Salukis showing little pop in early going

By Thomas Donley, @TdonleyDE

SIU baseball is struggling to hit for power this spring. 

Through 22 games, the Salukis are (3-19, 0-3) and last in the Missouri Valley Conference with a slugging percentage of .289, 60 points lower than Evansville, the next team. SIU has hit 5 home runs, which is also last in the MVC. 

Coach Ken Henderson said the Salukis’ youth has hindered their ability to hit the ball with much authority so far. Only six of the 33 players on SIU’s roster are upperclassmen. Of the eight Salukis with enough at-bats to qualify for conference leaderboards, four are freshmen. 

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Henderson said the advantage between a pitcher and hitter who have not faced each other before goes to the man on the mound. 

“Power is always the one area that’s the last to develop,” Henderson said. “Pitchers are always ahead of hitters when you bring in freshmen who haven’t seen the pitching that they’re facing. I’ve already seen signs that it’s going to get better.” 

Henderson has compared his team to a junior college program, with most of his players in their first two years of eligibility. He said coaches of two-year schools tell him power numbers start to show in the middle of the year.

“They said it would take about 25 to 30 games,” Henderson said. “And I guess that’s about where we’re at.” 

During their last four games, the Salukis have slugged .368, nearly 80 points better than their season average. 

Hitting coach Ryan Strain said he feels the Salukis have players who will develop into power hitters with time, such as freshman first baseman Logan Blackfan and sophomore outfielder Jake Hand. 

Blackfan, who leads the Salukis with a .385 slugging percentage, said he feels he should be hitting for power regardless of his experience. 

“I’ve always hit for power, so being a freshman shouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Blackfan said. “It’s more of Strain telling us to hit the ball hard on the ground and keep it out of the air.” 

Strain said the dimensions of Itchy Jones Stadium are not conducive to power numbers. The foul poles are 330 feet from home plate, the power alleys are 370 feet away, and the center field fence sits 390 feet from the dish. 

Henderson said starting the season against one of the nation’s best pitching staffs at No. 5 Texas Christian may have affected his hitters’ confidence levels. SIU scored 4 runs in the season’s first three games and was shut out twice in Fort Worth.

In addition to slugging percentage, SIU is dead last in the eight-team Valley in runs per game at 3.0. Indiana State is in seventh place at 5.2. 

Junior ace Aaron Hauge said the Saluki pitchers cannot afford to think about the lack of run support while they are on the mound. 

“Every game, I think, is the same,” Hauge said. “You go out there and you try to throw up zeroes for your team. As a pitcher, I don’t watch our hitters’ stats. You definitely notice [a lack of run support], but every inning starts 0-0, regardless of what the score is.” 

Hauge, who regularly pitches against the opponent’s best pitcher, gets 2.3 runs of support per start this season. The Salukis have given up less than that mark only twice this season. 

Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.

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