PEORIA — In recent seasons, Bradley baseball has been known more for its hitting than its pitching.
But the Braves are turning that trend on its head in 19 games this season as they head into Friday’s 11 a.m. (game time moved up because of rain) Missouri Valley Conference opener at Dozer Field against Evansville with a 12-7 record.
The BU pitching staff’s 2.53 ERA is the best in the Valley and ranked among the best in Division I after a couple of sub-par years on the mound.
Meanwhile, the offense has been slow to come around. The Braves’ batting average has been OK at .263, but take out Luke Shadid’s league-leading .414 average and the rest of the team is hitting just .240. Plus, the power hasn’t been there with just seven homers and a .369 slugging percentage.
“Our pitching staff has really carried us,” said BU coach Elvis Dominguez. “Every one of those guys has done their job. (Pitching coach) Larry Scully has done a tremendous job of getting the guys to buy in and believe.”
Another reason is two key pitchers who missed last season because of injury — primary closer Al Beer (0.82, five saves) and reliever Ben Olson (0.00) — have been stellar out of the bullpen, allowing just one earned run in 16 1/3 innings between them. Newcomer Jed Moscot (2-1, 3.05) has also provided excellent relief.
“Jed Moscot has been really good,” Scully said. “He can pitch inside for strikes and really stretches the plate out.
“We’re spoiled. We have two closers with Al and Theo Denlinger. (Denlinger) throws 92-94 (mph) and is learning to pitch at this level, but is a bubble guy for the (major league) draft. The Reds called and wanted to know when we would use Beer this weekend. He throws 92-94 and the ball comes out so easily. He’s worked his butt off to get where he needs to get.”
Scully is in his fifth season heading up the Bradley pitchers.
“A lot of this happened in the fall,” Scully said. “These guys understand what it takes to prepare and that we need to continue to develop and get better. We put our work in from August through October. And now we’re reaping the benefits. And I’m happy for them.”
On the mound Friday for the Braves is Princeville native Mitch Janssen, who has posted a 1.82 ERA so far. Saturday’s 2 p.m. starter is sophomore Brooks Gosswein (2-1, 2.83) followed on Sunday at 1 p.m. by Sam Lund (1-3, 4.88).
Lefty Cole Cook (2-0, 1.67) is a returning starter who has been a jack-of-all-trades pitcher for BU.
“Cole Cook could easily be a starter,” Scully said. “Selfishly, we put him in wherever there’s a fire. He throws three pitches for strikes. He’s a great competitor.”
Janssen’s mound opponent Friday for Evansville is junior right-hander Adam Lukas, a pro prospect with a fastball that touches 100 mph.
The Valley is currently ranked sixth in RPI among 31 Division I conferences. Indiana State is on top at No. 12, followed by Illinois State (30), Dallas Baptist (31), Bradley (94), Southern Illinois (103), Evansville (105), Missouri State (125) and Valparaiso (231).
The Aces (10-9) were picked to finish last in the Valley. Bradley, which has finished third in the league three of the last four years, was tabbed for a fourth-place finish.
“This is a baseball conference,” Dominguez said. “There’s no such thing as an off weekend in this league.”
Dave Reynolds can be reached at 686-3210 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davereynolds2.