Bullpen finds their stride

BY JACOB SHEYKO | APRIL 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller has options. When an Iowa starting pitcher has seen his last batter, Heller can turn to an abundance of arms in the bullpen. A lack of arms isn’t the problem.

The problem this season has been the bullpen’s consistency. But over this past weekend against South Dakota State, during the Hawkeyes’ first three-game series sweep of the season, the Hawkeyes finally got the dominant relief pitching they so desperately need.

“I thought they did a great job,” Heller said. “It was very impressive, and it was much better than earlier in the month. I thought they’ve really improved throughout the course of April.”

With two starting pitchers — Calvin Mathews and Tyler Peyton — out with injuries, the bullpen will be tested during the next couple weeks.

But if the series against South Dakota State is any sign, Iowa’s bullpen may be shaping up.

In three games, Iowa’s relief pitchers saw an abundance of action. On April 25, after Mathews was pulled, three relievers filled in for 7.2 innings, allowing just 2 hits and striking out 15 batters.

On the April 26 first game of a double-header, Tyler Radtke provided two innings and didn’t allow a hit or a run. In the second game, Hawkeye relief pitchers Andrew Hedrick and Jake Reinhardt combined for 6.1 innings pitched, giving up 1 earned run.

“That was huge,” starting pitcher Sasha Kuebel said about the bullpen, specifically Radtke — who got out of a bases-loaded jam during the first game of the double-header. “They could have cleared the bases on him … he bore down and did a great job, just like everybody else this weekend.”

When the sweep concluded, Iowa’s relief staff had combined for 16 innings, 7 hits, 1 earned run, and 19 strikeouts.

“Our bullpen couldn’t find it early in the season,” Peyton said. “We were all over the place. But with this week, their showing their true potential, that’s a huge upside for our late-season and postseason run.”

The struggles of the bullpen aren’t that far in the rearview mirror, though. Just over two weeks ago, the relief pitchers gave up 11 runs in the final three innings, eventually blowing a 10-run lead to Northwestern. A little less than a week after that, the bullpen gave up 2 runs in the ninth inning as Iowa lost to the Western Illinois, which at the time had a 10-19 record.

However, the bullpen’s performance against South Dakota State has seemingly washed away any memories of the earlier struggles. And the timing could not have been any better.

With Peyton and Mathews out for an unknown amount of time, Heller will have to piece together a pitching rotation for the near future, which includes a game today against Milwaukee.

“A mature team, when something bad happens, Calvin goes down, Tyler Peyton can’t go, all these things are snowballing,” Heller said. “[Some people would] give yourself an excuse to play poorly. It doesn’t matter; it’s just the next guy up.

“They’re all good players. We’ve been talking about this since the fall. When somebody goes down, then the next good player goes in, and he gets the job done.”

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