Baseball Opens Home Series Vs. Michigan

The Ohio State baseball team is reaching crunch time, and what better way to up the intensity in the Big Ten race than bringing Michigan to town. The Buckeyes and Wolverines, who are tied in the league one game out of first place, start a three-game series Friday night that should serve as a showpiece for a young Buckeye team.

Friday's weather forecast in Columbus calls for sunny skies and 60-degree temperatures Saturday is supposed to be even better – high 60s and more sun are in the forecast

Ohio State baseball head coach Greg Beals might be the happiest person in the central Ohio for that projection The Buckeyes have had six games rained out this season, including two this past week at home vs Marshall – itself a game added to the schedule because of earlier rainouts – and at Ohio

Even better, the Buckeyes will take to the sun-splashed Bill Davis Stadium field this weekend to take on rival Michigan for a three-game set The festivities begin Friday night with a 7:05 p m first pitch and will be shown live on the Big Ten Network Basketball All-American Jared Sullinger will throw out the first pitch

"This is my first go-round with the Michigan-Ohio State thing, and I certainly have an understanding and a respect for it," the first-year head coach said "There's going to be a lot before and after the game relative to Ohio State-Michigan, but the one thing I'm going to do as a baseball coach is make sure that our guys know inside the game, it's a baseball game They need to take care of their at bats, take care of their pitches, keep themselves in the right frame of mind "

OSU enters at only 16-18 overall but 6-6 in the Big Ten, tied in a logjam for fourth place just one game behind first Despite its 13-25 overall mark, Michigan is also even in the league, so this weekend's games are for crucial spots in the league pecking order as the second half of the league slate kicks off

"The rivalry with Michigan is always exciting," first baseman Brad Hallberg said "The fans always come out for this series, so I'm really looking forward to it They beat us last year two out of three and we have to get them this year "

Senior ace Drew Rucinski will take the hill for the Buckeyes tonight, while Michigan has not announced its Friday starter OSU is 3-1 in Big Ten openers while the Wolverines are winless

"If you come watch this team play, you'll see an exciting brand of baseball," Beals said "You'll see a competitive team that is fun to watch play "

Where They Stand: With a young roster and a first-year coach in Beals, the Buckeyes have had a season about as up and down as expected Ohio State's bats are rounding into form, but preventing runs has been a weakness for the Scarlet and Gray

At the plate, the Buckeyes boast five hitters at 300 or better as of April 24, while senior co-captain and right fielder Brian DeLucia and Hallberg are right behind at 299

Senior third baseman Matt Streng and freshman center fielder Tim Wetzel have rebounded from poor starts to get to 302 and 301, respectively, while freshman first baseman/DH Josh Dezse has rebounded from a midseason lull to jump back up to 341 thanks to hits in seven straight conference games

Sophomore catcher and JUCO transfer Greg Solomon has hit a surprising 311, while junior second baseman Ryan Cypret is at 351 in his first year as a starter Junior left fielder David Corna has hit a steady 284 with 10 doubles, while senior shortstop Tyler Engle has boosted his average to 267 thanks to an eight-game run of hitting 393

Despite a new-look lineup that returned only three starters from a season ago, the Buckeyes are averaging 5 9 runs per game

"It was pretty much a whole new look at the beginning of the year," Cypret said "The coaches mentioned that the freshmen and first-year starters aren't looked at as freshmen or first-year starters anymore We have 30 games under our belts and those excuses are done with "

There have been more issues on the mound and in the field Rucinski has been lights out at 4-1 with a 2 22 ERA in eight starts, but the consistency has been lacking from fellow weekend starters Dean Wolosiansky (2-5, 4 87), Brett McKinney (1-3, 5 77) and Greg Greve (1-1, 6 46) McKinney and Greve are expected to pitch games two and three for OSU

In the bullpen, southpaw Andrew Armstrong (1-0, 3 15) and righthanders Jared Strayer (1-2, 3 00) and David Fathalikhani (2-1, 3 32) have been solid but the bullpen has been stretched when McKinney and Greve haven't been able to work late into games

In addition, Ohio State has committed 55 errors, and the team's 959 fielding percentage is eighth in the Big Ten The 49 unearned runs allowed by the Buckeyes were the second most in the league as of April 24, and OSU has only five error-free games

"I think it's the small things," DeLucia said "If we pick up on the small things, this team is going to go where we want to be The two things that Coach Beals professes to us every day are throw strikes and play defense "

Solomon's Start: When Beals talked about Solomon's talents before the season, he made it clear what he expected out of the team's new catcher, who hit only 241 in his year of JUCO ball a season ago

"Solomon is very, very good defensively," the coach said at the time "We're going to see how his bat comes along, but the catching position is not going to be a position you're going to play because you're hitting You have to be strong behind the plate, and Solomon is that "

It's safe to say, then, that Solomon's bat has been a pleasant surprise Not only is the Litchfield Park, Ariz , native third on the team in batting average, he's added 11 doubles and three triples to post a slugging percentage of 476, second on the team

"It is surprising," he said "It's fun that I'm doing so well Something that happened this year just clicked, and I'm doing as well as I am In the past year's I've been a decent hitter and not a great hitter, so it's exciting "

Solomon got off to an even hotter start, hitting 394 through the team's first 10 games and keeping his average at 382 through April 13 while moving up to the No 5 spot in the lineup A recent slump over the past seven games – during which he has hit 111 (3 for 27) – has dipped his mark, but a return to the bottom of the lineup could do the aggressive free-swinger some good

"Solly is a competitor, and he's been in the right situation a lot and he's come through," Beals said "A lot of that is just his competitive nature and his comfort level with being in that situation As a player, that's what you want You cherish that opportunity to make a difference in a ballgame He's had the opportunity to do that and he's taken advantage of it quite a bit "

As for the defensive side, Beals gave Solomon solid marks during his first season at Ohio State Being a catcher also puts a lot of responsibility on Solomon defensively when it comes to making calls on the infield, and Beals – a former minor league catcher himself – hopes to have Solomon calling pitches as he continues to grow

Solomon has also shown a good knowledge of the game and isn't afraid to use his aggressiveness to his advantage when playing defense or running the bases

"I like to have the game in my control," he said "If I take the game into control then I know what's going to happen and what's not going to happen I like to be aggressive out there "

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