Iowa Baseball Frozen In Flight By Golden Gophers

Apr 3, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detail view of baseballs before the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2016 Opening Day baseball game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detail view of baseballs before the Pittsburgh Pirates host the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2016 Opening Day baseball game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Cool temperatures forced the postponement of one game, and the bats of the University of Iowa baseball team were similarly chilly in two out of the three games played at Minnesota this weekend.

The Golden Gophers proved Iowa sophomore starting pitcher CJ Eldred to be mortal on Friday, taking the series opener 4-1. After cold temperatures forced a postponement of Saturday’s contest, Hawkeye senior Tyler Peyton took advantage of the extra day of rest and helped Iowa to a 6-3 victory in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader.

Senior Calvin Mathews was unable to match Peyton’s feat in the series finale, however, contributing to the Hawkeyes being on the other end of an identical 6-3 score.

Iowa (11-14 overall, 3-3 Big 10) needed three good starting pitching performances to win three games in Minnesota’s conference opener. The Golden Gophers have been an offensive force to be reckoned with all season, leading the Big 10 in team batting average and ranking near the top in most other offensive statistics. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, Peyton was the only one who really delivered.

Eldred was cruising again on Friday, giving up just a hit through the first three frames. Minnesota got to him the second time through, however, while Golden Gopher starter Matt Fielder was dealing even more effectively from the mound. The final line on Eldred in taking the loss was eight innings of work, four runs allowed on seven hits with two walks, four strikeouts and two hit batsmen.

On Sunday morning, Peyton got his first win of the season despite not pitching as deeply as he probably would have liked to. Through five innings of work he allowed just one run on five hits while striking out three and walking four.

He left the game with a 6-1 lead thanks to Iowa’s offense again making life miserable for Minnesota starter Dalton Sawyer. The Hawkeyes have now pushed across a combined 11 runs on eight hits the last two times they have faced Sawyer.

Iowa redshirt junior Ryan Erickson gave up a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth, tarnishing what could have otherwise been another showing of improvement and creating a save situation.

Another Hawkeye redshirt junior, Josh Martsching, relieved Erickson and recorded his first career save by getting the game’s final out, evening the series and setting up a rubber match for the afternoon.

The series finale was when the other shoe that has been dangling by a thread all season finally dropped for Mathews. In a string of short starts that have gotten shorter as the season progressed, he couldn’t even get out of the first inning this time. Mathews recorded just two outs, giving up four earned runs on four hits with a strikeout.

Iowa sophomore Nick Gallagher came in for the majority of the mop-up duty, going 6.2 innings in which he allowed two runs on five hits with four strikeouts and two walks. Hawkeye redshirt junior Jared Mandel recorded the game’s final two outs.

Leading Iowa at the plate over the course of the weekend was senior Joel Booker, who went 5-for-12 with two runs scored, a run batted in and a walk. Junior Mason McCoy went 3-for-8 with two RBIs. Freshman Zach Daniels was 4-for-10 with an RBI, two runs scored and a walk.

The biggest question facing Iowa over the course of this week will be what to do with Mathews and its Sunday starts. Through seven starts which have equated to just 22 innings of work, he has allowed 18 earned runs on 31 hits and walked 10 batters. A walks plus hits per innings pitched average of 1.86 isn’t going to work at this level of baseball.

At this point, keeping him in the weekend rotation equates to sacrificing a chance at a win every Sunday. Fans should expect to see him sent to the bullpen and a new face inserted into the rotation next weekend. Options include Gallagher, who has made six starts at Iowa, or Daniels, who figures to eventually be part of the weekend rotation as he matures.

As they figure out their weekend rotation, the Hawkeyes will host UW-Milwaukee on Tuesday, April 5. Freshman Cole McDonald started the last non-conference mid-week home game against Bradley last week, but went just 1.1 innings in a game that saw Iowa use eight different pitchers. Which pitcher(s) the Hawkeyes don’t use against Milwaukee could give us a clue as to who will take Mathews’ spot in the rotation for the weekend.

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Speaking of the weekend, Iowa remains at home to face defending Big 10 champion Illinois as part of a six-game home stand, the Hawkeyes’ second-longest such schedule chunk of the season. Iowa will be under the lights on Friday, and hopefully they will take steps toward putting the spotlight of Big 10 baseball back on Iowa City.