Whether it’s about pitching, fishing, hunting or the weather, a conversation with Ohio State pitcher Tanner Tully usually is brief and to the point.
A detailed response is a sentence consisting of maybe 10 words.
“I’ve never been that rah-rah kind of guy,” Tully said. “I like to be quiet.”
It’s on the mound where the left-hander Tully, with a sinking fastball that reaches 91 mph and makes batters’ hands go numb when they make contact, has loudly made a case to be voted Big Ten freshman of the year.
In 14 appearances over 801/3 innings, he has a 6-2 record and a 1.79 ERA. Opponents are batting .241 against Tully, who has allowed only 73 hits.
Other numbers are so good that they seem to be made up. Tully has walked six batters to rank second nationally at 0.67 walks per nine innings and is 11th in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 7-to-1.
Tully has been the Game 1 pitcher for the Buckeyes (29-24, 9-12) the past five weeks of conference play. They conclude regular-season play with a three-game series against Northwestern beginning today at Bill Davis Stadium.
How has Tully been able to withstand the pressure?
“I just try to go out every time and throw strikes,” he said. “I trust my teammates to catch the ball. I like to work the strike zone, move the ball all around. I want to get ahead in the count. Then I forget about one performance and move on to the next one.”
Tully started the season as the No. 3 starter. He became the ace when Ryan Riga, a reliever who was moved to the rotation, developed a tired arm.
Pitching coach Mike Stafford was not surprised when Tully took his promotion in stride.
“Tanner didn’t react like it was a big deal,” Stafford said. “He shook his head yes and said, ‘OK.’
“His success results from being able to repeat his delivery and keep the ball on a downhill plane. He gets a lot of ground balls. He throws a lot of strikes. Teams earn everything they get off him. He always gives us a chance to win.”
Tully lost his first start in the ace’s role against Penn State, though he gave up only three earned runs — five overall — in eight innings.
The past two weeks, he defeated Iowa 9-4 by giving up two unearned runs and five hits in seven innings and Michigan 1-0 with a complete-game seven-hitter.
To Tully, however, it doesn’t matter where he pitches in the rotation.
“I don’t remember when they told me about (becoming the ace),” he said. “I was nervous at the time, sure, but it also was fun. All I try to do is get the team a win. I do know the (first game) sets the tone for the weekend.”
Tully chose Ohio State over Indiana, which played in the 2013 College World Series, despite coming from Elkhart, Ind. He also had an offer from Michigan State.
(An impressive footnote: Tully was voted Mr. Baseball in Indiana as a senior over Trey Ball of New Castle. Ball was drafted seventh overall by the Boston Red Sox last June.)
“I can’t stand here and say Tanner was going to be our Friday night starter and lead the Big Ten in ERA,” Ohio State coach Greg Beals said. “We liked how aggressive he was. We liked how he battled. We liked how he threw his fastball on both sides of the plate. And now he’s doing that here.
“Talk to Tanner and he’s not aggressive. But he is aggressive on the mound.”