It was 98 degrees and humid when Ohio State right-hander Seth Kinker pitched three innings of one-hit relief to get the save in a 2-0 victory over Iowa, but he also rescued the team’s very season in an elimination game in the Big Ten tournament.
Kinker threw 50 pitches, going to a 3-and-2 count to a number of batters, and for most pitchers it would have been out of the question to even pick up a baseball the following day.
This man, though, is similar to a pitching machine called “Iron Mike."
“I never said it out loud, but during the Big Ten tournament I thought that this could be the last game of my career," Kinker said. “That’s what I was pitching for — to give us a chance to keep going."
Kinker took a long nap, ate dinner with his family, guzzled a large jug of water he bought at a gas station and slept some more. The next day, he threw 27 pitches in 1 2/3 innings to get the save in the Buckeyes' 5-3 victory over Michigan.
Those victories went a long way in getting Ohio State (36-22) into the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed in the Greenville (N.C.) Regional. It plays second-seeded South Carolina (33-24) at 2 p.m. Friday. Host and top seed East Carolina (43-16) plays North Carolina-Wilmington (37-21) at 7 p.m.
The Big Ten tournament was more heavy lifting for Kinker, a senior from Huntington, West Virginia. He has a 6-1 record, 15 saves and 1.49 ERA in 60 1/3 innings. In three seasons, he has pitched 197 1/3 innings in a team-record 107 games.
“We try to keep our guys under 30 pitches so they can bounce back the next day, but Kinker has trained himself to pitch two or three days in a row," pitching coach Mike Stafford said. “He will take the ball whenever you want and compete. … Seth is a West Virginia guy with a big chip on one shoulder."
How does Kinker work so often with only a slider and fastball that tops out at 91 mph?
“I’m going to knock on wood, but I’ve never had trouble with injuries," he said. “Oh, my back kills every day, but that doesn’t affect my confidence on the mound."
Coach Greg Beals said it’s comforting to know Kinker is ready for his name to be called.
“I don’t always know what the result at that back end is going to be, but I know who is going to be pitching for us," he said. “At that point, when we get to the eighth and ninth inning and sometimes in the seventh and I call Kinker’s name, from a defensive standpoint my job is done."