Matt Warren remembers the date: March 20, 2016.
That’s the last time he pitched. He started against North Dakota, allowing four hits over six innings, with six strikeouts and no walks to earn the 4-1 victory.
Warren was pitching for Creighton then, a senior whose season was cut short by an elbow injury. He’s at Nebraska now, after sitting out last season as a graduate transfer while recovering from Tommy John surgery and being granted a sixth year of eligibility.
His first pitching appearance since that game in 2016 is slated for Sunday, when the Huskers are scheduled to play Washington State in the Husker Classic at Tempe, Arizona.
“I’m excited for him,” said Coach Darin Erstad. “I’m glad he got that sixth year.
Nebraska’s first of four games in Tempe is scheduled for Friday against UC Riverside.
Senior Luis Alvarado is scheduled for his first start at Nebraska, after 16 relief appearances last season, and a team-high 10 saves, with a 1.72 earned-run average.
Alvarado didn’t pitch his first two seasons as a Husker.
Juniors Jake McSteen and Nate Fisher, both left-handers, are set to be the starters for a Saturday double-header against Washington State and UC Riverside.
As with Alvarado, McSteen and Fisher have yet to start a game at the collegiate level. In marked contrast, Warren started 36 games during his four seasons at Creighton.
Still, “I would imagine there’s probably going to be some bumps along the way,” Erstad said. “He hasn’t been out there for basically two years, so we’re going to have to be patient. But Matt knows how to pitch. He’s been out there. He’s had success. He understands what he needs to do.”
McSteen, who missed most of the 2015 season because of shoulder surgery, pitched in 22 games last season, with a 4-0 record and 2.04 ERA. Fisher, who missed the 2016 season because of Tommy John surgery, pitched in 15 games a year ago, posting a 1-1 record and 5.53 ERA.
Because it’s the opening weekend, the starters will have a pitch count, as many as 90. But “we’ll see,” said Erstad. “Will we go that far? Probably in a perfect world we don’t go that far. We’re looking more in the 75-to-80 range. Hopefully, that’s not in the second inning.
“Hopefully, that’s in the fourth . . . fourth or fifth.”
He and pitching coach Ted Silva will “just play it from there,” he said.
Senior Jake Hohensee, a starter last season, will be among those coming out of the bullpen and working only once over the weekend. Juniors Ethan Frazier and Mitch Steinhoff and redshirt freshman Paul Tillotson are others. Tillotson, a right-hander like Hohensee and Frazier, made two appearances last season, including one start, before being granted a medical hardship.
Pitching, as with position players, will be determined by what gives Nebraska its best chance to win. “That’s what we’re going to do every game,” Erstad said. “There’s no spring training games; there’s no exhibition games. We’ve got to be ready to rock ‘n roll right out of the gate.”
Warren’s ready. “I’m just going to try to remember what I had before, keep the breathing under control, not try to do too much and just kind of stay within myself,” he said.
The same as he did on March 20, 2016.
PITCHING INJURY UP-DATE
Junior Chad Luensmann, who had been projected as a starter after two successful seasons out of the bullpen, has been lost for the season, as has redshirt freshman Connor Curry, of course. Junior Zach Engelken is “getting really close,” said Erstad. “He might be available next weekend. Junior Reece Eddins “will probably be (able to return) mid-season.”
BIG TEN PREDICTIONS
Nebraska, the defending Big Ten regular-season champion, has been picked to finish second, behind Indiana, by the conference coaches, who pick only the top six. The remaining four, in order, were Minnesota, Maryland, Michigan and Iowa.
Alvarado and senior outfielder Scott Schreiber, a two-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection, were included on the coaches’ preseason players honor roll.
The plan is to use Alvarado at first base or as the designated hitter when he’s not pitching. “But right now we’re going to focus on him being on the mound as a starter,” Erstad said.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.