Irvine paces Hawkeye baseball with improvement

Drew Irvine has improved a considerable amount last season, according to his coach. Now, he has the chance to prove it.


Jenna Galligan

Iowa pitcher Drew Irvine pitches an inning during a game against Ontario at Duane Banks Field on Friday, September 13, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Blue Jays 30-6 in 14 innings.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

When Cole McDonald tossed his final pitch in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament, Iowa baseball’s pitching staff changed instantly.

After a nine-strikeout performance in a victory over No. 21 Indiana, the Houston Astros selected McDonald with in the 15th round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

McDonald’s departure left Iowa’s starting rotation with a Friday night starter-sized hole.

Enter Drew Irvine.

After posting a 6.62 ERA in 17.2 innings of work last season, the sophomore has made a case to play a much bigger role less than a year later.

“Drew Irvine has pitched absolutely outstanding and probably as big a turnaround as I’ve seen in a long, long time in a player from one year to another in all areas,” Iowa head coach Rick Heller. “When you see him pitch, he’s right up there as a Friday night caliber starter.”

Some of that improvement can be attributed to second-year assistant coach Robin Lund.

Following a year of working with Iowa’s hitters and outfielders, Lund shifted to take over the role of pitching coach from Tom Gorzelanny, who moved to director of player development.

Sometimes, a sudden coaching change can be hard on a player trying to take the next step. Not this time.

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“I think with Robin coming in as our pitching coach, he’s done a lot for all of that,” Irvine said. “Whether it be putting strength stuff together with [Strength and Conditioning Coach Zach Walrod], or just be conditioning stuff, throwing stuff, I think he’s really prepared us all for the season.”

That preparation could be a key factor as the regular season inches closer, because Iowa owns one of the deepest pitching staffs it has had under Heller.

Along with Irvine, the Hawkeyes return starters Jack Dreyer (2.95 ERA as a starter in 2018), Grant Judkins (2.72 ERA in 2019), and Cam Baumann (5.29).

Iowa also brings back second-team preseason All-American closer Grant Leonard (3.37, 14 saves), Duncan Davitt (5.22), and Trenton Wallace (6.41 before an injury).

“We got a lot of options — a bunch of guys that can do anything they’re asked of,” Leonard said. “There are no guys that are kind of pigeonholed into a certain role.”

The pitching staff also enters the season healthy.

In recent years, starters Dreyer, Nick Allgeyer, and C.J. Eldred all suffered injuries that prevented them from reaching their potential during the season.

The Hawkeyes hope that won’t be the case in 2020.

The returns of Dreyer and Wallace should play a big role at the beginning of the season both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen.

If anything else happens from an injury standpoint, Iowa will be prepared to battle it.

“It just adds to the concept of ‘next guy up’ mentality,” Dreyer said. “If somebody goes down at some point this season — which is always likely — we’re not going to struggle to find somebody to replace them, because we have so many guys who know their role and are comfortable filling any role that’s given to them.”