Mangler returns for Hawkeye baseball

BY BEN SCHUFF | APRIL 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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Jake Mangler's confidence came from his coaches rather than himself.

Mangler recalled hitting coach Ryan Brownlee approaching him before the Iowa baseball team's game against Austin Peay on March 3. The redshirt freshman was second in the batting order that day after hitting seventh and sixth in the team's previous two games.

"Coach Brownlee came up to me and asked if I knew why I was batting up in the lineup," Mangler said. "I was like, 'No, I have no idea.' He said, 'Your competitiveness [and] you don't strike out very often, and having that in the 2-hole is huge."

The Hawkeyes reacquired those traits and the rest of Mangler's skills this past weekend at Nebraska, when he made his first starts since mid-March.

Mangler tore the PCL in his right leg on March 11 against Eastern Illinois. He said he "got caught up in the catcher" during a play at home, and he missed eight games. The Clinton native said he's about 90 percent now and wears a knee brace for support.

The 20-year-old's injury came at a time when he was beginning to establish himself as the team's new second baseman. That made for an interesting dynamic on a team that had seen senior Mike McQuillan produce solid numbers as a three-year starter at the position.

But the transition was taking longer than Dahm had intended.

"I was actually mad at Jake. I had challenged him over the summer — I said 'Hey, I want you to come back, and I want you to be our starting second baseman next year. I want you to make a run at Mike McQuillan's job," Dahm recalled. "I'm not too sure if he really believed me or not."

Mangler said he didn't.

"Seeing Mike as a three-year starter, I thought it would be great if I could just go out and challenge him and maybe play a little bit," he said. "It was difficult for me to see him — a guy I looked up to as a leader — and try to take that spot away from him."

Some of Mangler's disbelief stemmed from having redshirted his first season. The Hawkeyes had a number of middle infielders returning for the 2011 campaign — McQuillan, Kurt Lee, and Kasey Carling, to name a few — and Dahm decided to wait a year on a player who was still a bit raw.

"It was the longest year of my life, to be honest," Mangler said. "Not being able to play for a whole year — not having that competition on a daily basis like I had had my whole life — was difficult to grasp.

"I've never been put in a situation before where I wasn't able to play every day. [McQuillan] being a starter for a couple of years, it kind of seemed like a far stretch for me to be able to take that position."

But that's exactly what he has done, and he's producing in a big way.

Mangler has played in roughly half as many games as Iowa's RBI leaders because of his injury. But his 13 RBIs are still good for second on the team behind Chett Zeise and Jake Yacinich, who are tied with 14. His .320 batting average is the third-best on the team.

Mangler continued his run-producing ways in his first start back on April 6. His 2-RBI single in the fifth inning drove in what became the winning run in a 4-3 Iowa victory.

"He's another bat in our lineup that — early in the year, when he was healthy — he was there," said McQuillan, who is now Iowa's starting first baseman. "He's pretty consistent as a redshirt freshman, coming in right away and putting up numbers above .300 — that's pretty special."

Follow DI baseball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.

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