Hawkeyes still looking for stable lineup
The Iowa baseball team's offense has been so lethargic this season that head coach Jack Dahm has used more than 20 different lineup combinations.
Leadoff man Trevor Willis and No. 3 hitter Mike McQuillan have been the only constants for the Hawkeyes (16-25, 5-10 Big Ten) in 2011, and McQuillan is the biggest source of run production so far in Big Ten play.
Heading into today's game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee (19-22, 9-7 Horizon League), Iowa's limited offense has been a reason for the lack of consistent lineups. The Hawkeyes will square off against the Panthers for a 6:05 p.m. first pitch at Banks Field today.
"We would have liked to have had a set lineup heading into Big Ten play, but we just haven't been producing offensively," Dahm said. "We've mixed and matched. For the most part, though, we've tried to stick with our older guys."
Dahm noted that after the Michigan series on April 22-24, the coaching staff decided to stick with the Hawkeyes' more-experienced players. While there have been a few tweaks in the lineup every so often, the same players have usually occupied the nine spots in the batting order, despite the struggles.
More than half of the order is filled with upperclassmen, among them fifth-year senior Tyson Blaser, who hit his first home run of the season on Sunday.
"When we've been struggling offensively like we have, you're going to try to find the best lineup that's going to work," Blaser said. "We've had a variation of lineups, but right now I think we're close to [solidifying] a lineup that will give us the most productivity."
While Iowa is third to last in team batting average in the Big Ten, Willis and McQuillan have been productive for the Hawkeyes.
Willis has been the leadoff spot almost the entire spring, and he has proven to be a legitimate threat there. The 6-3 center fielder is tied for fifth nationally with seven triples. McQuillan leads Iowa with a .338 average and has 26 RBIs.
This is the second-straight season McQuillan has seen a majority of his plate appearances in the third spot in the order, and the junior second baseman has had success.
"Mike is a natural hitter," Dahm said. "We feel really good about him in the 3-hole. He's the one guy who teams have worked around at times. He's our best hitter, so the natural spot for him is in that third spot."
For Iowa, tonight's midweek game against a nonconference opponent will allow less-experienced players to receive some at-bats. Dahm said he expects freshman outfielders Kyle Haen and Taylor Zeutenhorst to play at some point during the game, if not start.
Sophomore Ricky Sandquist will toe the rubber against Milwaukee; the right-hander has become accustomed to starting midweek games. Sandquist is 1-3 this season with a 9.00 ERA in 29 innings pitched.
"[Tonight's] midweek game is an opportunity to build some confidence going into the weekend series," McQuillan said. "We can work on some things before Friday. It will definitely be a springboard for us."
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