Pitching keeps baseball safe at home

By Kate Fratar

For any baseball team working on the fundamentals of the game, it’s hard to get past solid pitching and defense as the foundation for a successful baseball squad. Fortunately for the South Siders, they seem to have a strong hold on both while they wait for their bats to heat up.

After taking to the open road to lead off the season and having their homecoming delayed by weather, the Maroons (6–8) finally made the way back to J. Kyle Friday and marked the occasion with an 8–1 dismantling of Illinois Tech (1–10–2). Third-year right-hander Dominik Meyer continued his work as the squad’s leading pitcher, tossing seven strong innings for the win while allowing just one earned run on five hits.

“He had his pitches going for him Friday, just as he has in most of the other outings,” head coach Brian Baldea said. “We actually went into Friday thinking that Dominik wasn’t going to throw seven innings. I was going to throw him less than that…but because of the kind of game it was and how he was doing, I was reluctant to make a change.”

This confidence and control on the mound is a new side of the River Forest, IL native, who worked solely out of the bullpen last season after taking two starts as a rookie. With a 2–2 mark thus far in 2007 and a paltry 1.09 ERA, Meyer has been the Maroons’ most effective pitcher this year and has relied mostly on the clip of his two-seam fastball to hold batters to a .211 average.

In Friday afternoon’s outing, he was particularly overbearing in shooting down the Scarlet Hawks as he fanned six and faced just three over the minimum. The visitors’ only run came in the fourth when a double to center knocked in a runner who had reached on a walk.

“He’s definitely a much better pitcher this year,” Baldea said. “He’s always had the ability to pitch, [but] I think he’s found his confidence, his composure, his maturity, his poise on the mound this year, and it’s resulting in good outings every time he goes out.”

Getting Meyer to keep up this kind of dominance over opposing lineups and getting the rest of the pitching staff to throw consistently will be crucial to bringing Chicago up to .500 ball. The Maroons have been on a pitching and hitting rollercoaster this season, posting lopsided scores on both the winning and losing ends, with 10 of their 14 games decided by a margin of six runs or more. Nevertheless, their ability to come out on top in these games shows that the squad has what it takes to shut down and out-slug the competition. Friday’s blindsiding of the Scarlet Hawks was just the latest high point.

Paced at the plate by second-year first baseman Kyle Schmitt’s three hits, including an RBI triple, the South Siders stung starting first-year Patrick O’Brien for six hits over six innings. While O’Brien surrendered just one earned run, a sac fly to right by fourth-year designated hitter John Thomas in the second, his defense committed seven errors that gave the Maroons plenty of opportunities to push runners into scoring positions and eventually bring them around to score.

“I think it was rather atypical of them not to play as well defensively,” Baldea said. “They’ve been playing pretty well, they’ve been pitching and playing defense very well, they just haven’t been scoring.”

To his credit, O’Brien, and later his reliever, second-year James Dodgen, never let Chicago’s offense bust out for the big inning to blow the game right open. The Maroons pulled away from their visitors slowly, pushing across no more than two runs an inning, with five different batters chipping in with RBIs.

Trying to get the offense rolling, Chicago laid down the bunt and called for a hit and run—but don’t look for the squad to use the small ball as an offensive crutch or as part of a return to old-time tactics. It will remain purely situational as the Maroons continue to take on foes abouth whom very little scouting information is available.

“We’re playing teams where we face them once a year, sometimes we play them a doubleheader, sometimes we play them a single game, so it’s not like we have a book on them,” Baldea said. “If it looks like it’s the type of game where it’s going to be low scoring, and we may need a run or two, then the bunt or the hit and run may be indicated, but it depends on who’s at the plate at the time and how your pitcher’s doing.”

Next up on the schedule is today’s showdown at Wheaton (5–9–1) followed by tomorrow’s home doubleheader with Rose Hulman (13–10). It was at just about this point last year when the Maroons kicked things up a notch to salvage the 2006 spring campaign. After striking the Thunder with a 17–4 thrashing, Chicago went on an 11–4 roll to close out the season at an even 17–17.

A repeat could be in the works if the squad continues to get quality starts over the next two days. Fourth-year righty Dan Cozzi will be on the hill today, with third-years Nate Ginsberg and Meyer slated for the twin bill tomorrow.