Crafty lefty DeNato delivers in a big way for Indiana

Crafty lefty DeNato delivers in a big way for Indiana

Crafty lefty DeNato delivers in a big way for Indiana

OMAHA, Neb. -- For two rounds of NCAA Tournament play, Indiana's hitters had rampaged all over opponents. They amassed 47 runs in five games, putting up numbers that wouldn't have looked out of place in the old "Gorilla Ball" days of college baseball.

On Saturday, at spacious TD Ameritrade Park with a stiff wind blowing in, the Hoosiers had to find another way to win. So they turned to Joey DeNato, and the junior lefty was more than up to the challenge.

He turned in the first shutout of his college career with a performance that exemplified left-handed craftiness. DeNato didn't dominate, but instead battled and baffled on the way to a 2-0 win.

For a pitcher who went undrafted despite earning second team All-Big Ten honors, it was a chance to show his skills on an enormous stage. DeNato scuffled some in the Super Regional round and was good but not great in the Hoosiers' regional, but on Saturday, he was exceptional.

"All I've heard all week is about Indiana's offense, our offense, our offense," said head coach Tracy Smith. "So I was very proud and pleased with what Joey was able to do and go out there and set the tone on the mound."

DeNato wasn't even the more hyped of the two starting pitchers in Saturday night's game. He was facing Louisville's Chad Green, a big right-hander who was selected in the 11th round of the First-Year Player Draft by Detroit.

But this was DeNato's night, and Indiana's. The lefty from San Diego worked around some early shakiness to deliver a career performance.

He walked the leadoff man in the first but got out of the inning without another baserunner. In the third, a walk and a wild pitch put Sutton Whiting in scoring position, but Whiting was thrown out trying to score on Cole Sturgeon's two-out single.

From there, DeNato locked down. He didn't allow another runner to second base until the eighth, and then breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth to finish it off.

"In the beginning, I think I had butterflies, nervousness," he said. "But as the game went on, I think my pitches did get sharper and I was getting ahead in the count more often."

DeNato needed 136 pitches to finish the gem, certainly the kind of number that raises eyebrows. But he was rarely in serious trouble all night, making it a different 136 than if he'd been pitching out of dangerous jams for the entire game.

He may have been in dangerous counts, but he was rarely in dangerous game situations. An impressive Louisville offense was left wondering what went wrong.

"He competes and never gives in," said Sturgeon, who had two of the Cardinals' four hits. "He out-competed us. As hard as that is to say, he won pitches when he needed to and we didn't get the big hit when we needed it."

And while the performance was valuable in and of itself, it also carries ancillary benefits. In tournament play, every inning that a team's bullpen can rest is gold -- and so the Hoosiers mined plenty of it on Saturday.

They go into Monday's winner's bracket game against Mississippi State with a variety of options to start, and all of their relievers fully rested.

"It's such a grind, it was huge for us for him to come out," Smith said. "We could save our bullpen and save the guys and be fresh. And I realize we asked a lot of him tonight. His pitch count being 136, but this is the time of year, I think, everybody would agree, you ask a little bit more of your guys."

They asked a little more of DeNato. They got a lot more.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.