Ohio State baseball: Closer’s stuff throws batters off their game
Dempsey effective without heat
Relievers often choose an entrance song heavy on wailing guitars and screeching vocals to get them pumped up for the job at hand, and, hopefully to get batters just a little intimidated.
Trace Dempsey, who is threatening to rewrite Ohio State’s record book in his first year as a closer, picked Beat It by Sean Kingston for none of the above. He takes a cerebral approach.
“I really don’t want to get pumped up,” Dempsey said. “I didn’t want rock. I didn’t want rap. The song reminds me that it’s go time. It’s time to work.”
Spectators have been hearing Beat It a lot. Dempsey, a sophomore right-hander from Huntington, W.Va., leads the Big Ten in saves (14), appearances (24) and games finished (22) for an Ohio State team that is 30-13 and 12-6 and fourth in the conference.
Going into a three-game series at Northwestern (19-18, 7-11) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dempsey is four saves shy this season of equaling the team record of 18 set by All-American Jake Hale in 2009.
Batters often walk away asking what happened. Dempsey’s fastball tops out at 92 mph, but he mixes a two-seam fastball and change-up and throws to spots to mess with a hitter’s timing. In 28 innings, he has given up 14 hits and struck out 23. Opponents are batting .149 against him.
“I try to out-think the hitter, and the best way to do that is by getting ahead in the count,” Dempsey said. “I try to throw strikes and keep them off base. You have to be mentally tough rather than physically tough. You think closer and you think someone throwing in the mid-90s. That’s not me.”
It helps that Dempsey can pitch on back to back days. He became the closer after John Dezse was lost for the season because of a back injury.
“I prepare the same way every day and expect to pitch every game,” he said. “I want to be that guy the team can rely on.”
Dempsey’s lack of smoke is OK with pitching coach Mike Stafford, who also was an OSU closer who beat teams with his brain. He got the save against Michigan in the 1997 Big Ten tournament championship game.
“A reliever has to try to blow it out in three to four outs, and that means he has to be aggressive all the time,” Stafford said. “You have to be mentally tough. Trace has been that guy. He got some success early and it kept snowballing. Trace has matured.”
The Ohio State bullpen is the strongest it has been in almost 20 years behind David Fathalikhani, Brett McKinney, Ryan Riga and Dempsey. Fathalikhani and McKinney work the sixth and seventh innings, and Riga the eighth.
Riga, the lone left-hander in that group, has struck out 27 and limited batters to a .214 average in 21 appearances covering 30 innings.
“We have a veteran bullpen,” said Riga, a sophomore from Fairfield, Ohio. “We all keep our heads just right. We prepare every single day. We take pride in what we do. (If) you have a bad day and you come back strong.”
Riga said assistant coach Josh Newman makes sure everyone walks a straight line.
“There is no playing around,” he said. “Coach Newman says we can laugh after the game.”