Miller Struggles but Stays the Course
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Miller Struggles but Stays the Course

March 31, 2017

Just do the right thing. If baseball were only that simple.
   
“I know in this game it doesn’t always equal out,” Coach Darin Erstad said. “But there’s good things coming, so I’m excited for that.”
   
The subject was Nebraska senior first baseman Ben Miller, who’s batting .176 with one home run and four runs-batted-in as the Huskers travel to Indiana to open Big Ten play.
   
The three-game series against the 14-9-1 Hoosiers begins on Friday at 6 p.m. (CT). Indiana has won 10 of its last 12, including a three-game, conference-opening sweep of Northwestern.
   
Junior right-hander Jake Hohensee (2-2, 2.08) will start for 13-10 Nebraska. And Miller will try to pick up where he left off last season, when he hit .317 with six home runs and 46 RBIs.
   
To that end, “it’s like Kirby Puckett always said, you keep on swinging, keep on swinging,” Erstad said, referring to the late Minnesota Twins center fielder, who batted .318 for his career.

“You can’t control where the ball goes for the most part; you can’t control where the defenders are, what type of plays they make. You just have to have confidence in your approach and your ability and stay positive because . . . you can throw yourself into a slump of your own by thinking you’re not getting hits but your swing’s in a good spot, so Ben’s still squaring up some balls . . .”
   
His swing “feels really good,” said Miller. But the results just haven’t been there, although he did go 2-for-3 in Tuesday’s 11-1 victory against Kansas State.
   
“The hits will come. Coach Erstad teaches us to compete with what we’ve got that day. I’ve been doing that, and it’s been working out a little bit. Hopefully, it gets a lot better.”
   
Erstad would like to see it get better from the top of the batting order to the bottom.
   
“We need to get guys on base. Only half our lineup is really getting on base,” he said. “You cannot survive that way. We need guys getting on base up and down the lineup to increase stress pitches and get into the bullpen earlier in the game than we have been.
   
“When you do that, you have a chance.”
   
Indiana’s Friday night starter, sophomore right-hander Jonathan Stiever, is 1-1 with a 6.46 ERA. He’s pitched only 15.1 innings, with 12 strikeouts and two walks.
   
Erstad dismissed a suggestion that Big Ten play might represent a fresh start for the Huskers, who have won seven of their last nine after back-to-back losses to Western Carolina at home.
   
“We don’t get too much into the conference, non-conference . . . every game’s important to us, mid-week, weekend,” he said. “But there is excitement getting into conference (play). We know it’s going to be a grind, a lot of great teams. We have a tough one right out of the gate.”
   
Nebraska swept the three-game series with the Hoosiers in Lincoln to end the regular-season a year ago, but then lost to them and were eliminated in the conference tournament.
   
This season’s Big Ten Tournament will be played in Bloomington, Indiana. But that doesn’t necessarily add significance to this weekend. “Not really,” Erstad said. “I don’t care where we play. It doesn’t matter to me. We can play out there in the parking lot for all I care.
   
“Obviously, our goal is to get back there. That’s good. But I don’t think that’s something like they’re saying, ‘Hey, we gotta get used to this field because we’re going to be back here in a couple of months.’ It’s pretty much a pitch-to-pitch, day-to-day type of mentality with these guys.”
   
That’s how Miller is approaching things, keeping his play defensively separate from his struggles at the plate. “When things aren’t going your way at the plate, I mean, it’s tough to completely forget about your at-bats, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of being able to put that aside,” he said.
   
If baseball were always fair, the hits would start dropping.

Erstad thinks they will.

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