IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nick Gallagher called it a "perfect" fit.
For an Iowa team still meshing and adjusting after the arrival of 20 fresh faces, any opportunity to further build cohesiveness and strengthen team chemistry is certainly welcome. That’s why the Hawkeyes’ Thanksgiving trip to the Dominican Republic — which features four games, community service opportunities and an island excursion — is an overwhelming positive.
“We have more newcomers this year than we have returning guys, which is completely out of the ordinary,” said Gallagher, one of Iowa’s veterans as a junior right-hander. “But I think (the trip) is perfect for this year.
“We’ve had a pretty good fall so far, but just the new guys getting experience before the season starts is pretty valuable. Getting put in game situations is going to help them a lot when spring comes around.”
After departing Friday, the Hawkeyes will play Sunday through Tuesday (Nov. 20-22), as well as Thanksgiving afternoon (Nov. 24) against a variety of competition. Iowa will face the Dominican Army national team (Nov. 20), prospect squads from the Texas Rangers (Nov. 21) and Kansas City Royals (Nov. 24) and Escogido (Nov. 22), a Dominican winter league team.
“It’ll be good competition,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “(With the Rangers and Royals), those are basically all rookie league players — professional players who were in the rookie league last season (and are) of Latin descent — so we’ll be playing against pro guys there. One of the teams we play (Escogido) is an actual winter league team, so you’re talking about a higher level of professional players. And then the other game is the army team, which is a mix of former pro guys and the like.
“So real good competition.”
‘We hopefully got it all out of the system’
After the Hawkeyes' pitching staff pushed through an injury-riddled fall, Heller hopes the worst is behind him. Most of the team's health concerns are expected to be cleared up by opening day, but at least two Iowa arms won’t be available this spring.
Southpaws Nick Allgeyer and freshman Kole Kampen — two pitchers Heller said would’ve competed for a weekend rotation spot — will both miss the 2017 campaign following Tommy John surgery. Kampen had his procedure in July after injuring his elbow in his senior year, while Allgeyer injured his earlier this fall.
Allgeyer’s loss could be particularly damaging after he churned out a quality sophomore season. The St. Louis native produced a 3.44 ERA and held opponents to a .209 batting average as a versatile bullpen piece — one who led the Hawkeyes with 22 appearances.
"He worked really, really hard this summer and trained hard,” Heller said, “and, unfortunately, it was a bad break. Before we even started practice — first week of school — he was throwing like a 20-pitch set, and it just went.”
Meanwhile, pitchers Sammy Lizarraga (elbow), Josh Martsching (shoulder) and Gallagher (a nerve in his right arm) were all limited or completely shut down this fall, but Heller expects all three to be full-go this season.
“Even though it was a frustrating fall,” Heller said, “we hopefully got it all out of the system, and everybody will be good to go in the spring.”
‘One of the best pitchers in the Big Ten’
Even with the offseason setbacks, Gallagher is expected to be a vital cog in the Hawkeyes’ weekend rotation. The former Iowa City West hurler performed well last season in a long relief role, going 8-3 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 appearances (four starts) that covered 63 innings.
But with Tyler Peyton and Calvin Matthews both graduated — the duo combined for 24 starts in 2016 — Heller said the plan is for Gallagher to be a solidified weekend rotation.
“Nick’s one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten and has a chance to pitch for a long time, professionally,” Heller said. “I just think that the work he put in and the confidence he gained this summer, he was all in.
“When you’re all in and you do things that maybe other guys don’t, it gives you that little edge and that little bit of confidence that’s going to take him over the top.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting and Iowa athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.