Baseball faces Leathernecks sans Muller


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The Iowa baseball team never competes on a gridiron, but it still has a quarterback — center fielder Kurtis Muller.

He may not shout audibles, but he does direct defensive shifts in the outfield. Similar to many signal-callers, Muller is also unquestionably the leader of his team.

But right now, the Hawkeyes are forced to take the field without him. And just like a football squad facing games without its starting quarterback, games without Muller are difficult.

Iowa’s (10-15) game today against Western Illinois (7-16) at 6:30 p.m. will be its fourth-straight without the junior lead-off hitter in its lineup. Muller was removed from Iowa’s 6-5 victory over South Dakota State on March 31 after suffering a strained hamstring.

The Hawkeyes were previously a flawless 2-0 earlier this season without Muller in the lineup, and even added a third win with a 5-3 victory at Michigan State on April 2.

As soon as head coach Jack Dahm joked with Muller about that spotless 3-0 record, Iowa dropped its two most recent games — both against Michigan State.

Muller’s absence is no joke.

“Kurtis is one of the best players in the Big Ten,” Dahm said. “We definitely need him. We can still win without him, but we’re a much better team when we have him in the lineup.”

The Sun Prairie, Wis., native proved just how productive he could be in his first season as a Hawkeye. Muller recorded 54 hits and 47 RBIs in 54 games in 2008, earning recognition from Ping! as a freshman All-American.

Hobbled by a more serious hamstring to begin the 2009 season, the 5-10 center fielder still recorded 47 hits in 43 games. He also swiped a combined 33 bases in his first two seasons.

Muller’s injury not only leaves Iowa without its lead-off hitter, it also presents a large void for the Hawkeyes in center field. Dahm said Muller is the leader on defense and ensures players are in the right position depending on the count and hitter.

His teammates share the respect.

Senior Ryan Durant, who plays right field, said his teammate is “awesome” defensively.

“There’s really no other way to put it,” Durant said. “He knows the game so well. He commands the outfield very well.”

Dahm hopes Muller will be healthy enough to patrol the outfield for this weekend’s three-game home series against Illinois. Durant played two games for Iowa in center field last weekend, and redshirt freshman Andrew Host played one.

But the Iowa skipper was unsure of who would get the call in today’s game as of Monday.

Junior Zach McCool will fill in offensively at the lead-off spot until Muller returns. McCool enters today’s game with seven hits in his last eight at-bats, including an Iowa-record tying 5-for-6 day against Michigan State on Sunday.

Dahm said he doesn’t see McCool as a prototypical Hawkeye lead-off hitter because he doesn’t steal a lot of bases. But the seventh-year coach also lauded the Manchester, Iowa, native for his versatility.

“The thing is, he’s going to do anything we ask of him,” Dahm said. “He’s had a very unselfish approach this year.”

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