Hawkeye hitters look to be hit

BY BEN SCHUFF | APRIL 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa outfielder Sean Flanagan doesn't mind if a fastball occasionally finds his shoulder or elbow instead of his bat.

In fact, he embraces being hit by pitches.

When Flanagan was being recruited to Iowa from Downers Grove North High in Illinois, his email address was Hitbypitch12@aol.com.

While his email address has changed since coming to Iowa — "it's still a valid email I have, but I don't really use it as much," he said — getting hit by pitches is still something in which Flanagan takes pride.

"It's just something I've always tried to make part of my game and show I'm a hard-nosed player," the senior said. "I'll get hit by a pitch if it's going to help the team out."

Flanagan and his Hawkeye teammates have turned getting hit by pitches from something worth grimacing over into an expectation. Iowa leads the Big Ten with 41 hit by pitches, and Flanagan's team-high of 9 are second-most of any player in the conference.

Staying in the way of a pitch is something manager Jack Dahm has preached to his players since arriving at Iowa in 2004.

"So many people in the Big Ten throw the ball away from you, and if you're back off the plate, and the ball comes in, and you get out of the way, you become pretty easy to pitch to," Dahm said. "So it's more a mindset we have: We want to take away that inside part of the plate by, if they come in too far, we'll get hit. If the ball is away, we'll be able to stay on that ball and still hit it."

The number of hit batters increased upon Dahm's arrival, ranging from 70 in his first season to a school-record 86 in 2008.

Iowa's skipper said he was disappointed with how his players responded to inside pitches last year — the team's 45 hit batsmen in 2011 was least of Dahm's tenure — and that it was a point of emphasis in the off-season.

That refocused attention seems to be paying off — the team's current total of 41 roughly halfway through the year has the Hawkeyes on pace for 87 hit batsmen by season's end.

"When the ball is coming inside, [Dahm] gets pretty upset if we move our feet out of the way," Flanagan said. "That's one of the big things he emphasizes. He wants to be a hard-nosed team and one that gets hit by a lot of pitches."

Catcher Keith Brand said the players also hold each other accountable for staying in the box under heat. The sophomore has been hit in more than half of the games he's played in (6 times in 11 appearances).

"If we see a pitcher come inside, and our batter is moving his feet back out of the way of [the pitch], our players make sure to get on him about it and just remind him to find a way to stay in there instead of getting out of the way," said Brand, who is second on the team in hit by pitches.

Flanagan broke the painful record for a player being hit by pitches in a single game when he was struck 3 times on March 4 by Youngstown State. He described that game as an experience that "frustrated" him but also one that was "pretty cool … It's something that doesn't happen very often."

Brand was also hit by a pitch in the game against Youngstown State. His willingness to take the pitch resulted in him scoring the tying run on a balk in the bottom of the ninth inning. Iowa went on to win in 10 innings, 16-15.

"Coach Dahm likes to talk about being unselfish," Brand said. "Getting hit by a pitch is pretty unselfish, and kind of helps the team rather than moving out of the way and trying to get a hit."

Follow DI baseball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.

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