“We are excited and ready to go,” Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer said a few days before the Hoosiers’ opening day. “I don’t know if we are ready to play.”
That rust was apparent at times for Indiana, which looked excited if not overeager on the diamond. The Hoosiers opened their season Friday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis with a doubleheader against Rutgers and Minnesota.
Game one starting pitcher Gabe Bierman’s accuracy struggles and the team’s cold bats led to a 2-1 defeat. Bierman walked five and hit a batter in four innings while the Hoosiers were held to five hits.
Indiana bounced back big time against Minnesota in game two playing with more tempered excitement for a 5-2 victory. Indiana’s two out hitting and pitcher Tommy Sommer’s dominant day highlighted the victory. The Hoosiers’ first six hits, all in the first four innings, came with two outs.
Here’s what we learned from Indiana’s first day of baseball of the 2021 season.
Hoosiers’ impatience leads to Rutgers loss
IU looked overeager at the plate for much of Friday’s game against Rutgers. The Hoosiers struck out 13 times. IU chased pitches out of the zone throughout plate appearances and never looked comfortable against Scarlet Knights ace Harry Rutkowski.
The Hoosiers did not have much better luck against the Scarlet Knights’ bullpen. IU’s struggles were most acute in the game’s closing innings. Over the last five innings IU recorded just three base runners while striking out 10 times. Mercer also had to be frustrated with IU only having two walks.
As the Friday matinee game progressed, the Hoosiers looked increasingly frustrated and impatient with quick at-bats. The game lasted less than two and a half hours. Indiana’s rush at the plate might be in part to not playing a live game as a team for nearly a year. But the impatience never put any pressure on Rutgers’ pitching as Indiana had almost no quality offensive opportunities.
Modugno’s coming-out party
In Friday’s opening game Hoosier second-year freshman John Modugno entered in the fifth inning after Bierman’s uneven four-inning performance. Modungo pitched in just one appearance last year — three innings giving up five runs. He was a different player against Rutgers.
The Upper Saddle River, New Jersey native shut down his home-state team pitching a perfect last four innings. Modungo did not necessarily overpower Rutgers, with only four strikeouts. Instead the righty peppered the Knights with a collection of off-speed and pinpoint accuracy. He had no walks.
Rutgers looked off balance with early swings leading to routine ground outs and pop outs. This lead to remarkable efficiency. He needed just 35 pitches over the four innings. Playing a doubleheader with four games in three days, Modungo allowed Mercer to only use two pitchers in game one preserving the rest of the bullpen.
Tommy Sommer dominates Minnesota
After a first-inning-ending strikeout, IU pitcher Tommy Sommer screamed and gave a fist pump. In the Hoosiers’ second game of the season, the junior southpaw never lost that fire.
Sommer pitched eight innings of efficient scoreless baseball. He struck out 10 Gophers. His pitching high in the zone was effective as well. Minnesota batters frequently got under balls as they flew out nine times.
— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) March 6, 2021
Indiana provided plenty of run production for Sommer, but with the dominance on the mound, the game felt like it was over in the early innings. Sommer is one of the most experienced pitchers on the staff and Mercer has talked about his leadership being key in the pitchers’ room. But actions speak louder than words. Sommer’s pitching in Minneapolis did all the talking to the rest of the Hoosier pitching staff. By going eight innings he also further preserved the Hoosiers’ bullpen for the rest of the weekend.
The Hoosiers finish the four-game round robin in Minneapolis with a Saturday 9 p.m. ET rematch against Rutgers and a second faceoff with Minnesota on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. Both games will be televised on BTN+.