Indiana opened the 2014 Big Ten Tournament Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over No. 8 seed Iowa at Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park. Tonight, the Hoosiers will take on No. 5 seed Michigan at 10 p.m. ET in the championship bracket.
If the Hoosiers win that game, they will get Friday off and wait for a 2 p.m. ET game on Saturday against a team coming out of the loser's bracket. If they lose tonight, they will move on to play a Friday night game at 8:30 p.m. ET against the winner of the Iowa-Minnesota game.
SMITH TALKS ABOUT PITCHING ROTATION
One of the differences for Indiana in this particular Big Ten Tournament as opposed to others is that the Hoosiers go into it believing they have already secured an NCAA Tournament berth. IU has been consistently ranked in the top 20 in the nation this year in various polls and currently is ranked No. 4 in the latest RPI.
Because of that, Smith doesn't feel the pressure of needing to bring one of his starters back on short rest later in the week. He talked about that following the win over Iowa.
"I want to win a national championship,'' Smith said. "And in order to win a national championship we need to be as fresh as we can be in a little over a week from now. But I know my competitive juices are going to flow and we just have to be smart about it and not bring back guys when they're a little tender which is what you would typically do.
"We're in a different position than a lot of other teams in this tournament. They're going to get deep into this tournament and I fully expect them to bring back guys on short rest, pitching guys and maybe extending them a little bit more than they usually would. We've gone into this tournament saying that will not happen for us. That's not to say we're not going to try to win because we have very capable guys but we just have to be very smart with how we manage our pitching staff this week.''
Smith said in a typical postseason that would be his approach, too. But this one is different.
"In tournament's gone by I've brought starters back on two or three days rest but that ain't going to happen this week,'' Smith said. "But the good part about that is we have some very capable relievers who can pitch multiple days and if we're fortunate enough to stay in this thing you'll see that happen.''
SMITH HAPPY WITH THE WIN BUT …
Smith was happy to advance into the championship bracket but it was clear he wasn't particularly happy with the way his team played. The Hoosiers got ahead 5-2 after 5 but then managed just one hit and a total of two base runners over the final three innings.
"I think everyone on this team will agree that that wasn't our best effort,'' Smith said. "There were some positives. But the standard that we have set we don't feel like we lived up to that on a lot of levels tonight. But we're happy with the win and hopefully we can improve our play as we move forward.''
DENATO BOUNCES BACK AFTER EARLY STRUGGLES
At times Wednesday, Joey DeNato was his own worst enemy. On the season, he had committed just one error. He committed two in the first three innings plus against the Hawkeyes. The first came on a errant pickoff throw and the second on a bunt back to the pitcher which he bobbled when he attempted to field it.
"Honestly I don't know where that came from, I usually make those kinds of plays,'' said DeNato, who improved to 12-1 with the win. "After that happened, you just have got to shake it off and continue to pitch.'
DeNato said he felt like he found his rhythm in the middle innings.
"Later on in the fourth or fifth inning I kind of figured out my slider and that was really my out pitch later in the game,'' DeNato said. "That was the pitch I struck a lot of guys out with.''
DeNato said he tries to keep an even keel no matter the situation.
"I've pitched in a few postseason games but throughout the season my mentality has pretty much stayed the same,'' DeNato said. "And that's to pitch as well as I can and pitch well enough to give my team a chance to win. That's what I try to do every single game. So whether it's a regular season game, a postseason game or a championship game it's going to be the same mentality.
Smith said that is one of the things that has always impressed him the most about DeNato.
"He doesn't rattled and he always has the ability to turn it up a notch,'' Smith said. "One of my favorite quotes is your biggest job as a pitcher is to stop them from scoring runs after they've scored runs and I thought he did a really good job of that.''
RODRIGUE BREAKS OUT OF SLUMP
Casey Rodrigue came into Wednesday's game in a bit of a slump with just two hits in his last 22 at bats. He said he was able to persevere by staying true to himself.
Wednesday he had a single, double, triple and walk in four plate appearances. He also had two RBI, stretched a single into a double and did his best Pete Rose impression with a headfirst slide into third on his triple.
"I was just sticking to my plan early,'' said Rodrigue, a junior from Desterhan, La. "I was trying to hit the ball up the middle and sitting on fastballs early. I've been hitting a lot of balls hard so I've just been keeping going, staying in the batting cages, getting my work in and it worked out today.''
Smith said he was happy to see Rodrigue have some success.
"That guy has been the most hard luck guy on the planet,'' Smith said. "He has been hitting the ball hard for three weeks. It was nice to see some of those fall today. I love the way that guy plays. If you're a vintage baseball guy at all that slide into third base has to remind you of the old Charlie Hustle slide.
" I just love the way that guys plays and I'm happy to see him get some results because he has been hitting the ball hard for some time.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch