By the time Nebraska travels to the Frisco College Baseball Classic in Frisco, Texas, March 3-5, Husker Coach Darin Erstad figures to have some idea of how his team will line up this season.
The weekend pitching rotation at the end of last season returns: senior right-hander Derek Burkamper, sophomore right-hander Matt Waldron and junior left-hander Jake Meyers.
Burkamper should be ready by the Frisco tournament, but he’s had “a little bit of shoulder tightness, so he’s going to have a little bit of a set-back, nothing serious, but (he) probably won’t be ready for the opening weekend,” Erstad said before the first full practice on Friday.
Burkamper led the team in starts, with 12, and had a 6-3 record with a 3.09 ERA. Meyers was 6-1 with a 1.42 ERA, and Waldron was 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA, while middle reliever Reece Eddins, a junior right-hander, was 4-3 with a 1.85 ERA in 26 appearances.
Only Jeff Chesnut (30) and closer Chad Luensmann (28) pitched in more games than Eddins. Chesnut is gone. Luensmann, a sophomore, returns. He had 13 saves (1-2, 1.18 ERA).
In addition to Burkamper, two other pitchers are among those “banged up,” said Erstad.
Zach Engelken, a junior right-hander, “had surgery early this year,” Erstad said. “He’s going to be out, probably until the middle of the season.”
Sophomore left-hander Jake McSteen “was shut down in the fall with a little bit of soreness in his shoulder. He’s on his way back. We anticipate having him right away,” said Erstad.
In short, the Huskers are experienced on the mound. But “like my dad always told me, you can never have enough pitching,” Erstad said. “We have some depth there . . .”
Last season looked much the same, but Nebraska’s pitchers struggled to throw strikes early on. The Huskers won only three of their first nine games and during a four-game stretch, all losses, Nebraska pitchers gave up 48 runs. They struggled with control, walking 23 in those games.
“At the beginning of the year, we didn’t seem to have the strike thing figured out,” said Erstad. “We found the right pieces about halfway through the year, and we felt like we had a pretty good idea of who was going to throw it up for us.”
The pitching staff includes three freshmen as well as a junior college transfer, and junior Luis Alvarado, the regular left-fielder last season, will get an opportunity to pitch as well.
“He’s got a chance,” Erstad said. “Coach (Ted) Silva’s been begging for two years to get him on the mound. Now, I guess he wants to do it. He hasn’t pitched for two years, but he has stuff.”
The key for Alvarado, as for the others, is throwing strikes.
“Last year, our starting rotation didn’t quite end up what it was later in the season,” said Erstad. “So things can happen, injuries take place, just different things. We’ll see how it plays out.”
However it plays out, “one thing we’re going to definitely do this season is maximize our best pitchers and utilize them as much as we can. There’s not going to be a time where we’re not using our best pitchers to their fullest potential,” he said.
WHO’S AT THIRD, AND SHORT
Senior Jake Schleppenbach, a two-year starter, returns at second base, and Ben Miller is back at first; Scott Schreiber also can play there. But the Huskers must replace shortstop Steven Reveles and third baseman Jake Placzek, positions at which young players will get a look early on.
So will Alex Raburn, a graduate transfer from North Carolina. Raburn, who missed last season with a wrist injury, has played all the infield positions, as well as the outfield.
“He’s been through it,” Erstad said. “He’s seen quality pitching, so from that standpoint, we expect him to come in and not have to deal with too much of that (adjusting).”
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.