By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – He probably would’ve liked for his team to have scored a few more runs, and to have had a healthier roster, and, of course, better weather.
But Rick Heller certainly wasn’t complaining after the Iowa baseball team hung on to defeat Minnesota 2-1 on yet another chilly and windy day at Duane Banks Field because the good far outweighed the bad.
Iowa clinched the series with the win and will try to complete the sweep against the Gophers on Sunday, and will do so with a well-rested pitching staff that is finally starting to be what Heller envisioned heading into the season.
The pitching staff is well rested because Iowa only used three pitchers on Saturday as starter Connor Schultz and relievers Ben Beutel and Duncan Davitt held Minnesota to just five hits while recording 12 strikeouts and just three walks.
Beutel replaced Schultz with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, and with two runners on base, and then got Minnesota centerfielder Brett Bateman to fly out to center to end the threat.
Beutel pitched 2 1/3 innings and allowed just one hit and had four strikeouts.
Davitt then replaced Beutal in the eighth and would go on to allow no hits and no runs over the final two innings.
They were so effective on Saturday that Heller didn’t have to use Dylan Nedved, who has shifted from being a starter back to his more familiar role as the team’s top closer.
“That was the goal to start the season was use Dylan as a closer out of bullpen,” Heller said. “Beutal has been doing a great job and we’ve got some other guys that have been trending upwards as well.
“It gives you the opportunity to use Beutel and Nedved twice a weekend at the end of games, and hopefully, it cleans things up a little bit for us. If Schultz and Davitt can go out and do what they did today, I like our shot, and I like how things are really setting up for us down the stretch on the mound.”
Beutel helped his cause in the sixth when he picked a Minnesota runner off first base. Beutel has a knack for picking runners off first base, and he’s had for a while.
“A long time, Beutel said when asked how long he’s had his pickoff move. “You just have got to make it look like the actual move, and it’s effective.”
Heller’s mood on Saturday was a drastic change from last Sunday when the Iowa bullpen unraveled in a series-losing loss to Illinois.
He called it unacceptable, and his relievers apparently heard the message.
“It’s very important for the pitching staff to get back on a roll because we’ve been struggling a little late, but I think we’re back on the right track,” Beutel said.
Schultz began the season as one of Iowa’s three starters, but then he was injured, forcing Nedved to become a starter.
But now with Schultz healthy again, Iowa’s starting rotation and bullpen is more solidified in both cases.
Iowa, which improved to 19-12 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten, scored both of its runs in the bottom of the fifth on RBI singles by second baseman Izaya Fullard and catcher Ben Tallman.
Fullard’s single, which came with two outs, evened the score at 1-1, while Tallman’s run-scoring single would prove to be the game-winner, thanks largely to the Iowa bullpen.
“A big two-out hit by (Izaya) to get us back to even, and I knew that I needed to follow up with that,” said Tallman, who had struck out on two off-speed in his previous two at bats. “So, I got ahead in that count and was looking for a fastball that I could just handle with the right approach and got it done.”
Tallman and his cohorts now look forward to trying to complete the series sweep before playing at Rutgers next weekend.
“Absolutely, it’s huge,” he said. “We dropped two big ones to Illinois last week, and so getting hot and going into Rutgers next weekend with a sweep would be huge for us. Rutgers is a good ball team.
“So, coming down the stretch here I think we’re really rolling and just putting things together would be huge for us. So, the game tomorrow is a big for sure.”
Iowa played Saturday without redshirt freshman Keaton Anthony, who according to Heller, woke up Saturday morning with a 103 fever. Anthony leads the team in batting average (.354) and is second on the team with seven home runs.
Iowa actually played without four starters in Saturday’s game as Andy Nelson, Sam Hojnar and Ty Snep also missed the game due to injuries.
Mitch Wood started at third base, which was his first start of the season, and performed well for an Iowa defense that had no errors.
“I love how the team handled the next-man-up mentality and just go play and don’t make a big deal about it,” Heller said. ”
Minnesota fell to 10-22 overall and 1-7 in conference play.