Illini Host Spartans in Crucial Big Ten Series
May 3, 2012
Illini Team Notes
Hartleb Captures 200th Win: Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb nabbed his 200th career win when the Illini topped Illinois State, 7-5, on April 17. Hartleb currently ranks seventh on the Illinois all-time wins list with 203, three shy of tying Carl Lundgren's 209 career victories.
Take 2, They're Small: Despite having a pair of new starters up the middle in shortstop Thomas Lindauer and second baseman Reid Roper, Illinois leads the nation in total double plays turned (57) and double plays per game (1.29). An interesting twist on the Lindauer/Roper combination is that they both are taking courses in American Sign Language and occasionally use it to communicate on the field. First baseman Jordan Parr has finished all but seven of the Illini's twin killings and leads the Big Ten with 50 double plays, 12 more than Ohio State first baseman Josh Dezse's 38 in second place. Lindauer is third in the league (37) and Roper is sixth (33).
Illini Offense Proves Consistent: Despite its recent struggles, the Illinois offense has been solid in 2012, averaging 6.0 runs and 9.6 hits per game. It has been a balanced attack, as seven regular starters have 40 or more hits and five have 30 or more runs. The Illini have scored five or more runs in 24 games and are 21-3 when reaching that threshold. Illinois has scored two or fewer runs only six times in 2012.
Defense Gets It Done: Illinois' defense has been solid for most of the season and stellar of late, making only seven errors in the last 15 games to raise the team fielding percentage to .973, which ranks third in the Big Ten. In conference games, though, the Illini have picked it at a Big Ten-best .987 rate, committing only seven errors in 15 games while also sharing the league lead with Purdue at 20 double plays (PU has played 18 conference games). The school record for fielding percentage for a season is .973, which was set by the 2011 squad.
Young Arms Show Promise: The Illini have been bolstered by a crew of young pitchers in 2012, as true-freshmen John Kravetz has been Illinois' No. 2 starter all season and Josh Ferry made his sixth start against Indiana State on April 24. In addition, two sophomores and one redshirt-freshman have been solid in relief with Luke Joyce (4.44 ERA, 24.1 IP), Ronnie Muck (4.05 ERA, 26.2 IP), and Reid Roper (1.00 ERA, 9 IP as a reliever) providing solid bullpen work.
Pen Picks It Up: The Illinois bullpen was excellent in the month of April, posting a 2.57 ERA in 70 2/3 innings, striking out 74 and walking 31 while allowing only a .182 batting average. Matt Milroy was 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 35 strikeouts over 22 2/3 innings in April, and Drasen Johnson was 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings of work. Ronnie Muck also pitched well, posting a 1.69 ERA with three saves and 17 strikeouts in 16 innings over 10 appearances.
Leaving 'em Stranded: Three Illini relievers have shown an exceptional ability to strand inherited runners in 2012, with Drasen Johnson, Luke Joyce and Ronnie Muck taking over on the mound with 54 runners on base and allowing only 17 to score (.315). Muck has stranded 13-of-16 inherited runners, while Joyce is 11-for-18 and Johnson is 13-of-20. As a team, Illinois has stranded 63.7 percent of inherited runners (58-of-91).
Offense is Solid...Once It Gets Going: The Illini are scoring a solid 6.0 runs per game through 44 games, largely thanks to the fact that Illinois hitters have advanced runners at a .521 rate and are hitting .327 with runners in scoring position. But the Orange and Blue have run into some trouble getting innings started as they're hitting only .243 with the bases empty and reaching base when leading off an inning 32.4 percent of the time, compared to a .328 average with runners on base.
Two Down, None to Go: Illini pitchers have been highly successful with two outs in an inning, holding opponents to a .217 average in the situation. Illinois' bullpen has been even better, allowing only 35 hits in 194 at bats (.180 average) with two outs in an inning. Ronnie Muck has forced opponents into 3-for-32 (.094) hitting with two outs, Matt Milroy is 7-for-41 (.171) as a reliever, Drasen Johnson is 5-for-26 (.192), Anthony Milazzo is 4-for-17 (.235) and Reid Roper is 0-for-8 out of the pen. Conversely, the Illini are hitting .287 with two outs and have 97 two-out RBIs, 41.6 percent of their total RBIs.
Rally on Two: Illinois' two-out hitting has been such a key that it could be seen as a predictor of success. In the Illini's 25 wins, they are hitting .338 with two outs and 81 two-out RBIs. In their 19 losses, the Orange and Blue are hitting only .206 with 16 two-out RBIs.
Illini Player Notes
Argo Aims Higher: After breaking Illinois' career steals record, Argo has turned his sights to the Big Ten record book. He currently has 95 career steals, which ranks fifth in Big Ten history behind a third-place tie at 103 steals. His total marks the most career stolen bases by a Big Ten player since 1988, when Indiana's Mickey Morandini wrapped up his career with a conference-record 127 and Hoosier teammate Jeff Stout finished with 105 bags. While Morandini's record likely is out of reach, Argo could pass Stout for second place.
Kravetz Follows in Johnson's Footsteps: Freshman John Kravetz has followed in junior ace Kevin Johnson's path this season, with the duo having identical 7-3 records. Johnson has pitched 71 1/3 innings and 38 strikeouts, while Kravetz has 67 2/3 and 33, respectively. The similarities go even farther as the pair hail from the same high school: Mount Carmel High School in suburban Chicago. No Illini pitcher has finished with more than eight wins since Brian Blomquist won 10 games in 2005.
Illini Host Spartans in Crucial Big Ten Series
Michigan State is fresh off a weekend series loss at Purdue last weekend, but the Spartans salvaged the final game of the series behind a complete-game shutout from sophomore starter David Garner on April 29. MSU has won Big Ten series against Ohio State, Indiana and Minnesota while dropping three-game sets to Michigan and Purdue. The Spartans also have been clutch, going 3-1 in extra-inning games in conference play.
MSU's strength is on the mound, as all three starters and 11 of the 14 pitchers who have thrown this season have ERAs under 4.00. As a team, the Spartans have a sparkling 2.87 ERA that leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th nationally. MSU also is allowing opponents to hit only .239. That complements a solid Spartan offense that hits .297 as a team (third in the Big Ten) and averages 5.8 runs per game. MSU hasn't been quite as effective as the Illini at the plate, though, recording 40 more hits than Illinois but scoring 20 fewer runs. The Spartans also field well at a .971 fielding percentage, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
Series History Against Michigan State
Illinois and Michigan State have faced each other in each of the past 13 seasons, with the Illini holding a 32-17 advantage in that span, including a 15-9 margin at home. Illinois last lost a home series to MSU in 2003, when the Spartans took two of three in a rain-shortened series.
This Weekend's Promotions
Sunday will feature the first Honor and Serve Day, where the Illini will honor the University of Illinois student veterans and everyone who has or is currently serving in the military by wearing special orange and blue camouflage jerseys provided by the Fighting Illini Dugout Club. The jerseys will be up for bid through a silent auction during the game with all the proceeds being donated to the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. Fans also can buy T-shirts featuring the orange and blue camouflage pattern throughout the weekend at Illinois Field and at Gameday Spirit locations in Champaign. Before the game, the colors will be presented by a Navy ROTC color guard for the singing Star Spangled Banner.