Hawkeyes face uncertainty

BY JACOB SHEYKO | MAY 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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During the course of Iowa baseball’s rain-soaked 4-2 loss to Illinois, there was uncertainty on whether the rain would hold off enough for Iowa to finish its final home game of the season — the game had around a three-hour rain delay in the ninth inning.

It seemed like a perfect metaphor for the Hawkeyes’ current standing in the tail end of the season — uncertainty.

“I’m hoping that they’re pretty disappointed, just like me,” head coach Rick Heller said following the loss. “You get swept at home, beautiful weekend to play, good crowds, and to not find a way to win one is disappointing.”

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The main source of uncertainty for Iowa comes from the pitching staff. What once consisted of three reliable starters has now been so racked by injuries to the point where junior Sasha Kuebel is the only pitcher Heller can count on making a start every series.

Calvin Mathews — who used to be Iowa’s ace and one of the Big Ten’s best pitchers — went down with a shoulder injury on April 25. And Sunday afternoon, Tyler Peyton, who has struggled with lat soreness for the second half of the season, left the game in the fourth inning with the same problem.

“It’s the same injury,” Heller said. “It just keeps flaring up. It tightens up and is sore right at release. It’s frustrating.”

Fortunately for Iowa, its bullpen has shown glimpses of being able to piece together starts in Mathews’ and Peyton’s absence. During the first game of Iowa’s series with Illinois, relief pitcher Blake Hickman went 5.1 innings in perhaps his best start of his season.

And over the course of the last couple of weeks, the Hawkeyes have received consistent performances from such pitchers as Nick Hibbing, Tyler Radtke, and Jared Mandel. But it’s obvious that no manager wants to rely on nonstarters’ arms for two of three games in a series.

“I thought our pitchers battled and gave us a chance in the situation that we’re in,” Heller said.

Uncertainty also faces the Hawk offense — which was rendered ineffective over the course of the three-game series with Illinois.

Coming into the series, Iowa ranked first in the Big Ten in batting average and on-base percentage and second in runs scored. But against the Fighting Illini, they mustered just 4 runs in three games, a combination of both Iowa’s hitters, futility at the plate and Illinois’ pitchers, who entered this contest third in the Big Ten in ERA.

“It’s probably a little bit of both,” shortstop Jake Yacinich said. “They have some really good arms, and they pitched really well this weekend. But I think we need to get better again this week and seeing that pitching will definitely help us down the stretch.”

Iowa will return to action on Thursday, when it will face Purdue. And uncertainty clouds that series. The Hawkeyes must win at least one game in order to qualify for their first Big Ten Tournament since 2010.

“Going to bed, sleeping on [this loss] is going to hurt a little bit,” center fielder Eric Toole said. “But we’ve got to wake up tomorrow morning and wipe it away, get back on our feet, and start running again. Hopefully, we’ll go into Purdue with a head full of steam and be ourselves.”

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