IOWA CITY, Iowa – C.J. Eldred looks like his father.
He sounds like his father.
And now the third-year sophomore is starting to pitch like his father used to pitch for the Iowa baseball team nearly three decades ago.
The younger Eldred, whose father is former Iowa Hawkeye and Major League pitcher Cal Eldred, hurled a complete-game gem on Friday, leading Iowa to an 8-1 victory over Maryland in the Big Ten opener at Banks Field.
C.J. Eldred scattered six hits over nine innings, had nine strikeouts and walked just two batters while improving his record to 2-2 and his team’s record to 8-11 overall. Maryland scored its only run in the top of the first inning.
“C.J. pitched a great game,” said Iowa coach Rick Heller. “He gave us exactly what we needed on a Friday. He saved the bullpen and I couldn’t be happier for him. It was just a tremendous performance.”
Eldred’s father was working in Florida and did not attend Friday’s game. But he is very much involved with his son’s development on the mound.
“He’s definitely one of my biggest coaches and one of my biggest critics,” C.J. Eldred said of his father, who compiled an 86-74 record while pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers, St, Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox from 1991 to 2005. “But he helps a lot. He doesn’t put a whole lot of pressure on me. But I’m following some big footsteps.”
C.J. Eldred had command of his fastball throughout Friday’s game and consistently worked ahead in the count.
“Early on, I established my fast ball and that kind of helps everything else fall along,” C.J. Eldred said. “As far as getting ahead, that’s one of our goals to get ahead of as many hitters as possible. That really helps. It’s a lot easier to pitch when you’re ahead (in the count).
“It keeps hitters on their toes. And you can pretty much throw whatever you want. It’s when you fall behind, it gets tough. So getting ahead was just really important today.”
Eldred also benefited from a defense that turned three double plays.
“That’s part of my game plan,” Eldred said. “If a guy gets on first, then I’m going to try and get it on the ground. I’ve got a little sink in my fastball and that tends to be what they do.
“If I stay knee high or lower, they’re not going to get it up in the air.”
Iowa scored all the runs Eldred would need during a 4-run second inning that was highlighted by Joel Booker’s two-run home run off Maryland star pitcher Mike Shawaryn, who is considered one of the Big Ten’s top pitchers.
“He left a curveball up,” Booker said of the pitch that he hammered for his second home run this season.
With Friday’s pitching gem, Eldred solidified his status as Iowa’s No. 1 starter. He is proud to have earned the role as Iowa’s Friday starter.
Senior Tyler Peyton figured to be Iowa’s Friday starter, but he has been hobbled by an injury to his right forearm.
“I think I’d be lying if I said no,” Eldred said when asked if there was a pride factor with being the Friday starter. “But to me, there’s no difference. There is no difference between the Friday guy and the last guy out of the pen. You have to go out there with the same mindset. Just go out there and compete and throw as hard as you can whenever your name is called.
“The Friday guy is nice. But I’m just going to do whatever I’m asked to do here and do it to the best of my ability.”
A native of Mount Vernon, C.J. Eldred had to wait patiently for two seasons to make an impact. He signed with Indiana coming out of high school and was redshirted as a freshman with the Hoosiers in 2014.
He transferred to Iowa after Indiana had a head coaching change and then had to sit out last year’s breakthrough season under NCAA transfer rules. Iowa played in the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1990.
The Hawkeyes lost one of their key pitchers from last season’s team when the hard-throwing Blake Hickman decided to skip his senior season to enter the 2015 amateur draft.
Eldred’s rise to being the Friday starter has helped fill the void left by Hickman, who was picked by the Chicago White Sox in the seventh round.
“Everyone thinks it’s Peyton, Peyton, Peyton and then C.J. came in,” Booker said. “One thing we like about C.J. is it took him two years before he stepped on the mound. And now that he has, he has seized every opportunity that he’s gotten.”
Iowa and Maryland will play the second game of their three-game series on Saturday beginning at 2:05 p.m. at Banks Field.
Maryland 100 000 000 – 1 6 3
Iowa 040 010 21x – 8 13 2
Mike Shawaryn, Andrew Green (6), Zach Guth (7) John Murphy (8) and Justin Morris; C.J. Eldred and Jimmy Fankos. 2B – Justin Morris (M), Tyler Peyton (I), Austin Guzzo (I), Mason McCoy (I). 3B – Robert Neustrom (I). HR – Joel Booker (I).