Darin Erstad stopped short of projecting Nebraska’s weekend pitching rotation. “We know who we’re going to build up,” he said before practice on Friday.
That’s as far as he would go, however. No surprise there.
Senior right-hander Luis Alvarado is likely to be the Huskers’ Friday-night starter, however, if he develops as expected. Erstad did say that.
Yes, Alvarado pitched in 16 games in relief last season, after not pitching his first two seasons at Nebraska. But his professional future is as a pitcher. And since he’s a power pitcher, Erstad is penciling him in as the Friday guy as practice begins, until further notice.
“We’re going to give him plenty of opportunities to roll with that,” said Erstad.
Not too long ago, it appeared junior Chad Luensmann would give the Huskers a pair of power pitchers at the front of the rotation. Luensmann, who was second to Alvarado’s 10 saves with eight last season, was set to become a starter in his third season. But an arm issue that could be traced to the end of his summer in the Cape Cod League required Tommy John surgery recently.
So Luensmann will be lost for the season.
Two other pitchers, junior Reece Eddins and redshirt freshman Connor Curry also won’t be ready at the start of the season, Feb. 16 against UC Riverside at Tempe, Arizona – in the Husker Classic. Yes, the Husker Classic. Nebraska is playing host to UC Riverside and Washington State over four days.
You can also include Alvarado’s name in the batting order this season, as was the case with Jake Meyers last season, in Alvarado’s case at first base or possibly as the designated hitter. His is “an experienced bat that I’d like to have in there, at the same time utilizing his arm,” Erstad said.
While Alvarado is moving from the bullpen to starting, senior right-hander Jake Hohensee is moving the other way. Hohensee, who did both his first two seasons (before missing the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery), is best suited for relief, according to Erstad. His potential there is such that he could “climb through the minor leagues in a hurry when he’s at his best,” said Erstad.
“He’s a bullpen arm with his fastball, change-up, that mix. Late in a game, where teams are overly aggressive, he’s going to use that to his advantage.”
As for whether Hohensee might be the closer, “I’ll close whoever it is,” Erstad said. “We’re going to put guys in the most high-leverage situations. We’re going to get ‘em hot and get ‘em into the game. And whenever we need ‘em, we’re going to bring ‘em in.”
Nebraska’s roster lists 39, including four other seniors, including Scott Schreiber, who, like Alvarado, was drafted last June but elected to return. Schreiber, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 26th round, Alvarado by the Seattle Mariners in the 13th round.
That they returned shows “this place means something to them, this family means something to them . . . Everybody’s in their own individual circumstances, and they’re committed to not only doing well here (in baseball), but they want to finish up school,” Erstad said.
Schreiber, who’s 20-some pounds lighter, led Nebraska in just about every offensive category last season. He hit .330 with 15 doubles, seven home runs and 51 runs-batted-in.
The other seniors are infielder Brison Cronenbold, outfielder Zac Repinski, and pitcher Matt Warren, a graduate transfer from Creighton who sat out last season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Losing a player such as Luensmann is significant. But “I don’t care what sport you’re in, what level you’re at, stuff happens. You have two choices. You either whine and cry about it, which nobody’s going to feel sorry for you, or you find a way, and other guys step up,” said Erstad.
“Like I’ll tell the guys today, ‘Look no farther than what you saw last weekend on TV. I mean, the Pats lose their tight end and they figure it out. The Eagles lost their quarterback; who was their MVP? They figured it out.’ That happens. We’re in that position, so bring it on, let’s go.”
Alvarado is in a different position than a year ago, and Erstad plans to “see how it plays out. I could be completely wrong (about the starting role). It could go a whole other direction,” Erstad said. “He could be playing outfield and closing again in five weeks; who knows?”
As for the roles others will fill?
“Up to this point, they’ve earned the right to be successful,” said Erstad. “They’ve put the work in, from scores in the weight room to their GPA’s, to the way they’ve put the work in, the skill. They’ve done what we’ve asked them across the board to this point.
“Now we find out what the identity of this team is.”
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.