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Baseball season preview: No-hitter hurler anchors OSU staff

Pitching. It’s a common denominator in baseball.

Everyone from high school coaches around the country to major league managers often claim pitching as the No. 1 reason why they’re succeeding or failing.

The Ohio State baseball team is no exception. While the Buckeyes appear to have a strong, balanced lineup and an athletic team in the field, questions surround the pitching staff. OSU returns its top two starters and top setup man, but doubts remain regarding the rest the Buckeye pitchers.

Of course, OSU has one pitcher they can rely upon.

The numbers junior right-hander Alex Wimmers put up last season were quite remarkable. The 2009 first-team All-American and Big Ten co-Pitcher of the Year went 9-2 and led the Big Ten with 136 strikeouts last season. Wimmers held batters to a .211 batting average and opposing batters hit a measly .193 against him with two outs.

Furthermore, on May 2 against Michigan, Wimmers fanned 14 Wolverines and threw the first nine-inning no-hitter in the 125-year history of OSU baseball. Wimmers worked hard in the offseason to prepare to shoulder the load again for the Buckeyes.

“Conditioning-wise, I improved my stamina, I worked hard in the weight room,” said Wimmers, a projected first-round pick in June’s MLB draft. “What I like to do is to put a lot of pressure on myself in carrying this team. I do the best I can and try to stay in there as long as I can on Friday nights to set the pitching for the rest of the weekend.”

The 2010 preseason All-American and undisputed staff ace has some lofty goals for the upcoming season.

“I want to repeat as [Big Ten] Pitcher of Year. I’d like to lead the country in strikeouts if I can,” Wimmers said. “I want to limit my walks and have an ERA under three.”

Coach Bob Todd, in his 22nd year coaching the Buckeyes, admits he might have to rely a bit more on Wimmers this season given the pitching staff’s uncertainty.

“We’ve talked about that. We’re never going to do anything to hurt him. He’s got too much of a bright future,” Todd said. “If we can nurse an extra inning or so out of him, we’re certainly going to do it. It’s all going to depend on pitch counts, especially earlier in the season.”

Anchoring the No. 2 spot in the rotation is junior Dean Wolosiansky. The 6-foot-5-inch, 225 pound right-hander went 11-2 last season with an ERA of 6.04. However, Wolosiansky is 12-2 in his career in conference play and has shown a knack for escaping trouble, as he induced 14 double plays last year.

The Buckeyes lost a big piece of their bullpen from last season with the departure of senior closer Jake Hale. A first-team All-American who was drafted in the 27th round of last June’s draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Hale saved 18 games last year for OSU. Hale also had an ERA of 1.31 and struck out 67 in 55 innings pitched.

For now, Hale’s replacement will be right-hander Drew Rucinski. Last season, the junior led OSU with 12 wins and was second in the Big Ten in appearances. Todd thinks Rucinski could contribute in a number of roles.

“For the first couple of weeks he is going to be our closer, [however] at some point in time he might be our No.3 starter.” Todd said. “We used him as our setup guy last year, so he’s really been flexible. We feel comfortable wherever we put him.”

The team might also have to rely on younger players to eat up innings during the season. Brett McKinney, a freshman right-hander from Hamilton, Ohio, who impressed coaches during last fall’s Scarlet and Gray World Series, might see substantial action early in the season.

“McKinney is going to be the key.” Todd said. “You never know what you’re going to get out of freshmen, but what he showed us in the fall is that he is going to have a chance to contribute and contribute quickly.”

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