Michael Baird looked to be out of his slump against Dallas Baptist April 29.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who was SIU's best pitcher the first two months of the season, hit a wall in his three previous starts. A season-low four innings at Wichita State, even though the Salukis won 11-8 for their only win of the three-game series. Just over three innings at Indiana State, nine hits, a season-high eight runs.
Tennessee Tech, which came to Carbondale ranked 26th in the country by Collegiate Baseball, scored nine runs, eight earned, in 4 2/3 innings against Baird. SIU won anyway, 10-9. Against the preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorites, it was not able to.
Baird, the preseason MVC pitcher of the year by Baseball America after leading the league in wins last season with nine, struck out six in six innings. He allowed five hits, but only one run in a 4-2 Saluki defeat.
SIU (23-26, 6-9 MVC) will need that Baird to compete at the MVC tournament at the end of the month. Not the one that walked five batters in four innings Saturday against No. 16 Missouri State.
"I thought I found it against Dallas Baptist," Baird said. "I've been working my butt off with coach (P.J. Finigan), especially against Dallas Baptist, and I thought I'd be the same today. I felt confident going into today, but kind of fell back into struggling a little bit."
Baird has a potent fastball, but beats people by pitching instead of blowing them away. When he can control his slider, it becomes his out pitch, coupled with his other pitches. Getting behind hitters only opens the door to disaster for him.
"He didn't command the strike zone," SIU coach Ken Henderson said after Saturday's game. "He didn't do what we needed him to do. He's gotta compete harder, and if he doesn't have his best stuff, he's gotta grind through it."
After finals week, SIU hosts last-place Illinois State before closing the regular season at Marion against Saint Louis, and at Bradley. The Salukis' chances of getting a top-two seed at the tournament are probably over. They can only hope to gain some momentum going into the eight-team event, and pitch well enough to advance.
Callahan to be honored Saturday: Gene Callahan, the father of the late Dan Callahan, who led the Salukis for 16 seasons, will receive a distinguished service award posthumously at Saturday's graduation ceremony for the college of agricultural sciences, liberal arts, science and school of medicine.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, Dan Callahan's sister, is the keynote speaker. The ceremony at the SIU Arena begins at 9 a.m.
Gene Callahan, a former journalist, political adviser and SIU board of trustees member from 2000-04, also served as a lobbyist for Major League Baseball. He died in 2014 at the age of 80.
Greg Cook, one of SIU's top athletic donors and a member of the SIU Foundation's board of directors, will receive a distinguished service award at the 1:30 p.m. graduation ceremony for the colleges of business, education and human services. Cook, a Carbondale native, attended SIU from 1977-79, majoring in aviation technology and business administration.
He and his father, John, co-founded Cook Portable Warehouses in 1994, a business that manufactures small residential storage buildings. The company has production facilities in five states.