Second verse, same as the first. Well, not quite.
For the second weekend in a row, the Nebraska baseball team (1-1) is scheduled to play four games in the Phoenix area, at the spring-training home of a major league baseball team – or in this case two, the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, who both train in Surprise, Arizona.
The Huskers will represent the Big Ten, along with Ohio State, in the Big Ten-Pac-12 Challenge, playing two games each with Oregon State (4-0) and Utah (2-1). Nebraska’s first game, against No. 8-ranked Oregon State, is set for Thursday, with first pitch at 2 p.m. (CT).
Nebraska’s games will alternate between Oregon State and Utah, an NCAA qualifier last season.
As at Tempe, Arizona, last weekend, the Huskers’ opening-game starter will be sophomore right-hander Matt Waldron, who took the loss against UC Riverside even though he pitched seven innings without allowing an earned run. He struck out three and didn’t walk anyone.
Waldron is where the sameness ends. Nebraska’s starters for the remainder of the series are slated to be senior right-hander Derek Burkamper, junior left-hander Jake Meyers, and senior right-hander Jake Hohensee, who was suspended the first five games for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He was sidelined a year ago by Tommy John surgery. Meyers had been scheduled to pitch the final game of the UC Riverside series, but it and Saturday’s game were rained out. Burkamper, who’s had some shoulder, would have pitched in relief during Saturday’s game.
Losing games to rain, “we didn’t have an opportunity to get some pitchers out there that we’d like to, get a few position players in there and get ‘em some at-bats,” said Coach Darin Erstad.
Five pitchers did see action, including Chad Luensmann, who earned his 14th career save, despite allowing five hits and two earned runs and walking three in three innings.
Three innings are lengthy for a closer, but “we have him built up to be a starter pitch-count wise,” Erstad said of the sophomore right-hander. “So we can use him in the starter role; we could use him in the middle of a game; we could use him as a closer. It just depends. We wanted to make sure we had him built up to be able to handle whatever comes his way.”
Could Luensmann become a starter? “We would’ve had a better idea after seeing a few more guys on the mound last weekend, but it didn’t work out that way,” said Erstad. “So he’ll stay in that closer type of role for now and have him available for more than one day on this four-game set.
“The best way we’re going to put it is we’re going to maximize Chad. He’s our best pitcher. He’s gotten some of the biggest outs for us and we’re going to find a position to use him efficiently, effectively and maximize what he can bring to the table.”
Oregon State, which had yet to name its weekend starters, has maximized pitching. Through four games, the Beavers’ staff had allowed only three earned runs, an ERA of 0.75.
Sophomore left-hander Luke Heimlich was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week after striking out 11 and walking two in 5.2 innings of a 1-0 victory against Indiana.
“Those are the kind of teams we’re going to have to beat if we’re going to go where we want to go, obviously quality programs,” Erstad said.
He would’ve preferred to play four games last weekend, but “that’s the hand you’re dealt,” he said.
As it turned out, the weather was such that the Huskers could’ve played the missed games in Lincoln. The forecast for Surprise would indicate they’ll be able to play all four this weekend.
“I sure hope so,” Erstad said before the team headed out Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a little too hot to play here, so we need to go somewhere else where it’s a little cooler.”
Actually, the temperature was about the same in Lincoln and Surprise at that point. The humidity in Surprise was just higher.