EAST LANSING, Mich. – It was merely a footnote in a baseball game between Indiana and Michigan way back on May 11, 2019. The Hoosiers won that day, scoring 10 runs, but second baseman Drew Ashley went 0-for-5, taking the collar and never reaching base.
It hasn't happened since.
Proving over and over that he's one of the best leadoff men in college baseball, the junior from Chandler, Ind., batted five times in Indiana's 10-4 win over Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, and he had two hits, a walk and was hit by a pitch. He scored all four times.
With that, he's now reached safely in 38 consecutive games dating back to that May day in 2019. He sets the table for the Hoosiers, who have the best offense in the Big Ten. Ashley is hitting .420 for the 11-2 Hoosiers, with 21 hits in 50 at-bats through these first 13 games and seven walks and two hit by pitches.
He's been on base a whopping 30 times in just 13 games.
"The thing with Drew, when you watch every one of his at-bats, he never gives away a single pitch. He's locked in all the time,'' Indiana coach Jeff Mercer said after Saturday's win. "He's never off of fastball speed, he never overswings and he never chases pitches.
"And when you do all of those things, you're constantly going to get a chance to hit the ball hard. That's just what he does so well.''
Ashley played second base last year, but he's moved to the outfield in 2021 to make room for Paul Toetz, who's been added to the top four spots in the batting order that's been doing damage every game out.
Aside from his on-base streak, Ashley has also had a hit in all 13 games this season, plus five straight multi-hit games. Toetz has hit in all 13 games as well, and is hitting .347 with a team-leading 13 RBIs. Cole Barr (.405) and Grant Richardson (.353) are tearing it up, too. They were a combined 8-for-18 on Saturday and were all a bit part of two big innings by Indiana.
"I know it a cliche, but those guys are all terrific workers, and when you're best players are your hardest workers, it just makes everybody better,'' Mercer said. "Drew and Cole and Grant, they've been in our system for three years now, and they are always working on their craft. We're so fortunate to have them as great role models for our younger guys.''
And it all starts with Ashley at the top of the order.
"He's really put in the work to become an incredible leadoff hitter,'' Mercer said. "To be honest, he's the best leadoff hitter I've ever been around. You can trust him in that spot, mostly because of what I said earlier. He never takes a pitch off and he knows the strike zone better than most umpires do.''
Ashley will be at the top of the order again on Sunday when the Hoosiers look to complete a series sweep against Michigan State and maintain its lead in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are 11-2, a game ahead of 11-4 Michigan and 1.5 games ahead of 10-4 Nebraska.
Gabe Bierman will start for the Hoosiers. He's 1-1 with a 3.38 earned run average so far in his three starts.
"I've been happy with the way he's competed, but I think even Gabe will tell you he's capable of more,'' Mercer said. "He's been good, but he's had a lot of walks (11) and he's had to work his way out of some tough situations.
"That's what is good about him – he can do that. He manages those situations well and he's a fighter. I have no doubts about his abilities at all and he's going to continue to get better all season. I never worry when I hand him the ball for a start. He's always going to give us a chance to win.''
By design, Mercer has tried not to tax his starters this weekend. The two winners thus far, Tommy Sommer and McCade Brown, threw just five innings each, throwing 73 and 76 pitches, respectively. He may do the same with Bierman on Sunday, because his bullpen is well rested.
"I feel real comfortable with where we're at after two days, because we've got Ty (Bothwell) and Matt (Litwicki, Indiana's closer) well rested,'' Mercer said. "It helps having all those big arms in the bullpen, because you feel comfortable giving them the ball.''
It's cold and nasty in East Lansing on Sunday, so battling the elements will also be a challenge on Sunday. The game starts at 1 p.m. ET at McLane Stadium. You can LISTEN LIVE to the game on the Indiana athletic website.
Related stories on Indiana baseball
- HOOSIERS' BATS THUMP SPARTANS (Saturday): Indiana got to Michigan State pitching for 10 runs in an easy Game 2 win, posting a 10-4 victory. Indiana has scored 27 runs in its last three games. CLICK HERE
- McCADE BROWN STARTS GAME 2: Indiana is handing the ball to McCade Brown for Game 2 in the series with the Spartans. He had 28 strikeouts in his first two starts, but struggled in a loss to Purdue last week. CLICK HERE
- HOOSIERS WIN OPENER VS. MICHIGAN STATE (Friday): Indiana exploded for four runs in back-to-back innings to blow open the series opener with the Spartans on Friday, winning 8-2. Starter Tommy Sommer is now 3-0. CLICK HERE
- FRESHMEN ADD PUNCH TO LINEUP: Paul Toetz has had a great start to the season and now fellow freshman Kip Fougerousse has had some big hits, too, adding depth to an already strong lineup. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA SCHEDULE: Here's the complete 44-game Indiana baseball schedule, with links to the game stories all season long. CLICK HERE