Iowa baseball looks to fill rotation void

BY MATT COZZI | APRIL 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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One hour before Sunday's double-header against Indiana, Patrick Lala was told that he could possibly start on the mound in the second game.

Although he had yet to start a game in 2011, Lala did end up getting the call. Prior to Sunday's contest, the junior right-hander made all 12 of his appearances in relief, and almost all of those outings were in the late innings.

A shoulder injury to Nick Brown — the regular No. 2 starter — has created a question mark at the back end of the weekend rotation following ace Jarred Hippen and Matt Dermody, who began the season slotted third in the rotation. Brown's absence allowed Lala to step in against the Hoosiers.

"I like Patrick's stuff as a starter, middle guy, and as a closer," head coach Jack Dahm said. "He's got as good of stuff as anybody that we have. Some of his best outings are when we use him for more than one inning."

Other pitchers will likely get a chance on the mound within the next couple weeks, but Lala may have the upper hand after his first starting performance.

Catcher Tyson Blaser was pleased with Lala's first start as a Hawkeye. Lala — who started and relieved games at Kirkwood Community College last year — went a career-high six innings, allowing three runs on nine hits while striking out six.

"[Lala] threw the ball well for us," Blaser said Sunday. "He settled in after giving up a three-spot in the second [inning]. After that, we started mixing up fastballs and going to the breaking pitch more. He did a great job for us."

Blaser said he's comfortable with Lala starting in the third spot in the rotation again, but acknowledged that his battery mate can be effective in any role that's he's asked to perform.

"Patrick is really valuable to us," Blaser said. "It's pretty easy to put him out there as the third starter after two complete games like [last] weekend. But if we get into trouble and we need him to come in, I'd rather see him at the back end of the bullpen. It's going to be a struggle figuring out what to do on Sundays until Brown comes back."

Lala had similar sentiments, and he said the chances of him starting stems from the performances of Hippen and Dermody.

"If Hipp and Derm do well, I can see myself being the Sunday guy," Lala said. "Whatever helps us win. If it's the end of the game, that's fine, or if I can start and give us six or seven good innings, then I can do that, too."

Other pitchers who could get an opportunity as the third starter are righties Ricky Sandquist and Zach Kenyon. Sandquist has started six games this season, one of those as the third starter.

Until Brown is healthy and able to rejoin the rotation, the Hawkeyes have some decisions to make. However, Dahm and the rest of the Iowa coaching staff do have options to ease the current pitching predicament.

"We need to take it one game at a time," Dahm said. "I know we'll have Hippen and Dermody starting [this] weekend, and Ricky Sandquist will probably pitch [today]. The third spot is up in the air right now, so we look forward to getting Brown back even if that's a couple of weeks away."

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