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Baseball: Weather pushes home opener back to Saturday; Buckeyes battle Xavier

OSU sophomore Seth Kinker (37) fires a pitch during a game against Morehead State at Bill Davis Stadium on April 12, 2016. OSU won 1-0. Credit: Lantern File Photo

The Ohio State baseball team was finally planning on playing some games in Bill Davis Stadium for the first time all season.

Alas, the Buckeyes will have to wait one more day and will now play at home only once instead of twice due to the cancellation of Friday’s game due to expected weather.

Now the team will host the Xavier Musketeers on Saturday for their home opener and travel to Cincinnati for a doubleheader, beginning at noon on Sunday.

Scouting Xavier

The Musketeers come into this game in the midst of a three-game losing streak, having lost most recently to No. 1 Louisville, 13-4, in a midweek game on March 15.

The current slide Xavier is mired in has its record now sitting at 7-10 in what has been a slow start to the season for the Musketeers.

A key source of the struggles of the team can be traced back to Xavier’s offense. The team is batting only .225 and has scored just 69 runs in 17 games (4.06 runs per game). Though the team has combined for 11 home runs and has been successful in 22-of-26 stolen base attempts, the Muskateers offense has struggled due in large part to an inability to make consistent contact. The team has struck out 179 times, 26.8 percent of their total plate appearances.

One bat that has provided some firepower for the Musketeers has been junior third baseman Rylan Bannon. The third-year infielder has posted a .281/.378/.578 slash line with four home runs and is a perfect 4 for 4 in stolen base attempts. If Bannon can keep up his hot hitting heading into this series against OSU, he could be a potent bat the Buckeyes will need to watch out for.

With the bats scoring only 4.06 runs per game, the team would need to count on their pitching staff to hold down the fort and keep them in ball games. Unfortunately for the Musketeers, the staff has not been able to do their job.

They have a team ERA of 4.93 across 144.1 innings of work. Though the team has done a fine job limiting the walks (3.37 BB/9), opposing hitters have been able to rack up the hits, posting a .275 batting average against so far this season. The home run ball, in particular, has come back to bite the Musketeers as they have already surrendered 13 longballs, 0.81 home runs allowed per nine innings.

The pitching staff as a whole has struggled, but two arms in the bullpen have done as much as possible to limit the damage done late in games. Sophomore Matt Kent has appeared in seven games to this point and has not been afraid to go deep into his outings, already having accumulated 17.1 innings of work. In that time, he has yet to allow a single run while allowing only 22 total baserunners (16 via a hit, four by virtue of a walk and two hit batsmen).

The other standout reliever, and one of the most interesting players for the team has been freshman infielder and pitcher Conor Grammes. On the mound, Grammes has allowed just two runs to score in 7.1 innings of work spanning five relief outings. He has allowed just six total baserunners (one walk, six hits) and has also struck out six batters.

At the plate, Grammes has not been a true force like Bannon, but he has provided the Musketeers with consistency. The freshman second baseman has reached base in all but three of his 16 games  played so far this season and already has five multi-hit games. Overall, he is slashing .246/.290/.369 with one home run and one stolen base.

Finding Bullpen Consistency

In 2016, the Buckeyes relied heavily on their bullpen. Only two relievers on the staff owned an ERA above 3.10 and the team could almost always count on their pitchers holding down a lead late into games.

So far in 2017, the bullpen has not been the same weapon it used to be. Only three relievers currently have an ERA below 3.10, and as a whole, the bullpen has a team ERA of 4.94. Over their 62 innings of work thus far, the relievers have allowed 72 hits, 32 walks (1.68 WHIP) and have struck out just 50 opposing batters. And though only two of the team’s eight losses have been attributed to a reliever, the team would still benefit from more reliable performances.

It took six games for redshirt junior Kyle Michalik to finally allow his first earned run of the season, but others have not found the same success. This season, three relievers have already allowed four or more runs and seven have surrendered five or more hits.

But the team has started to see some better performances from their pen. Across the past three games, OSU relievers have only allowed a total of five runs (four earned) with just 12 hits and two walks allowed over their past 13 innings pitched. This has resulted in a 2.77 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. They have also generated 10 strikeouts over that time period.

With the weather delay, the first game of the series against Xavier will not take place until Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Redshirt senior Jake Post is still expected to begin that game for OSU.

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