MACON, Ga. — In this most imperfect spring and summer of baseball, where the COVID-19 pandemic has flipped the world upside down, there has only been one thing that's remained constant.
No one scores on Indiana pitcher Connor Manous.
No one. Ever.
Not in Bloomington or Baton Rouge, not in Mobile, Ala., or Greenville, N.C. Not in Westfield, Ind., or even here in steamy central Georgia, from Savannah to Macon and beyond.
No one — absolutely no one — scores on Connor Manous, the Hoosiers' tough right-hander from Munster, Ind.
"Find some wood, please. Knock on some wood, please,'' Manous said with a hearty laugh Saturday night here in Macon before a Coastal Plain League game when reminded about his scoreless streak. "I wouldn't want to jinx anything, but yeah, it's been a nice run. I'm proud of that, actually, because it's not easy to do considering the quality of the people we play against, both at IU and here in this league.''
Manous is down in Georgia, playing summer-league baseball for the Macon Bacon — not making that up — and he's been enjoying his summer because he's here with three of his Indiana teammates as well, fellow relievers Matt Litwicki, Braden Scott and Ty Bothwell. They're getting good work in — and they're having a blast at the same time.
Manous pitched eight scoreless innings for the Hoosiers this spring before their season ended in mid-March because of the pandemic. He threw four scoreless innings for a couple of weeks in the College Summer League in Westfield, Ind., and he's been perfect here so far, too, pitching 8 2/3 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts.
That's 20 2/3 innings full of zeroes.
"Connor's stuff is nasty. Really, really nasty,'' said Bothwell, his younger IU teammate from Hebron, Ind. "He's got a great (mid-90s) fastball. It's got a lot of movement, and his spin rate is really high. And his curveball is practically unhittable. He embarrasses people with that pitch. Man, I wish I had that curveball.''
The core of Indiana's dominant bullpen is thrilled to be spending the summer together. They spent so much time together that they understand each other's mechanics as well as they do their own. And they dominate together. Manous, Litwicki and Scott had a combined 0.91 ERA in 32 2/3 innings at Indiana, and 38 strikeouts. Bothwell pitched well too, expect for one rough inning.
"I think it's awesome just seeing your good friends and teammates competing and dominating some really good competition from all over the country every night,'' Manous said. "We push each other hard. It's not a competition, but we all want each other to succeed. And we learn a lot from each other.
"It's nice being able to trust your teammates, because we know each other so well.''
And it works in all directions. They are teammates for sure, all four of them.
"It's easy for the other three to include their say-so if someone is struggling a little bit because we all know each other so well,'' Litwicki said. "We can add our input and it makes sense for everyone.''
Getting back to a normal routine
When the pandemic ended Indiana's season after 15 games and the campus was closed, everyone had to go their separate ways. Manous went home to Munster, but the weather was so bad in Northwest Indiana that getting any workouts in was tough.
"It was super hard to get outside because the weather was so bad,'' Manous said. "I couldn't really get outside, so I'd throw into a net at home, and work out at home, too.
"My brother Garrett (an IU freshman) was at home too, so if I needed someone to play catch with, it was nice that he was right there. And once the weather got nicer outside in April and May, I got out and threw quite a bit.''
Bothwell recruited former high school teammates and family members to play catch with at home. He made do.
"I had a couple of high school buddies that I'd long-toss with in my front yard, but if I couldn't find anybody, it was up to my family to long toss with, and we'd have a big train to get the ball back to me,'' Bothwell said. "It was kind of funny, sometimes, to be honest. But we made it work.''
Litwicki and Scott stayed in their Bloomington apartment, lifting weights in their living room and finding places to throw wherever they could.
"Me and Matt had a lot of fun during it, because we stayed in Bloomington and just sort of did what we could,'' said Scott, a senior from Jasonville, Ind. "We'd go throw at the intramural fields, but then they threw us out. They literally came out there and threw us out, told us we couldn't be out there.
"So we went over to this other park, Bryan Park, and we'd go out and throw and there'd be kids playing and people taking walks. It was different, but we made do. At least we were outside throwing.''
Back in the baseball grind in Georgia
Getting to play baseball every day after a long layoff has been great for the four Hoosiers. They all had COVID-19 tests upon arrival — ''it brought me to tears,'' Manous said — and they live with host families and play six days a week until mid-August. The Macon Bacon already has clinched their first-half title.
"The competition is pretty top tier. There's a lot of good talent,'' said Litwicki, a sophomore from Dyer, Ind. "There's a lot of South Carolina and Clemson guys, guys from Nebraska and Purdue and other places. Everyone you play against is pretty good.
"My first outing, I kind of let the game speed up a little bit. It was just adrenaline flowing. Once I settled down, it's been good ever since. I feel real good.''
The one constant of a summer in Macon?
"It's hot. Crazy hot,'' said Scott, of the mid-90s, high-humidity weather all summer long. "But it's a great place to play, and we get tremendous support from the fans here. They have all sorts of promotions for the fans to make it fun, and they enjoy it.''
There's no question, the heat takes some getting used to.
"My first night pitching, I was hitting the resin bag hard just trying to keep my hands dry. I was sweating like crazy,'' Litwicki said. "But it's been a fun summer. Our host families are awesome. Braden and I say together, and they've got a nice little guest house for us. It's really nice to have that kind of set-up, because they are great people and they really make it nice for us.''
Bothwell, the youngest of the bunch, said it's been a great experience for him just being around his older teammates.
"With them being older guys, I feel like I've really been able to learn a lot from them,'' Bothwell said. "They're some of my favorite guys anyway, so I love hanging around them. They like pushing me around a little bit, but they've been great to lean on, too. They've made it a fun summer for me. I'm having a blast.''
Indiana 2020 Baseball Stats
- CONNOR MANOUS: Had a 0.00 ERA in 8 innings pitched. Had 12 strikeouts and allowed only 5 hits, a .179 average. Had team-high 2 saves.
- MATT LITWICKI: Had a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings pitched. Had 6 strikeouts and allowed only 6 hits, a .154 average.
- BRADEN SCOTT: Had a 1.23 ERA in 14 2/3 innings pitched. Had 20 strikeouts and allowed only 8 hits, a .160 average. Had a 1-0 record and 1 save.
- TY BOTHWELLL: Had a 6.00 ERA in just 3 innings pitched. Had 5 strikeouts and allowed only 1 hit, a .100 average. Had 4 walks.