A season ago, Indiana baseball thrived off its pitching staff.
The Hoosiers led the Big Ten in team ERA and finished second in strikeouts as right-handers Jonathan Stiever (5-6, 3.41 ERA, 97 K’s) and Pauly Milto (8-2, 2.03 ERA) each had career years.
As Indiana enters 2019, Stiever is on to the professional ranks after being drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago White Sox. Milto is gearing up for his senior season and is expected to be the Friday night starter. But the rest of the rotation is still in flux with the season opener against Memphis coming up quickly on February 15.
“You look at Pauly and you say he’s going to be a guy that throws a lot of innings,” Indiana baseball coach Jeff Mercer said. “There are several guys that are going to be in that mix. I don’t have necessarily a set rotation. You know I really try hard to wait.”
🗣🎙⚾️Fall Ball update from Pauly Milto. pic.twitter.com/kZc4QsN2la
— Indiana Baseball ⚾️ (@IndianaBase) October 4, 2018
Stiever and Milto combined to make 29 starts in 2018 for Indiana as the Friday and Saturday guys.
Left-hander Tim Herrin made 10 starts last year for Indiana, primarily during the mid-week, boasting a 3.22 ERA. Unfortunately for Indiana, he also left school early after the Cleveland Indians called his name in the 29thround of the draft.
Indiana’s Sunday starter was in flux for the majority of last year. Left-hander Cameron Beauchamp (4-1, 3.78 ERA) made 10 starts for Indiana and solidified his spot in the rotation toward the end of the season.
Andrew Saalfrank (1-3, 3.79 ERA), Tommy Sommer (2-1, 3.07 ERA) and Connor Manous (1-2, 3.24 ERA) also combined for 10 Indiana starts in 2018 and will be heavily considered coming into this season as well.
Mercer knows he has a lot of talented options and doesn’t want to rush anything with his rotation just yet.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 30, 2019
“If I’m a player, I want to be evaluated on my full body of work,” Mercer said. “I want to have six, seven, eight months, I don’t want you having your mind set what the starting rotation is, we still have two or three weeks and this is the most important two or three weeks at this point.”
Among the Indiana returners who have experience, there are also a few freshmen and a junior college transfer who have the potential to make a big impact on the starting rotation.
Tanner Gordon, from John A. Logan College, racked up 104 strikeouts in 70 innings in the junior college ranks last year with a 2.06 ERA and a 9-2 record in 12 starts. He was only outdone on his staff by ace Trey Riley who was drafted in the fifth round by Atlanta in this summer’s MLB draft.
Freshman right-hander Gabe Bierman, out of Jeffersonville, Indiana, is listed at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds with a high 80s fastball and a slider and curveball in the mid to low 70s according to prep baseball report.
Another freshman making headlines alongside Bierman is 6-foot-6, 200-pound right-hander McCade Brown from Normal, Illinois. Brown is listed as a four-pitch pitcher according to prep baseball report with a fastball in the high 80s as well as a changeup, curveball and slider all in the mid to low 70s.
Tanner Gordon vs. Tommy Sommer today. First pitch at 2 p.m. ⚪️🔴 pic.twitter.com/5vzqOfF5da
— Indiana Baseball ⚾️ (@IndianaBase) November 3, 2018
“I think one of the most upside is with McCade Brown and Gabe Bierman,” Indiana senior catcher Ryan Fineman said. “There’s so many guys in that freshman class that can play big roles, this season, maybe next season, it doesn’t matter when. They’re going to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Mercer will have to narrow down his rotation and find the mix between experienced pitchers and incoming studs while placing some of them in the bullpen as well.
“You look at Tanner Gordon and Tommy Sommer and a young guy like Gabe Bierman has been really good in the last week. Obviously Cam and Saalfrank and those guys all have a track record and have good stuff,” Mercer said. “I look at the starter and say it’s important, you have to have quality starts, but I’ve been really pleased with the overall depth of the staff and as the year progresses, it’ll become more clear on who will start, but having the depth is a vital part to our success as well.”
As Mercer’s starting rotation isn’t set in stone yet, he has a slew of options to choose from. One thing that is for certain is that the senior Milto is primed to be Indiana’s Friday night starter, as Hoosier pitchers will look to turn in quality starts throughout the weekend after him.
“Pauly was born older, god made him different. I don’t think it matters if he was a freshman or a senior, if he throws Friday or Sundays or anywhere in between, I don’t worry one bit about his ability to lead the staff,” Mercer said. “Pauly is the guy that doesn’t have emotion. So he just goes out and executes a plan and whether he’s taking BP before the game and hitting some home runs or he’s pitching, like he’s just unflappable so we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Pauly Milto. Complete game. 11 strikeouts. Shutout.
That's what you need from a starting pitcher in an elimination game.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) June 2, 2018