The scouting report on Thomas Lindauer is dated.
It was a simple formula: Throw fastballs inside and breaking pitches away. Mix those up, and it was likely Lindauer would take care of the rest.
Even if pitchers made a mistake and left the ball up in the zone, Lindauer could only punish them so much. While a relatively proficient power hitter in high school, Lindauer had yet to send a ball over the fence in his first two seasons at Illinois.
Opposing pitchers have resumed the approach this season, but the results haven’t been the same.
Thirty-three games into the 2013 season, Lindauer, the wiry shortstop for the Illinois baseball team, is the Big Ten leader in home runs.
“I think opposing pitchers have a scouting report and obviously they haven’t made an adjustment on that,” said Eric Snider, Illinois’ hitting coach.
Snider attributes Lindauer’s power surge to a developed maturity at the plate and another year to physically develop, which has resulted in faster bat speed. Lindauer’s improved bat speed, Snider says, allows for him to tuck his hands in so that he can put the barrel of the bat on the ball better.
There’s a noticeable lift on the ball when Lindauer uncoils his 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame into his smooth, relaxed swing. He’s no longer the slap-hitting shortstop renowned for his defense. He’s more.
“I honestly didn’t expect this at all,” Lindauer said. “I was surprised that I hit two or three, and now this.”
Not that he couldn’t hit before. It’s just where the ball is going. His .278 average is all but identical to last season, though it is a considerable bump from his .229 showing in the Northwoods League over the summer.
Lindauer insists he doesn’t know where the extra power has come from.
“I guess I’m just swinging with a little more power,” Lindauer said.
Lindauer’s power deviates from the traditional leadoff prototype, but he doesn’t completely break the mold. It’s still his job to extend at-bats so that batters later in the lineup can get a better understanding of opposing pitchers. Snider said the goal is to have the opposing starting pitcher’s pitch count in the 80s by the time the fifth inning roles around.
“The difference between our club and a lot of different clubs is that we have a very strong bullpen,” Snider said. “The teams that we’ve been facing, if we get to the bullpen, we have a pretty good chance to win.”
Lindauer’s approach at the plate seems to have benefited the rest of Illinois’ lineup. Every Illini starter recorded a hit in Tuesday’s 12-1 win against Illinois State. The win was Illinois’ fourth straight, with it notching double-figure hits in each of those wins.
“Everybody knew he was a great defensive shortstop, but I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” said Justin Parr, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 21 Tuesday with a bunt single in the fourth inning. “I don’t think anyone was expecting him to lead the Big Ten in home runs.”
The defense remains. Owner of a career .970 fielding percentage, Lindauer has always taken pride in being a complete player, even when others question the enjoyment he gets from playing the field.
“People think I’m crazy, but I really do enjoy it,” Lindauer said.
Lindauer returned to the leadoff spot — his favorite place in the order to hit ever since he was young — on April 6 against Indiana with a single in his first at-bat and two hits on the day, solidifying his place in the order after spending much of the season down in the lineup. He replaced Will Krug, who had emerged as the team’s leadoff man early in the season before he was hit on the hand with a pitch in Game One of the Indiana series.
It appears Lindauer’s there to stay. Two of his three hits were home runs in Illinois’ sweep of Purdue last weekend. But Ohio State’s pitching trumps Purdue’s, a team that entered the weekend last in the Big Ten in ERA.
The Buckeyes, whom the Illini face this weekend, are second in the conference in ERA and lead the Big Ten with the lowest opposing batting average.
But while Illinois knows its opponent, the Buckeyes, at least when it comes to Lindauer, might be in for a surprise.
Jeff can be reached at email@example.com and @jkirsh91.