Yacinich battling fielding woes, crushing opposing pitching for Hawkeye baseball

BY BEN SCHUFF | MARCH 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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Jake Yacinich's ability to slow down in the field is speeding up the Iowa offense.

The freshman has emerged as Iowa's top option at shortstop, a position for which Iowa manager Jack Dahm didn't have a set starter heading into the season.

While his path to being an everyday player has been a rocky one, Yacinich's persistence is paying off both for himself and the Hawkeyes.

"Sometimes for freshmen, the game can get fast," Dahm said. "The unique part for Jake is, that's happened a couple times, but when you sit him down and talk to him, he learns from it and goes out and bounces back pretty well."

He began the season in a platoon with senior utility player Andrew Ewing — the two alternated starting in the first five games. By the third weekend, Yacinich started all three games at shortstop at the Austin Peay/Riverview Inn Classic.

The Des Moines product said seeing Ewing in the field helped him learn a position he wasn't used to; he spent his high-school career at Dowling Catholic as a third baseman.

"It was kind of rough in the beginning," he said. "The coaches have done a really good job of hanging with me when things don't go my way … there have been rough patches and bright patches."

The first rough patch was in Iowa's 4-3 extra inning loss to Austin Peay on March 3 — one day after his 19th birthday. Yacinich committed a throwing error in the bottom of the 10th inning that allowed the winning run to reach base.

"That was a really big learning point," he said. "Coaches pulled me aside after that, and talked to me, and said stuff like that is going to happen … It was a huge learning experience for me. Any time you make a mistake like that — that could potentially cost you a ball game — it's something you have to take in.

"You can be sad about it all you want, but eventually, you have to learn from it and become better from it."

Another low point — possibly the lowest point of the 19-year-old's young Iowa career — resulted in a return to the bench. Yacinich committed a throwing error and then a fielding error in back-to-back innings in a game against Illinois State on March 11. Both miscues came with the bases loaded, and the two plays resulted in 4 runs for the Cardinals in a 10-6 defeat of Iowa.

"It was just a matter of trying to do too much," said Yacinich, who sat on the bench the next three games. "I got out of my element and wasn't being myself."

Senior Mike McQuillan said he sat down and talked with the young Hawkeye after the mishaps in the Illinois State game. McQuillan recalled telling Yacinich of the struggles he had as a freshman and giving him some general fielding advice: "Don't let the ball play you — you play the ball."

Yacinich found himself back in the starting lineup on March 15, and in a more familiar spot on the field as Iowa's third baseman. He responded well that day against Jacksonville State, going 3-for-3 with a RBI.

Since then, he's started every game for Iowa at shortstop. The key, he said, was slowing down.

"It's just being focused on every pitch," he said. "A lot of times in baseball, you fail more than you succeed. So when you start to fail a little more than you'd like to, things can just get going on you, and your head starts spinning, and you forget what brought you there."

The game against Jacksonville State and his start at third base served as a jump-start for him defensively, and it was also indicative of how Yacinich has been swinging the bat.

Dahm moved him from lower in the batting order, where he had been hitting for most of the season, into the second spot in the lineup on March 21 against Grand View — and for good reason. Yacinich boasts the team's top batting average (.353, a single point higher than McQuillan's .352), is second behind McQuillan in on-base percentage (.424) and multi-hit games (6), and is tied for the team lead in multi-RBI games (3).

"He's established himself as our shortstop — but it's still early in the season," Dahm said. "It's one of those that things can change, but as of right now we're planning on him being out there on a regular basis."

Follow DI baseball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.

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