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Muller an integral part in baseball success

BY J.T. BUGOS | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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Speed cannot be taught.

Fortunately for the Iowa baseball team, Kurtis Muller has it, and he takes pride in burning the base paths.

But on March 31, the center fielder had his most valuable asset stripped from him.

After getting on base in the bottom of the third via a line-drive single with two outs, Dallas Burke hit a ground ball to the shortstop. Muller pulled up lame as he headed to second base, and he left the game with a tweaked hamstring.

He sat on the bench for a few contests, and when he returned, his speed wasn’t quite up to par.

“It was tough. I had to go station to station instead of stealing bases,” Muller said. “When I did get on, I was just sitting, waiting for the next guy to hit me to second base and then third base and then pound me in.”

Muller said he is 100 percent now, and Iowa head coach Jack Dahm said he sees his player’s confidence grow with each at-bat. Against Nebraska on Tuesday, he posted two hits, and last weekend against Michigan, he totaled seven hits in 12 at-bats.

“His swing is getting really close to being really good right now,” Dahm said. “He was turning on some balls last weekend against Michigan. He’s getting back in that groove he was before he hurt his hamstring.”

Muller’s work in the field has shown his legs are back to full strength.

Last weekend against Michigan, he was shaded toward right field before a pitch. A Wolverine batter struck a ball to deep left-center, but Muller tracked down the ball and turned an would-be extra base hit into an out.

“It’s unbelievable how much ground he covers. He’s smart, too,” Iowa second baseman Mike McQuillan said. “He doesn’t make mistakes out there or dive for balls he shouldn’t. He’s just Plain Jane out there, and he covers a lot of ground.”

Muller isn’t just exceptional in the field, however. The junior also carries one of the Hawkeyes’ most potent bats to the plate. A hit usually leads to swiped bags as well.

“He’s a table-setter for us,” Dahm said. “When he gets on, people have to worry about the stolen base and what he’s going to be doing. He’s one of the best leadoff hitters in the Big Ten, and he’s doing an outstanding job.”

Muller wasn’t always a leadoff hitter, though. As a freshman, he tallied RBIs in the fifth spot, and last year, he spent most of his time hitting third in the order.

Last summer, learned he would be the first up to bat for the Hawkeyes, and he put in work to ensure his effectiveness.

“The first couple months of the summer was an adjusting period trying to figure out what I can and can’t do as a leadoff hitter,” the Sun Prairie, Wis., native said. “Going into this year, I knew I had to cut back on my strikeouts. I feel pretty comfortable right now.”

Dahm said he wishes he could have four or five players in the mold of Muller. The seventh-year head coach called Muller the catalyst of the team, and noted that when Muller struggles, the Hawkeyes often struggle to score.

“When people play us, their No. 1 goal is to keep Kurtis Muller off the base paths,” Dahm said. “And when he gets going good like he is right now, he’s tough to keep off the bases.”

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