Josh Dezse walks into the third-base dugout at Ohio State's Bill Davis Stadium and glances over to the opposing dugout.

Josh Dezse walks into the third-base dugout at Ohio State's Bill Davis Stadium and glances over to the opposing dugout.

His eyes meet with former Olentangy Liberty High School teammate Michael O'Neill, who now plays with the University of Michigan. They start a slow-motion lope across the infield, arms stretched ... you get the picture.

"Yeah, it'll probably be like that until the crowd boos when I hug him," said Dezse, a freshman for the Buckeyes. "I haven't seen him for a while."

Although O'Neill said it has been five months since he's been back in central Ohio, he has spent his time judiciously. The freshman starts in right field and bats third for the Wolverines, who visit Columbus for a three-game series against the Buckeyes on Friday, April 29, to Sunday, May 1.

Dezse is batting fourth for the Buckeyes, playing first base and pitching.

"Josh and I both text or chat (online) every night. We run things by each other about what has happened during the day and we talk a lot," O'Neill said. "I haven't been home in five months. I haven't been to the house, I haven't seen my friends and I haven't seen Josh.

"The biggest thing I need to do is play baseball and not spend too much time reminiscing. There are people that I need to see and then I have to play the game. That's the reason I'm down there."

Before April 23, Ohio State was 15-16 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten and Michigan was 11-24 overall and 4-5 in league play. Both Dezse and O'Neill had started all of their team's games.

Dezse led Ohio State with 26 RBI and was tied for the lead with two home runs. He was second on the team with a .345 batting average and had seven doubles, two triples, 14 runs, nine walks, 26 strikeouts, a .487 slugging percentage and a .400 on-base percentage.

On April 18, Dezse was named Big Ten Player of the Week by hitting .727 (8-for-11) to help the Buckeyes beat league-leading Michigan State twice in a three-game weekend series. He was 4-for-4 with a triple and five RBI in the series-clinching game on April 17, and he also pitched a scoreless ninth with two strikeouts.

"Obviously he has long levers and a smooth range of motion," Ohio State coach Greg Beals said of the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Dezse. "When you have smooth range of motion and long levers, that's going to benefit him both as a hitter and pitcher."

Dezse wasn't sure if he was ready to play college baseball, but he got a big boost of confidence in the Buckeyes' opener.

"Coming in here, I didn't expect to start. But it helped when I got my first hit in the first game (Feb. 18) against Cincinnati (in St. Petersburg, Fla.)," Dezse said. "I came up against a big guy (Dan Jensen) who was like 6-7 and I thought to myself, 'Holy cow, I'm going up against a real college pitcher.' When I got that hit, I knew I could play baseball at Ohio State and that's something I could be proud of."

The Buckeyes lost to Cincinnati 11-5, but Dezse went 2-for-3 with two singles, one RBI, one walk and one strikeout. A day later in Clearwater, Fla., the right-hander made his pitching debut in a 2-0 loss to Louisville, giving up one run and one hit with a strikeout and two walks in one inning.

"When you look at Josh, he has great size, athleticism and arm strength," OSU pitching coach Mike Stafford said. "He has the ability to run it up there in the mid-to-upper 90s, which is uncommon at this level. He needs to work on his slider so he can have two pitches, but he has been inconsistent with his control.

"Because he throws so hard, his changeup gets up there at about 83 to 86 miles per hour, which is an average fastball for a lot of pitchers at this level, so we don't really throw it. But he will need to develop a changeup to be successful at the next level. His slider is anywhere from 84 to 89 miles per hour."

Dezse started the season as a designated hitter but has since moved to first base.

"I was a DH in the first 15 games or so and I feel like my arm is more warm when I play first," he said. "But obviously, being a DH lets me run down to the bullpen more, but when I play first, my whole body is warmed up.

"The hardest part is keeping my arm loose. When I'm playing first, I have to find time to run down to the bullpen to stay loose. If I'm not one of the first three hitters (in an inning), I'll run down and throw about 10 pitches and then run back to hit. It all depends on what happens (in the innings). Sometimes I'm able to go down and throw more."

Before April 23, O'Neill was second on the Wolverines with a .302 batting average. He had 18 runs, one homer, 18 RBI, 42 hits, four doubles, two triples, 29 strikeouts and nine walks. He was successful on 19 of 24 stolen-base attempts and had a .381 slugging percentage and a .355 on-base percentage.

"It's a lot different being an 18-year-old going up against 22- and 23-year-olds. I'm 18 and they are men," O'Neill said. "They have better arms (than high school pitchers) and you don't get as many pitches to hit as you would in high school.

"(Michigan) coach (Rich Maloney) told me that it wasn't so much about stats and numbers, but he just wanted me to work to get better every day. He didn't want me to go out there and hit .350 and hit 50 home runs. Those goals will come later."

Those numbers would seem to be coming sooner rather than later since O'Neill already has had a 17-game hitting streak.

"I knew about (the hitting streak), but the biggest thing was not pressing about it," O'Neill said. "I didn't go in saying to myself that I had a 17-game hitting streak and that I needed to get 18. I knew the hits would come, but (the streak) did help my confidence a lot."

Maloney said O'Neill has not been playing like a freshman.

"He's batting in the three hole and that alone says how highly we think of him," Maloney said. "He's a great kid who works hard and has been a gold-glove caliber right fielder for us. He already has seven assists for us and I don't think I've had that in 16 years coaching."

O'Neill's arm was tested early. He threw a runner out at home in the season opener, a 6-3 loss to Louisville on Feb. 18 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"At first, I think it was like they looked at me being a freshman out there and they wanted to see what kind of arm I had," O'Neill said. "In the first college game that I ever played and the second ball ever hit to me, the runner tried to go home and I was able to throw him out by two or three steps. That gave me a lot of confidence in my arm and now I anticipate the ball coming to me on every play."

O'Neill is happy to not only play, but prove he belongs in the Wolverines' starting lineup.

"I think the biggest thing for me is the way I have played. I had surgery on my (left) non-throwing shoulder in the offseason and didn't play in the fall," he said. "To come out and have the strong start that I had was great. The upperclassmen didn't really know me and it was like they said to themselves, 'Wow, he can play,' and I was able to get their respect. That meant a lot to me.

"Also hitting third means a lot because a lot of people think the three-hole hitter is reserved for the best hitter in the lineup. To think that the coaches thought that I could be a three-hole hitter as a freshman is great."

Matt Lattig coached both Dezse and O'Neill at Liberty. He's not surprised about their quick ascent in the college game.

"I talk to both of them regularly and we take a lot of pride in what they have accomplished," Lattig said. "They are not only great representatives of the program at Liberty, but also great representatives of their families."

One highly anticipated matchup has Dezse staring down on the mound with O'Neill digging into the batter's box.

"Everyone asks me about that," Dezse said of facing O'Neill. "Michael is such a good athlete that it will be a challenge for me. I'm hoping it will be a challenge for him. He's a natural-born hitter. Hopefully I get to face him."

"Josh has been my friend for five years now and we both know each other's strengths and weaknesses pretty well," O'Neill said. "Josh can overpower you with his pitches and it comes down to who makes the better pitch or takes the better swing. I think it will be an interesting matchup."