BASEBALL: Grabner, Claypool find their strides after slow starts

Newcomers make thier impact felt in weekend sweep

Middle relief is one of the thankless roles in baseball.

There's no neat and tidy stat that truly quantifies what a good middle reliever does for his team.

This weekend, Ball State University saw what a quality performance in that role can mean.

Left-hander Derek Grabner pitched in all three of Ball State's victories against Miami University, allowing two hits and no runs in 3 1/3 innings.

"He's a very good complement between our starting pitching and our bullpen," coach Greg Beals said.

It wasn't long ago that it looked like Grabner might have pitched himself out of a job. In his first three appearances, the junior college transfer allowed 12 runs in four innings. He walked four and allowed 10 hits. By the time it was all done, his ERA was 24.75.

"What's changed is more confidence," he said. "You come in with a team and it's a little shaky. You want to do what you know you can and need to do."

Now Grabner is on a 7 2/3 scoreless-innings streak and picked up his first win Sunday. Grabner will take the win even if he feels like he might not deserve it.

"Coming in there was no thought in my mind looking at the win," Grabner said. "I knew Kolbrin [Vitek] threw a good game so far and got into a tough spot. My only focus was to get him out of the jam. To come in with 4 2/3 already done and just throw 1/3 of an inning and get a win, it's baseball. You've just got to go in and do your job."

Flight number one:
Third baseman Stephen Claypool hit his first career home run Saturday off RedHawks starter Brooks Fiala.

Claypool picked a good time for his first collegiate round-tripper, as Ball State had surrendered the lead the previous inning.

"It was the first one of my career, so it was definitely pretty cool," Claypool said.

The freshman went 5-for-9 this weekend and is hitting .325 for the year. After a somewhat sluggish start that saw his average dip to .205 during Spring Break, Claypool seems to have figured out the college game.

"He was recruited because he's a good hitter," Beals said. "I think more than anything he's just getting comfertable. He's at about 87 plate apperances, and right around 100 at bats, good hitters in their freshman year start to settle in a little bit, start hitting not like freshmen anymore."

Claypool hit another home run Sunday, sparking a three-homer inning by Ball State.

Treading lightly:
Vitek had the attention of the Mid-American Conference a long time ago, but his recent national player of the week award was a good reminder to his talent.

Miami looked determined to make sure the All-American second baseman didn't win himself another accolade this weekend.

Vitek was walked four times in the series, three on Sunday. He was twice given an intentional pass.

The RedHawks strategy was never more evident than Sunday when Mac Thoreson started the game with seven consecutive strikes, only to walk Vitek on five pitches.

When Vitek did get a pitch to hit, he usually did something with it. The junior went 5-for-10 with seven RBIs and a home run in the series.

Vitek, part II:
Not only did Sunday give Ball State fans a glimpse of what Vitek will likely face the rest of the year, it revealed a lot about what major league teams think about his future.

With Vitek starting the game on the mound, there were no scouts in attendance for the series finale. For Friday's game, however, almost every MLB team was represented at Ball Diamond.

While Sunday's sparse attendance may have had something to do with Easter, it wouldn't have stopped any club that was thinking about Vitek as a pitcher. The pitcher versus hitter discussion from last year seems to be settled.

MAC standings

MAC West  
Ball State 5-1
Central Michigan 5-1
Toledo 5-1
Eastern Michigan 4-2
Northern Illinois 3-3
Western Michigan 1-5
MAC East  
Kent State 4-2
Buffalo 3-3
Akron 2-4
Bowling Green 2-4
Miami 1-5
Ohio 1-5



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