The season-opener is still a week and a half away, so Darin Erstad isn’t ready to announce exactly how he’ll use his pitchers. But Nebraska’s starters for the four-game series against UC Riverside in Tempe, Arizona, likely will include Matt Waldron, Jake Meyers and Paul Tillotson, in some order.
Oh yes, and Ben Miller could be the fourth, maybe during a Saturday double-header.
Nebraska also will play four games the next weekend in Surprise, Arizona, which means Erstad will get a look at lots of pitchers as well as position players, with a simple-enough goal.
“It’s all going to be about maximizing our most talented guys, getting them the most at-bats and getting them the most innings on the mound and go from there,” Erstad said during a Monday news conference.
The Huskers’ sixth-year head coach was willing to list a projected top four in the batting order. Assuming everyone’s healthy, Meyers will lead off and play center field, when he’s not pitching. Scott Schreiber will bat second and Miller third, with Jesse Wilkening likely batting cleanup.
Erstad wants to have Meyers, Schreiber and Miller bat “as many times as we can.” After Wilkening, “it’s going to depend on who else is in the lineup and how we piece it together,” he said.
Junior Luis Alvarado would figure to be one of those pieces, most likely in left field. He started 44 games last season.
The most significant question is who will start on the left side of the infield, following the departures of third baseman Jake Placzek and shortstop Steven Reveles.
Sophomore Angelo Altavilla, who played in only 14 games as a freshman, is “probably in the lead at third base,” Erstad said, with newcomers Alex Raburn and Brison Cronebold the top candidates at shortstop. Raburn is a senior transfer from North Carolina. Cronebold, a junior, transferred from Ventura College. Freshman Luke Roskam can also play third, as well as first.
This is his deepest team, “on paper,” Erstad said. “I mean, right now; that could obviously change with injuries and stuff, but as far as options where we feel like we can move a lot of pieces around, at different positions.”
Early in the non-conference season there are going to be “guys playing a lot of different positions,” Erstad said. That makes for spirited competition, which is positive.
“It’s great, but at the same time, you’ve got to build that team concept,” he said. “How do people handle it when they don’t play as much? Are they still pulling for their teammates? Are they pulling for their brother during practice? The competition’s kind of a double-edge sword.
“So from that standpoint, it’s been interesting to see how they’ve handled that. So far, on the surface, it looks like they’ve done a nice job. Now, when their name’s not in the lineup every day, we’ll see how it goes. But that’s obviously a challenge a lot of schools have.”
The top four in the batting order are returning starters. Wilkening split starts at catcher as a freshman, and with Taylor Fish gone, the job would appear to be his.
“Offensively, he got off to a good start and then it was hit or miss at times. But he has a very high ceiling as a hitter,” Erstad said..
Wilkening batted .270 with a home run and 12 runs-batted-in in 33 games.
Much must be determined during the non-conference schedule, on the mound as well as in the field. The Huskers’ young pitchers “have given themselves an opportunity to be successful so far,” Erstad said. “They have just kind of that quiet, businesslike attitude.
“There’s not a lot of talk about, ‘We’re going to do this; we’re going to do that.’ I feel like they’ve been very methodical in how they’ve gone about their business . . . I like the mindset they have.”
The dynamic can be different when the games begin, however.
“What’s our rotation going to be first weekend compared to third weekend?” Erstad said. “Last year, the rotation first weekend was nothing like that a few weeks later, so who knows?”