Ohio freshman catcher Tanner Piechnick steps up to the plate during Ohio’s game against Dayton on April 4. (FILE)
Tanner Piechnick didn’t start playing left field until the end of last season.
Before then, Piechnick’s natural position was catcher, the position he has played for most of his career. This season, though, Piechnick has played in left field more often.
That’s because coach Rob Smith wants to have Piechnick in the lineup. Piechnick has been one of Ohio’s best hitters this season, and Smith has used him primarily in the fourth spot.
With Dan McCauley playing catcher and Piechnick in left field, Smith can have two solid hitters in the lineup.
“Dan McCauley has been doing a great job behind the plate, so we’re going to try to get ‘em both in the game,” Smith said, referring to McCauley and Piechnick, after the Bobcats’ 7-6 loss against Marshall.
“And right now, it’s probably best to have Tanner play left.”
Piechnick said he has gotten more comfortable playing in left field, as he’s been able to read more fly balls.
Still, the reason he has switched positions is because of his hitting prowess.
Last season during his freshman year, Piechnick batted .258, had 66 at-bats and tallied 17 hits. This season, though, his at-bat totals have doubled, and he has 42 hits. He also has six home runs this season — he didn’t hit any home runs last season.
Throughout Mid-American Conference play, Piechnick has been successful at the plate. He’s batted .397 in MAC play so far, the highest of any qualifying player in the Bobcats’ lineup.
“I think I just stopped trying to do too much and just tried to relax a little bit more,” Piechnick said of his play in conference games.
What Piechnick has done especially well is help drive in runs. Piechnick is fifth on the team in RBIs (19) and is tied for second with Aaron Levy in runs scored (28).
When the Bobcats played Eastern Michigan on April 14, Piechnick hit a two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the third to put Ohio up 4-2. The ball had some lift to it as it sailed over the left field wall.
“We see it all the time in (batting practice),” Smith said after the Bobcats’ doubleheader against Eastern Michigan. “He’s got some power. When he puts a good swing on it and finds the barrel, it’s good. It’s a good swing.”
While Piechnick has done well offensively, his growth in the outfield hasn’t been anything to ignore, either.
Piechnick has six errors this season, and he has a fielding percentage of .937. Though his natural position is catcher, Piechnick said he is happy wherever he’s playing.
The Ohio offense has recently been in a slump, so Piechnick and other elite hitters in the lineup will be looked upon to continue to produce. Piechnick is in the outfield instead of behind the plate now, but he’s in a different role for a reason.
The Bobcats simply need him in the lineup.