Ask anyone on the Ohio State baseball team, and he will tell you it is nice to be back home.
Following a three-game sweep on the road at the hands of Maryland, the Buckeyes came back home for a two-game midweek series against Morehead State and won both games.
After the sweep against the Eagles, OSU now sits at 12-1 when playing in Bill Davis Stadium. The one loss for the Buckeyes at home came in Big Ten play against Northwestern. OSU has gotten off to a slow start in conference play, sitting at 2-4 against Big Ten opponents.
OSU coach Greg Beals talked about how important it is to continue the winning ways at home this weekend during the Buckeyes’ upcoming three-game series against Rutgers.
“We’ve got to win the home series,” Beals said. “Being at home, we’ve got to play good baseball. We are excited to get back in Big Ten play … to climb our way back up into the standings where we believe we give ourselves a chance.”
The big key to OSU’s play of late has been its pitching. A team that entered last weekend as one of the more potent offenses in the Big Ten saw dominant starts from its two left-handers, junior Tanner Tully and senior John Havird, as well as great outings from two of its right-handers, freshman Ryan Feltner and redshirt sophomore Austin Woodby.
Senior third baseman and co-captain Nick Sergakis said he knows that for the Buckeyes to keep winning, they need their pitching to keep rolling against a solid Scarlet Knight team.
“Our pitching staff has been carrying us,” Sergakis said. “Morehead State came in with an above .300 team batting average and (the pitching staff) shut them down. … Rutgers is going to be a scrappy team. They’re probably the scrappiest team that we played last year. They just never give up.”
Rutgers has not been tearing it up this season, but it is certainly no team to take for granted. Winners of seven out of their past 10 games, the Scarlet Knights (15-17, 2-4) gave Indiana all it could handle in their last Big Ten matchup, winning two of three games.
Though its lineup has no real sluggers, Rutgers has a couple of hitters who could pose a potential threat to OSU pitching. Senior designated hitter R.J. Devish currently leads the team with a .406 batting average, which is fourth in the Big Ten.
Freshman outfielder Jawuan Harris not only leads the team in stolen bases with 24 on the season, but he also leads the Big Ten in that category. As a whole, Rutgers leads the Big Ten with 71 stolen bases on the season.
Though his team faces a potential challenge from the Rutgers lineup, Beals said he has faith that his team can keep that prolific offense from doing too much damage.
“They’ve got a couple guys with power, and they’ve also got a couple guys that are capable of stealing bases,” Beals said. “If our pitchers are pitching to the bottom of the strike zone and pitching ahead in the counts, if we’re able to do those things and command our fastballs, then I think we’ll be able to keep that offense at bay.”
The pitching staff of Rutgers has not been a major strength for it on the year, but starting in Game 1 for the Scarlet Knights is senior Howie Brey. Brey owns a 2.82 ERA over 54.1 innings of work. The lefty has surrendered only 51 hits this season, good for a .248 opponent batting average.
“We’re going to see a left-hander on Friday night that’s pitching pretty good,” Beals said. “He’s going to move the ball around on us and he’s been pitching really well, his ERA is under 3.00, he’s winning some ballgames.”
Remembering Zach Farmer
Saturday’s game against Rutgers will be especially meaningful for the OSU, as Saturday will be the Zach Farmer Memorial Game.
A promising young pitcher, Zach Farmer began his career with OSU as a highly touted pitching recruit who many believed would have a very successful tenure at OSU and could end up in the MLB draft. After initially believing that his cancer was in remission, Farmer later revealed that his cancer had returned. He succumbed to the disease at the age of 21 on Aug. 4.
In recognition of its teammate, the team has worn a patch on its hats this season that displays his initials ZF. For Beals, the Zach Farmer Memorial Game is going to be very special for the team as it continues to honor Farmer.
“Zach is near and dear to everybody in our program,” Beals said. “He was a great, great guy, a great teammate, and we learned a lot from him in his battle and have tons of respect for what he and his family went through. It will be good to see his family, and it will be good to show him the respect that’s well deserved.”
The weekend series against Rutgers is scheduled to get started on Friday at 6:35 p.m. with Tully set to pitch. He is scheduled to be followed on the hill by Havird in Game 2 and either redshirt sophomore Adam Niemeyer, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, or Feltner in Game 3.