BLOOMINGTON – Joey DeNato makes deceptive cool.
It matters – to the Indiana senior lefthander, to the No. 11 Hoosiers' Big Ten baseball championship prospects, to a second straight season to remember.
DeNato messed up twice Friday night if you consider allowing Purdue batters to twice lead off innings by getting to first. A lesser pitcher might have created a problem he couldn't solve. DeNato did what he so often has this season.
He picked off both runners en route to a 6-0 victory.
He's picked off 11 runners this season. Opponents know what's coming and still can't stop it.
“It's huge,” IU coach Tracy Smith said. “It's a momentum builder for us, a deflator for the offense. It's a weapon, and he's been doing it for four years.
“He has a good move, but he's still able to pick people off even though it's not a secret anymore. It's one of the best moves in the country.”
It's among the reasons why DeNato is 10-1 with an eight-game winning streak.
“He doesn't get rattled when he gives up a hit or a walk,” Smith said, “because he's still going to control the running game.”
Added DeNato: “I learned my (pickoff) move when I was young. I practiced it a lot. It's gotten better. This year I've learned to read the runners better on the base paths. It's saved me a bunch of runs.”
On Friday night it turned potential big Purdue innings into nothing. DeNato threw seven shutout innings. He allowed five hits, struck out seven and walked three. He has a school record 34 victories, 20 in the past two seasons.
“Our message to him at the start of the season was to be more efficient,” Smith said. “The concern we had is if he gives up a high pitch count and we can't use him deep in the game. We told him, if he wants to win and be in the game when it matters, he has to be more efficient. We don't want to be in the fourth or fifth innings and be at 120 pitches. He's been better at attacking the strike zone.
“This isn't an accident. He has that stuff you can't measure. When it becomes the critical point of the game and he has to make that pitch, has a knack of making it. He's a tough-minded kid.”
DeNato improved to 10-1 with his eighth straight victory. He is 4-0 at Bart Kaufman Field this season with an earned run average barely over 1.00.
“We're a little extra confident when he's on the mound because he's pitched in big games,” left fielder Brad Hartong said. “We love playing behind him and he's throwing well right now.
“If he starts losing velocity (later in the game) he throws all his pitches for strikes and keeps the batters' timing off and gets outs. In the 8th inning he's as good as anyone else in the first.”
DeNato gave up a lead-off single to Purdue shortstop Brandon Krieg, picked him off and struck out the next two to set a tone.
The Hoosiers followed that up in the bottom of the first when left fielder Casey Rodriguez doubled and catcher Kyle Schwarber singled him in. Designated hitter Scott Donley followed with an RBI double. Hartong singled him in
That, too, set a tone.
In the fourth, Hartong had a RBI double. Shortstop Nick Ramos followed with a run-scoring single to make it 5-0. IU added run in the bottom of the seventh.
That was all DeNato and reliever Thomas Belcher needed. IU snapped a seven-game losing streak to Purdue that started in 2010.
“Making teams chase DeNato is important, so it was good to throw that three-spot in the first,” Smith said. “I knew he would be focused and locked in. Any time he pitches with the lead, he's that much more effective.”
Schwarber finished 4-for-5 with a run batted in. Rodriguez was 3-for-4. Hartong had two hits and two RBI.
Purdue (12-30, 5-11) was led by right fielder Jeff Evak's 2-for-4 night. Starting pitcher Connor Padkul gave up eight hits and five runs in three innings.
“There was a nice buzz in the air,” Smith said. “It was as close to a postseason atmosphere as we've had in a while.”