Hawkeye baseball continues to seek consistency in cleanup spot

BY TOMMY REINKING | MAY 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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The fourth spot in a baseball team’s lineup is supposed to be where the main run producer bats. For the Iowa baseball team, that spot has been a revolving door with the only truly successful cleanup hitter being junior Trevor Kenyon.

The team has had five different players hit cleanup. Kenyon has played the most games there with 10, followed by catcher Keith Brand, who has hit fourth nine times, and catcher Dan Sheppard and outfielder Taylor Kaufman, who have hit cleanup seven times.

“We don’t have the prototypical guy who’s going to go out there and hit 8 to 10 home runs,” Iowa baseball coach Jack Dahm said. “All I want is a guy that’s going to stand in there and drive in runs for us. We haven’t really had that this year. Kenyon and Kaufman both had stretches.”

Kenyon was nearly unstoppable in the cleanup spot from March 30-April 9. The Davenport native hit .419 with 18 hits and 12 RBIs in only nine games.

“When I get up to the plate and there’s a guy on second, it’s a lot easier to get them in,” Kenyon said. “It’s just all about the approach. If I get a pitch up high, I have to hit it somewhere.”

After that hot streak, Kenyon was moved up to third in the lineup. Dahm said he moved Kenyon up to fill in for an injured Jake Yacinich. Other batters hitting fourth couldn’t match Kenyon’s hitting before his run and haven’t after. The other five hitters are hitting only .233 with 15 RBIs.

In Tuesday night’s matchup with Wisconsin-Milwaukee — which Iowa lost, 10-3 — Taylor Zeutenhorst was in the fourth spot. He corralled just one hit without a single RBI.

Even more, Kenyon has also not been able to repeat the success he found while batting fourth. He’s hitting only .222 with 1 RBI in eight games as the third man in the order. Kenyon has had to make a few adjustments to hit higher up in the order, but he still focuses on driving runs in.

“For me, hitting in the 3-hole is the same as hitting cleanup,” he said. “When I’m the 3-hole, I have to be sure to strike out less and hit more for average. I’ve just been trying to hit the ball hard.”

The importance of the fourth hitter in a lineup is paramount. The name “cleanup hitter” comes from the player’s ability to “clean up the bases,” generally with power hitting.

But if there’s one thing the Black and Gold have been lacking this year, it’s been power. The team only has 2 home runs, one from Nick Day and another from Kris Goodman — neither of whom have batted fourth all season.

Kaufman, who has the second-most RBIs in the fourth spot in the lineup with 5, said the cleanup spot has been up for grabs without a definitive slugger.

“The lack of power on this team really opens up the position to be the No. 4 hole,” he said. “On our team, it’s going to be the guy who’s the most consistent hitter.”

Dahm is confident that the Hawkeyes can have success in not only the cleanup spot but also elsewhere throughout the lineup once the necessary players get healthy.

“If we could get healthy, we’d have Yacinich in the 3-hole, Kenyon in the 4-hole, and maybe Kaufman in the 5-hole,” he said, “Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got guys that can drive in runs.”

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