play like an everyday player and not like a freshman.”
Wetzel said he was not sure he would be a starter coming into the season but that he knew if he worked hard he had a chance.
“I knew it was going to be a lot of competition and it was going to be tough to do, but early on in the fall they gave me a shot, and they moved Brian (DeLucia) to right field,” Wetzel said. “Brian took that like a champ, which is awesome, especially for a senior who wanted to play center field. It speaks volumes about him and the coaching staff having confidence in me.”
Senior right fielder Brian DeLucia was Wetzel’s replacement in the leadoff spot. While Wetzel has soared in the No. 2 slot, DeLucia has also filled his new role well, leading the team with 24 runs scored.
DeLucia said OSU has several young players who can come through for the team and that both starting freshmen, Wetzel and first baseman Josh Dezse, have been unbelievable.
Dezse hits cleanup for the Buckeyes and is the hitter usually knocking Wetzel in to score. Dezse said the two became close last quarter after having two classes together and spending time with each other. He said his faith has remained in Wetzel throughout the season.
“He started out a little bit slow, but he’s a kid where that doesn’t affect him,” Dezse said. “He knows that he’s going to perform. We all expected him to come out of that slump, and he obviously has.”
The two freshmen finished up a 2-1 series win this weekend against Michigan State in which they provided a big impact for OSU.
Wetzel finished the weekend hitting .538 with four RBIs and four runs. He also provided the game-winning RBI in the bottom of the eighth inning in game two of the series.
“Being a freshman in the lineup, everyone expects a lot out of you every day,” Wetzel said. “It feels good just to compete like that and help the team.”
Wetzel looks to continue that type of success and propel his team for the rest of the season. He said the more games he plays, the easier it gets.
But there might be more changes to come.
Beals said he sees Wetzel as a leadoff-type hitter, and with DeLucia graduating after this season, he might not always be hitting second.
“I like having a left-handed guy (Wetzel) in the two hole to protect the base-stealer in the leadoff spot,” Beals said. “But I’m not sure it’s always going to work out that way in the future.”
For now, Wetzel will just have to enjoy the two spot while it lasts.