Jake Hohensee laughs. His Nebraska baseball teammates “make fun of me,” he said before practice on Thursday. “All these guys think I’m an old guy around here.”
They say that even though he’s only a junior, he said.
Turns out his teammates are right, relatively speaking. Junior or not, he turns 23-years-old on Friday, which means he’s less than two months younger than senior Matt Warren, the team’s oldest player, and about two months older than senior Alex Raburn, the third oldest.
Hohensee will “celebrate” his 23rd birthday by pitching the opener of a three-game series against the College of Charleston at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park. First pitch is set for 4:05 p.m.
The start will be the right-hander’s second in a row on Friday and his fourth of the season. A week ago, he pitched six innings against Western Carolina and was charged with the loss. He allowed only three hits, and the three third-inning runs he allowed were unearned.
The performance earned him another Friday start. In fact, the starting rotation will be the same as a week ago. Derek Burkamper and Jake Meyers will follow on Saturday and Sunday.
“We like the pieces that are in place,” Coach Darin Erstad said of the weekend starters. “We saw a little bit out of Hohensee there towards the end of that (Western Carolina) start. He started to really command his pitches and do a good job of attacking the (strike) zone.
“He just has had too many walks.”
Hohensee walked four in the game, giving him 11 in 12.2 innings for the season. That despite the fact he can “throw multiple pitches for strikes,” said Erstad. “He can throw strikes in his sleep.”
To some extent, the walk issue is understandable, a result of his not having pitched last season, following Tommy John surgery. “So you might expect a little bit of that,” Erstad said.
Hohensee’s velocity is coming back. And he’s stretched out enough to be a starter.
“Right now I think my pitches are pretty sharp,” he said. “The only thing I’m concerned about is a little command. But it’ll start smoothing itself out . . . you’ve got to pound the strike zone; you’ve got to limit those free bases. We’ve given up too many. But we’ll get there.”
As a staff, the Huskers have walked 53 in 122 innings, while striking out 98.
Meyers has set the standard, walking only two in 17.1 innings. He walked one in a complete-game shutout of Western Carolina on Sunday, throwing 104 pitches, 77 for strikes.
“A lot of first-pitch strikes,” said Hohensee, who charted pitches. “I asked him right after the game, ‘Hey, teach us, teach us what you do.’ We were joking about it, but he’s a good teacher.”
Or at least a good example to follow.
Hohensee threw 112 pitches, 63 for strikes, in his six innings.
“Right now my pitch count’s there,” he said. “I’m not really concerned about that. It’s just strikes; throwing strikes is going to get you to the end of the game, so that’s the plan.”
“We’re just maybe losing focus a little bit, having some walks in situations against guys that we feel like we should be able to get out,” Erstad said.
Pitching inconsistency hasn’t been the 6-8 Huskers’ only problem, of course.
“We’ve been consistently inconsistent, so we’ve got that going for us,” said Erstad. “We haven’t played all-around the type of baseball we’re capable of playing.
“We just haven’t played like we can. We’ve made too many errors, had bad walks not finishing pitches, obviously not swinging the bat like we can. But I saw some good signs on Sunday in less-than-ideal conditions; guys at the plate were really battling with two strikes.”
Nebraska’s team batting average is only .246, with starters Jake Schleppenbach and Ben Miller still hitting under .200. But Meyers has started to hit, raising his average to .255.
“I’m confident in this group of guys,” said Erstad. “I like how they’re going about their business, and you’re starting to see some improvements.”
Hohensee says much the same.
“One of these days we’re going to put the whole game together and it’s going to be fun. There’s some life in the bats there. Pitching . . . just got to limit the free bases. We do all that and we play good defense, (and) I think we’re going to be pretty good,” the “old” guy said.