Keppler finding success as reliever for Iowa baseball

BY MATT COZZI | MARCH 31, 2011 7:20 AM

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Throughout the Iowa baseball season, there have been times when head coach Jack Dahm has forgot to pencil in Phil Keppler’s name under the “available pitchers” column on the lineup card.

Although Dahm isn’t omitting the junior on purpose, it’s safe to assume Keppler won’t have to fill in his own name from here on out.

Still relatively new to his relief pitching role, Keppler has made the most of his opportunities on the mound for the Hawkeyes this season.

Normally the team’s first baseman — he made 40 starts at the position in 2010 — Keppler has now found himself in a platoon.

Freshman Bryan Niedbalski, who is hitting almost 200 points better than Keppler, has started more games at first base. Keppler is in a bit of a rut this year, hitting .103 in 16 games.

“Offensively, it’s been a struggle,” he said. “I have to give the coaches credit — they keep throwing me out there. It seems like when I do square the ball up, it’s right at someone. Early on my approach wasn’t very good, but it has improved.”

Despite his struggles at the plate, Keppler has still made an impact for Iowa by pitching out of the bullpen. So far, he has made three appearances in relief.

With two seasons already under his belt, this is the first in which Keppler has appeared on the mound as a Hawkeye. While the lanky right-hander pitched in high school, he hadn’t appeared on the mound at the Division-I level until about nine months ago.

“When I got here, I didn’t have the opportunity to throw much,” the Manchester, Iowa native said. “I pitched a little bit this past summer, and then I did all right in the fall when we got back here. That’s when the coaches told me they’d give me a chance.”

Pitching coach Chris Maliszewski said Keppler’s early pitching success stems from his positive mindset and the “want” to pitch.

Keppler’s frame projects well at the college level, but he needs to continue to stay compact with his mechanics, Maliszewski added.

“Phil was a guy that was trying to get some work on the mound, seeing what he can do,” the third-year assistant said. “If he performs like he has, he’s going to start seeing himself in situations when the game is on the line. Phil has believed in himself this whole time, and it’s starting to show.”

In the third inning of Wednesday’s game against South Dakota State, that mentality was apparent when Keppler relieved starter Ben Bergman with the bases loaded and just one out. The 6-4, 190-pounder proceeded to strike out the next two batters and prevent any damage.

Following his appearance against the Jackrabbits — his third of the season — Keppler has recorded 51⁄3 innings of work, giving up five hits and one run while striking out five.

“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Dahm said. “Phil is going to be a guy we can use in the sixth, seventh inning. He has enough velocity where if he leaves the ball up, opposing hitters could still swing and miss. He’s going to be an important part of our team on the mound.”

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