Hawkeye bullpen rises to occasion

BY BEN SCHUFF | APRIL 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa baseball team's 6-2 win on Tuesday may not have come against Big Ten competition, but the Hawkeye bullpen earned a bit of redemption in the team's victory over South Dakota State.

Iowa's previous game resulted in a 10-5 loss at Indiana on Sunday. Hawkeye relievers were tagged for 7 hits and 5 earned runs after starter Sasha Kuebel exited in the fifth inning with the score tied, 5-5.

But three Hawkeye relief pitchers combined to throw 3 1/3 innings while allowing 2 hits on Tuesday.

"It was a good bounce-back by those guys," manager Jack Dahm said.

Freshman Nick Hibbing was perhaps the most impressive from the bullpen. The right-hander earned his first save of the season by facing the minimum of seven batters in 2 1/3 innings of work.

Hibbing entered immediately after Jackrabbit shortstop Eric Cain tripled to deep right-center field with Iowa leading 4-2. It was a crucial point in Tuesday's game, as Dahm had brought in left-hander Ben Bergman specifically for Cain's at-bat.

Hibbing said Cain's presence on third base didn't bother him, though — and his pitching backed that up.

The 6-5, 185-pounder induced a dribbler in the next at-bat from South Dakota State designated hitter Phil Paquette to end the inning, preventing a Jackrabbit rally.

"My job coming out of the bullpen is to come in — whatever situation that is, whether it be bases loaded or no outs — in that case, it was a guy on third," Hibbing said. "I just had to go after the guy at the plate."

Hibbing said bullpen performances like the one Iowa got Tuesday are key to nailing down more midweek wins.

"If we have a game like today, where [the bullpen] holds the team to 2 runs, our offense can definitely do the rest for us," he said. "Our job out of the bullpen is to hold the lead where ever it is and contain the game."

Freshman Ryan Rumpf also came in to pitch in a tough situation. He inherited runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth inning. The right-hander struggled initially; he walked the first batter he faced to load the bases and gave up a 2-RBI single the next at-bat. Both runs were charged to starter Andrew Hedrick.

That single cut Iowa's lead in half, and shades of Sunday began creeping on to Banks Field.

But Rumpf settled down after that and got out of the inning without further damage.

The West High product said he was pleased he didn't allow more than the 2 runs, given the situation. He was less happy with his pitch-by-pitch performance.

"It could have been a lot worse," he said. "I'm happy with the outcome, but … I could have done a lot better job executing pitches."

Dahm attributed some of Rumpf's inefficiency on Tuesday — he particularly struggled with his off-speed pitches — to a lack of playing time.

"We haven't had the chance to get him in there enough, and that's what these midweek games are for," Dahm said. "He's going to be fine; he's a competitive kid. He just needs work."

Follow DI baseball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.

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