After a rocky start to the season, Iowa has been in better form lately. They've won four of their last five games, including a come-from-behind walk-off win over Bradley last week, a thrilling 2-1 series win over Maryland last weekend, and a homer-filled blowout over Northern Illinois a few days ago. But all five of those games were played in the friendly confines of Duane Banks Field in Iowa City, where Iowa is 5-1. They head back on the road this weekend to face a solid Minnesota team (12-9 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) and the road has been unkind to Iowa -- they're just 1-8 in true road games. Hopefully their improved pitching and timely hitting makes it up to Twin Cities this weekend.
Speaking of improved pitching, the poster boy for that phenomenon is Iowa's Friday-night starter, Iowa legacy C.J. Eldred, who's been sensational in his recent starts. He was also the subject of two good profiles this week. From Jeff Johnson at The Gazette:
"It actually took awhile to get used to pitching for a school again," he said. "It kind of felt like ‘Is this wait ever going to end?' I didn't throw my senior year, didn't throw my freshman year. Last year, I had to sit out. This year, finally. But it did give me time to work on a lot of stuff. I've been able to clean up some stuff on the mound. I've really learned a lot, which has helped me. But, yeah, it was a long wait, I'll tell you that much."
Eldred said he feels his fastball command has improved exponentially, and he's been able to develop different offspeed pitches. He described himself as more of a breaking ball pitcher in high school but has been able to get outs this season by using his sinker and working both sides of the plate.
And from Chad Leistikow at Hawk Central:
After a knee injury cut short Eldred's high-school junior year of 2012 to 28 innings, he broke his leg trying to jump over a couch and was limited to playing first base for Mount Vernon in 2013.
He signed as a preferred walk-on at Indiana, but redshirted in 2014 while his leg rebuilt strength.
He then transferred to Iowa as a walk-on after Hoosiers coach Tracy Smith and his staff left to take jobs at Arizona State. "It's where I always wanted to come," Eldred says. "I saw it as an opportunity to come back home."
But his NCAA appeal for 2015 eligibility with the Hawkeyes was denied a few weeks into the fall semester. It didn't make sense for Heller to use one of his 35 roster spots on somebody who couldn't play, so once Iowa's first game that season began, Eldred couldn't be part of the program.
Give 'em a read -- they're both well worth your time.
As The Daily Iowan noted, Minnesota puts the ball in play a lot. They don't walk much (just 8% of their at-bats) and they don't strike out (just 140 times, 2nd fewest in the Big Ten), but they do hit the ball a lot. The Gophers have a conference-best .333 batting average, as well as a .466 slugging percentage (2nd in the league), and a .388 on-based percentage (3rd in the league). That could make for an interesting combination with an Iowa team that doesn't strike out a lot of batters -- just 151, third-lowest in the Big Ten. Iowa pitchers pitch to contact... which is also Minnesota's strength. We'll see whose strength is better, I suppose.
On the bright side, Minnesota's pitching isn't nearly as dominant as their hitting. They have a team ERA of 4.50, 10th in the Big Ten and opposing batters are hitting .250, 7th in the Big Ten. They don't strike out a lot of batters, either -- 159 (10th in the Big Ten).
PITCHING MATCH-UPS AND INFO
Game One: Minnesota 4, Iowa 1
Iowa: RHP C.J. Eldred (2-2, 2.09 ERA)
Minnesota: RHP Matt Fiedler (3-2, 4.15 ERA)
Game Two: Iowa (10-13, 2-2) at Minnesota (13-9, 1-0) -- Sunday, 11 AM CT
Iowa: RHP Tyler Peyton (0-3, 5.25 ERA)
Minnesota: LHP Dalton Sawyer (3-2, 3.90 ERA)
Game Three: Iowa (10-13, 2-2) at Minnesota (13-9, 1-0) -- Sunday, 2 PM CT
Iowa: RHP Calvin Mathews (0-2, 5.91 ERA)
Minnesota: RHP Toby Anderson (3-0, 5.06 ERA)
NOTE: Due to weather concerns, Saturday's game has been postponed and they're going to play a doubleheader tomorrow, starting at 11 AM CT:
Today's game at Minnesota has been cancelled... We'll play a doubleheader tomorrow beginning at 11 a.m. (CT). #Hawkeyes— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) April 2, 2016
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN/FOLLOW ALONG
All three games will be available on Hawkeye All-Access ($), and GameTracker. Friday and Saturday's games will be available on BTN Plus ($), while Sunday's series finale will be available on BTN. You can also follow @UIBaseball on Twitter for regular updates.
We'll try to post updates in the comments, but feel free to post your own, too!