Deep pitching staff 'one of the strong points' for 2017 Hawkeyes
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The arms are in abundance.
With 10 pitchers back from last season’s staff — one that broke Iowa’s single-season strikeout record (382) and posted the second-best ERA in program history (3.54) — the Hawkeyes will look to lean on veteran hurlers amid what is a relatively young group.
“I think it’s one of the strong points of this team,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said at Friday’s baseball media day. “We’ve had really good pitching the last three years, but we feel like this staff might be the deepest from top to bottom.”
The pitching production starts up top with junior Nick Gallagher and redshirt junior C.J. Eldred, two right-handers who are expected to be rotation mainstays beginning with next weekend’s season-opening series at South Florida.
After going 8-3 with a 2.57 ERA in primarily a long relief role last season, Gallagher will now anchor the weekend staff as the Friday night guy. Eldred, who churned out a 3.43 ERA with a team-best 63 strikeouts in 2016, will slide back to Saturday.
With Tyler Peyton and Calvin Matthews both graduated — the duo combined for 24 starts last year — re-establishing stability in the weekend rotation is a must.
“To know what you’re going to get from your starting rotation is huge,” Eldred said. “I know that I personally take a lot of pride in that. That’s something I want to offer my team. Every time I get on the bump, I want them to feel like they’re going to be able to get six, seven, eight innings out of me and give it my all.
“Starters, we get one time a week to do what we do, so we better be ready.”
The Sunday spot is still up for grabs, but the Hawkeyes have options. Senior Drake Robison, sophomore Shane Ritter and freshman Grant Judkins are among the candidates, and Heller indicated that multiple guys will get a chance there before conference play commences.
“We’ve got three or four really good options,” Heller said. “This weekend will be big in determining which one will get the nod heading into next week (at South Florida). That’s the only one that we really haven’t solidified, and I think that’s going to be a spot where things shake out in the first four to five weeks before we start Big Ten play. I think you’ll see a couple guys get a shot.”
After things were “a little scary” in the Iowa camp this fall due to a rash of injuries, the coach said the afflicted Hawkeyes were rehabbing nicely.
Southpaws Nick Allgeyer and freshman Kole Kampen are sidelined after undergoing Tommy John, but Heller reported that everyone who was expected to be back — including Sammy Lizarraga (elbow), Josh Martsching (shoulder) and Gallagher (a nerve in his right arm) — has recovered well.
“I’d say we are as healthy as we’ve been,” Heller said. “The guys who we thought would come back are all back and in pretty good shape right now.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.