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Baseball: Jake Rudnicki appears to be turning a corner following troubled 2015 season

Jake Rudnicki has improved dramatically this season as the No. 3 pitcher in the Ohio rotation.

Throughout last season, coach Rob Smith held firmly to a belief that his starting rotation was at its best when it included then-sophomore Jake Rudnicki.

Early in 2016, the now-junior is beginning to prove him right.

Rudnicki was the lone Bobcat to pick up a win in the team's Mid-American Conference opening series against Northern Illinois. He tossed seven innings and allowed just two runs on two hits while walking three and fanning two. His ERA stands at 4.00 after six starts, over the course of which he’s a perfect 3-0 with an opponent batting average of .198 and a strikeout ratio of 10.75 per nine innings, the best of anyone on the team.

“(Rudnicki)’s worked hard and made a commitment to getting better,” Smith said. “When players do that, that’s the best part about coaching. When you see kids commit and get rewarded for their effort, that’s what it’s about.”

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Though Smith and the rest of the team can put some confidence in Rudnicki now, last season it wasn’t so easy. A year removed from a freshman season in which he led all starters in ERA and opponent batting average, Rudnicki struggled out of the gate. He fell from ace of the rotation to a bullpen role before conference play even began, thanks to a 2.55 WHIP in games he started.

He stepped back into the rotation for good after the first weekend of conference season, where he typically fulfilled the role of No. 3 starter but never fully regained his command on the mound. Rudnicki finished the year with an ERA of 5.91 in 19 appearances and an opponent’s batting average of .305.

So what’s caused the near-breakout? The easiest answer is an increase in velocity.

Rudnicki is able to sit close to 90 mph with his fastball during games now, something he’s never been able to do in an Ohio uniform. Smith said one bullpen reading this past winter had him clocked all the way up at 95 mph.

“I worked a lot this summer on just working down in the zone with my fastball,” Rudnicki said. “That, and being able to refine my slider, especially in two-strike counts, has been huge for me. The fastball is my favorite pitch to throw, and a good fastball makes all of your other pitches better.”

Time will tell if Rudnicki will be able to remain a more consistent starter, but if he does, the effect it has on the rest of the pitching staff could be enormous.

Ohio already has a pair of senior starters in Jake Miller and Connor Sitz who have both proven they can be successful throughout the grind of a MAC season. If Rudnicki can step up and be a reliable third pitcher who’s able to routinely get into the seventh inning of a game or later, the pitching staff suddenly becomes very deep.

His turn of fortune also could serve as a positive sign to redshirt sophomore Gerry Salisbury, this season’s predestined Friday starter who has been relegated to bullpen duties thanks to several poor starts in non-conference play.

@_TonyWolfe_

aw987712@ohio.edu

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