Iowa baseball off to 7-1 start due to strong pitching

Matt Cozzi
"They're throwing a lot of strikes," Iowa coach Rick Heller said of his pitchers Wednesday. "On days when you don't have your best command, you try to find a way to eliminate that big inning, which they've really done a great job of.

Two years, two straight seven-game win streaks early in the season.

The Iowa baseball team is off to a strong start again with a record of 7-1 to open the 2015 campaign. The Hawkeyes have won seven straight games after losing 5-4 to Kansas State in the season opener last month.

Iowa's pitching is the force behind the current results. A team ERA of 1.30 ranks first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation.

"They're throwing a lot of strikes," Iowa coach Rick Heller said Wednesday. "On days when you don't have your best command, you try to find a way to eliminate that big inning, which they've really done a great job of. Let's face it, we've got some really good arms. We felt like coming into the season that would be a strength for us, both with our starting pitching and the depth we added in the bullpen, and both of those have been true so far."

"(Pitching) coach (Scott) Brickman should get a lot of credit. He's done a great job of calling pitches and knowing the scouting reports. They have a solid game plan of how to attack hitters, and our pitchers have been able to execute that."

Iowa pitcher Blake Hickman is off to a strong start on the mound this season for the Hawkeyes, owning a 1-0 record with a 2.03 earned-run average and 11 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings pitched.

Three starting pitchers – Tyler Peyton, Blake Hickman and Calvin Mathews – have combined to go 3-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. The relief corps – mainly composed of Ryan Erickson, Connor Grant, Nick Hibbing, Tyler Radtke and Luke Vandermaten – for the Hawkeyes is rolling, as well, going 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA so far.

Iowa also ranks first in hits (48) and runs allowed (17) in the Big Ten, and is second in opponents' batting average (.183).

Peyton, Hickman and Mathews all returned from last season, with Peyton emerging as the ace of the staff and Hickman solidifying his role as a full-time starting pitcher.

Mathews was the projected No. 1 entering 2014, but has seen a resurgence as the team's Sunday starter following a midseason injury last spring.

"Between us three, we just compete," Hickman said. "We compete within ourselves. Of course we go against the other teams, but we want to go out there and do our jobs like we've talked about. We're going out there knowing we're better than the guys we're facing. We don't have any doubts."

The first batch of games is a role reversal from last season when Heller's club was making an impression on offense, at or near the top of many statistical categories at the plate within the conference. Now, it's on the mound.

That will need to change eventually, though. And likely quickly.

Iowa's opponent this weekend, Middle Tennessee State (7-2), is hitting .303 as a team with six home runs and 76 runs scored through nine games. By contrast, the Black and Gold are hitting at a .243 clip with three home runs and 37 runs scored.

Catcher Michael Adkins will be at the top of the scouting report entering the weekend. Adkins is hitting .385 with two home runs and already has 16 RBIs for the Blue Raiders.

The three-game series begins at 3 p.m. Friday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

"Middle Tennessee is an older team with some high expectations," Heller said. "Hitter-friendly ballpark, ball flies out to left field, and they're going to have some big time right handed power guys. So it's going to be a good challenge for us."

"I'm not worried at all," Peyton added. "This is how most teams start out, being a little shaky offensively. We have good hitters on this team, so I think we'll come together."

Iowa's wins this season are over Saint Louis, George Mason, Arkansas-Little Rock, Missouri State and Cincinnati (three times).

The more nonconference wins, the better, for a program that hasn't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1990.

"One of the goals this team has is to possibly get an at-large bid, and to do that, you have to rack up some pretty hefty totals in the win column," Heller said. "Every one of them is important."

Reach Matt Cozzi at or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.