Feb. 10, 2011
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Aside from replacing two outfield positions, the University of Iowa baseball team returns across-the-board experience, most notably in the pitching staff.
Twenty-one letterwinners are joined by 10 newcomers as the Hawkeyes look to continue the success they had in 2010 by winning seven of the last nine games and making the championship game of the Big Ten Conference Tournament.
“It was the past, but we have so many returning players who learned that we can compete with anybody,” UI head coach Jack Dahm said Thursday at media day inside the Jacobson Athletic Building. “We have to learn to play pitch to pitch. What we learned last year is when we quit worrying about winning, we started to win. When we worried about the things we could control, we had a lot more success. It’s about the process.”
Last season the Hawkeyes finished 30-28 overall, 13-11 in the Big Ten. No. 1 starter Jarred Hippen (6-4, 3.71 ERA) returns along with fellow starters Nick Brown (5-7, 6.10), Matt Dermody (3-2, 7.93) and Zach Kenyon (1-3, 6.98).
“It’s nice coming out and being the Friday starter,” said Hippen, a junior. “We have great guys coming back on Saturday and Sunday. I feel good about the staff.”
Hippen, who was named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team in 2010 has been named College baseball Daily’s Preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year.
Iowa was 24-3 when it lead after five innings and the bullpen remains strong. Senior Kevin Lee (2-0, 13 saves) has been named to the watch list for the annual National Collegiate Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, given to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball.
“I’m going to stick to the game plan I used last year, which was being very aggressive on every pitch,” Lee said. “We’re going to have a bulldog mentality and keep attacking everybody we play.”
The Hawkeyes still have more than a week to wait for the opener. They take on West Virginia on Friday, Feb. 18, at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge in Tampa, Fla.
“I am sick of being inside this bubble,” Brown said. “I want to get outside and be in the warm weather.”
Brown could be the No. 2 starter for the Hawkeyes, but he said he is fine with whatever role he’s ask to play. And as far as playing with a target on his back?
“We don’t have a lot of respect yet,” Brown said. “Last year helped out and we have a lot of guys coming back, but the way things have been in the past, we need to come out and play our game. If we play our game we’ll be fine.”
The emergence of a changeup as a third pitch could mean more opportunities for Kenyon, a senior and one of 15 Iowans on the Hawkeye roster.
“I want to be the guy that goes out there in any situation and shuts the door when needed,” Kenyon said.
Dahm said Kenyon had a great offseason and a productive fall. And he is another of the talented arms that could make this pitching staff special.
“We have an opportunity to have one of the best pitching staffs in the Big Ten,” Dahm said. “That’s going to be a key for us — not only on the front side, but on the back side. It’s an exciting time right now.”
While pitching grabs most of the preseason recognition, Iowa’s offense should also improve from 2010 when the Hawkeyes averaged 6.3 runs a game. Senior infielder Zach McCool (.344-2-36) tops the list of hitters.