If you’re looking for something positive about Nebraska baseball right now, consider the hitting of Scott Schreiber. And yes, you’ve heard that here before, just a week ago in fact.
But Schreiber has been on a tear. In the weekend series at Ohio State he went 8-for-14 (.571) with three home runs, six runs-batted-in and five runs scored. “When players are talented and then they’re locked in as well, it’s fun to watch,” said Coach Darin Erstad. “When he’s laying off pitches down and getting himself in good counts, he’s tough to get out. He’s showing that right now.”
Except for a brief stretch early, Schreiber has shown that most of the season, which is why he leads the team in most offensive categories. He’s batting .389 and has a .708 slugging percentage.
“He’s hitting pretty much everything,” Erstad said.
Not so his teammates, at least not consistently, as we segue into the negative.
“Offensively, when we’re grinding out our at-bats, we’re scoring runs,” said Erstad. “And when we don’t do that and we’re not getting guys on base, we’re not hitting our way. We’re averaging more runs than we were last year at this time, but for the most part, it’s all or nothing.”
The Huskers have scored 174 runs in 28 games, effectively the mid-point of the season, but they’ve scored two or fewer runs seven times and allowed 163. That translates into a 14-14 record overall, including 2-4 in the Big Ten. Instead of contending for the regular-season title, which they won last season, they’re just trying to earn a spot in the conference tournament – there are eight.
The season has been “frustrating so far,” Erstad said. “It’s not a lack of effort on the part of the guys. They’re coming to play. But we’ve always been built on pitching and defense; that keeps us in games.”
Nebraska’s pitching problems because of injuries have been well-documented, with young pitchers forced to step in and learn “on the fly,” said Erstad, who has used 17 in all.
Robbie Palkert pitched 4.2 innings of relief in two games without allowing an earned run before being sidelined for the season. Reece Eddins and Jake McSteen are just returning. And now Zack Engelken, who had a 1.54 ERA in eight relief appearances, has had to shut down.
Injuries aren’t limited to pitchers. Infielders Brison Cronenbold and Angelo Altavilla won’t make the trip to Michigan State this weekend, Cronenbold from an on-going back issue, Altavilla because of a hamstring problem from last weekend. He should be back sooner rather than later.
Erstad said he didn’t run the risk of aggravating Altavilla’s injury in the cold weather forecast for East Lansing this weekend. The three games, against a Michigan State team that’s 7-19 overall and 1-5 in conference play, are scheduled for day-time starts: 2:05 p.m., 10 a.m. and 12:05 p.m. (CT).
At mid-week, Erstad said the coaches were looking at alternative sites, if there were any, in case the weather prohibited games in East Lansing under Big Ten temperature rules.
“It’s kind of what I expected with having a lot of arms out on the mound. You’re just going to be on a rollercoaster ride,” Erstad said of the turn the season has taken. “We’ve shown signs of playing well, and we’ve showed signs of setting the game back a hundred years the way we’ve played.
“So it’s frustrating that consistency hasn’t been there, but we needed a couple of guys to step up in spots and take advantage of opportunities and they really haven’t.”
He didn’t name those spots or the guys. But he was not referring to Schreiber.
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.