Indiana baseball starting pitchers Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto set the tone, and then it all trickles down from there.
The Hoosiers 2.34 team ERA through 32 games is the second best in all of the NCAA, with only Stetson (2.29) ahead of them.
However, Indiana isn’t getting it done by over-powering hitters. They’re seventh in the Big Ten in strikeouts, 42 away from the league leader Iowa. And on a good day Milto, IU’s ERA leader at 1.83, averages 88 mph on his fastball.
So how are the Hoosiers excelling on the mound?
“We throw a ton of strikes, and we have a lot of depth,” IU head coach Chris Lemonis said. “Another piece is that Pauly and Jon have been so good at the front, it sets the tone for everybody.”
"We throw a ton of strikes and we have a lot of depth."
Indiana baseball's offense was outstanding in the 22-1 win today vs Northwestern, but the pitching has been stellar all year.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) April 15, 2018
Strike throwing is crucial for a pitcher at any level, but the Hoosiers are one of the best in the country at locating. They’re first in the conference, and the only team still in double digits, in walks allowed (95) and 12th in the nation in walks per nine innings at 2.96.
In the past two Big Ten weekend series against Purdue and Northwestern, Indiana has thrown a strike 66 percent of the time (537/812). Compare that to the Boilermakers and the Wildcats combined against the Hoosiers and they only found the zone 58 percent of the time (637/1,097).
Stiever and Milto are the ones who are doing the majority of the strike throwing for Indiana, combining for one walk issued about every four innings.
“Every guy that comes out of the pen fills up strikes,” IU catcher Ryan Fineman said. “You’ve got John, Pauly those guys that are coming in and filling up the strike zone, they’re throwing hard, they’re throwing their sliders for strikes. It doesn’t matter what you tell them to throw, any count they’re going to do it for you. They throw everything with confidence.”
"Every guy that comes out of the pen fills up strikes."
Indiana Baseball's pitching staff is currently best in the Big Ten and sixth in the country with a 2.68 ERA. Catcher @ryanfineman14 breaks down why they've been so successful this year. #iubase pic.twitter.com/V8MzrjGnyd
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) April 5, 2018
Over each of their last six starts, Stiever and Milto have thrown 76.1 innings combined, averaging over six innings per start between the two of them.
Stiever has gone seven innings or more in four of those six starts and leads the Big Ten in strikeouts with 60 on the season. For him, it’s important to get ahead in the count with his low 90s fastball and then mix the off-speed pitches in as well.
“If you’re getting two strike counts pretty quick, it can keep your pitch count down if they’re putting it in play because it makes them more aggressive,” Stiever said. “But once you get to two strikes it opens up a lot more from a pitching perspective being able to get some swing and misses.”
Stiever makes it a priority not to get behind in counts and walk hitters, as he’s only issued 11 free passes through 58.1 innings pitched this season. The same goes for Milto, and although he doesn’t have the power fastball like Stiever, his location and getting ahead in counts is key in order to set up his devastating change-up and slider.
“Having both off-speed pitches is really nice being able to throw in there whenever I wanted to in any count,” Milto said. “Just using movement with the pitches, you have to break plains, make different plains, be able to sink it in there and hit spots and keep it low on the knees.”
IU starting pitcher @pauly_milto recorded 9 strikeouts over 7 innings while allowing just 1 run and 3 hits today in the 3-1 Indiana baseball win.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 10, 2018
The two aces are a major reason why Indiana is winning games and a big reason why the bullpen stays well rested.
The team bullpen ERA sits at 1.59 and four relievers who have made four or more appearances this season have a 0.00 ERA. The most important pieces to the back end for Indiana are sophomore Cal Krueger (15 appearances, 23.1 innings, 1.54 ERA), BJ Sabol and Matt Lloyd, who haven’t allowed a run over 22 innings of work combined.
"If you have two bulldogs on the mound like that I have no problem knowing that we're going to come in and compete."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) April 9, 2018
On average, Indiana uses under two relievers per game when Stiever and Milto pitch. That keeps the bullpen well rested and doesn’t lead to over usage.
One weak spot in the Indiana pitching staff however has been the Sunday starter as five different Hoosiers have gotten a crack at the job so far and have combined for an 4.37 ERA.
But because Stiever and Milto have been getting the job done in the first two games of the series, it allows Sunday to become a bullpen day if needed.
“It let’s us pitch everybody rested,” Lemonis said. “We haven’t had to stretch anybody all year, maybe Matt Lloyd on Sunday against Purdue was the only stretch and he was still pitching great.”
Most weekend series, Lemonis can’t even showcase the entire arsenal in his bullpen because Stiever and Milto go so deep into games like this past weekend.
Indiana only used four relievers totaling eight innings of work in three games against Northwestern because of the quality starts turned in by the top of the rotation.
They allowed 1 earned run over 14 innings of work combined for the Hoosiers in the double header sweep vs Northwestern, setting up a fresh bullpen for the series finale. #iubase pic.twitter.com/acVvIeel7B
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) April 14, 2018
On Sunday, IU received five strong innings from starter Cam Beauchamp setting up three relievers, Brian Hobbie, Andrew Saalfrank and Connor Manous, to record the final four innings of shutout ball.
“That shows you the depth because there’s weeks where we don’t pitch those guys for a whole week and they’re really good players,” Lemonis said. “Getting them out there was huge.”
Indiana now has 20 games left in the regular season against 10 different opponents. Those teams feature a combined record of 198-139 with three being in the top five of the Big Ten standings and two being nationally ranked.
The Hoosiers play five games this week starting with Notre Dame in Indianapolis Tuesday, Ball State at home Wednesday and at Ohio State for a weekend series.
The pitching has been dominant all year long, and the bullpen has been well rested allowing Indiana to be 20 games over .500. With five games in six days, the pitching needs to be on point from the starters to the relievers in order to stay at the top of the Big Ten and national pitching charts.