Two weeks ago, Nebraska was hitting .296 as a team, with six Huskers batting better than .300. Last week, Nebraska was hitting .285, with five Huskers batting .300 or better.
Going into this weekend’s four-game pod in Piscataway, New Jersey—two games against Indiana followed by two games against Rutgers—Nebraska’s team batting average has dipped to .274. Three Huskers are batting over .300, led by Jaxon Hallmark at .344.
So many Huskers have been struggling at the plate of late. “It’s crazy the psychology that goes into it with . . . you got a couple of guys ‘on the barrel’ and everybody feels like they’re going to get ‘on the barrel’ and hit it hard,” said Will Bolt. “Then you got a couple of guys scuffling and all of a sudden you look up and go, ‘Man, there’s several guys that just aren’t going good right now.’”
It’s as if the matter is one of contagion. And it’s not necessarily one of intention. But players start trying to do too much, instead of remaining focused on defined roles within the system.
“You don’t get in that mode very often, and that’s a little bit of where I see some guys right now is, they’re chasing the ghost of their past success a little bit, where they’re worried about their numbers all of a sudden, for the first time all year,” Bolt said.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s conscious, necessarily, or something that is an outward, selfish motivated thing on their end. I think it’s just human nature at times.”
If the Huskers are to rectify the situation and rebound from three home losses to Rutgers, “we need to get back to knowing what our role is and executing that role,” said Bolt.
Because of last weekend’s slump, Nebraska is 20-10 and second in the Big Ten, behind Indiana (20-9) by a half game. The Huskers are slated to play the Hoosiers—the only team in the NCBWA Top 30, at No. 29—on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT and Sunday at 10 a.m., followed by a game against Rutgers at 2 p.m. Nebraska will finish the pod with a 10 a.m. game against Rutgers on Monday.
Cade Povich, 4-1 with a 3.16 earned-run average and 54 strikeouts in 51.1 innings, will start Saturday’s game. After that, the plan is to “mix and match,” said Bolt.
The remaining starters are listed as “TBA” on the Husker release. Chance Hroch and Shay Schanaman, the other starters all season, will be in the mix.
“If we’ve got to use all hands on deck to help us win the first three games, we’ll do that. And then if Monday’s got to be a bullpen day, we’ll do that,” Bolt said.
Jake Bunz, who has been the other starter during four-game weekends, has emerged as one of the best out of the bullpen. He’s 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA overall and has pitched 12.2 innings in nine relief appearances, allowing only one earned run, with five walks and 19 strikeouts.
Bunz could be the Monday starter, but “if we’ve got a lead late and we’ve got to go win (with him), that’s what we’re going to do,” said Bolt. “Then we’ll reassess as the weekend goes along.”
All hands on deck means Hallmark, the regular center fielder, could pitch in relief this weekend. He’s made three appearances on the mound to date, working three innings.
Spencer Schwellenbach, Koty Frank, Ethan Bradford, Caleb Feekin, Max Schreiber, Emmett Olson, Cam Wynne, Braxton Bragg . . . the list goes on—and might even include Kyle Perry, who hasn’t pitched this season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, if he makes the trip.
He was slated to throw to hitters and be evaluated on Wednesday.
Even though Nebraska is 30 games into a 44-game season, if the junior left-hander is “feeling good and he looks good, he’s going to factor in to help this team this year,” said Bolt.
“I think that’s been pretty well decided on our end, on his end.”
A week ago, the Huskers’ team ERA was 3.72. Now it’s 3.99.
Even though they were swept last weekend, “I don’t worry about this group in terms of being ready to bounce back, being ready to do what it takes, do what’s necessary to win,” Bolt said.
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.