Nebraska baseball thirsts for full slate after a lost weekend in the desert
LINCOLN — Jake Meyers spent much of last weekend doing homework and catching up on Netflix. In that order, he said with a smile.
No, Nebraska’s season-opening baseball trip wasn’t what the junior or his teammates had in mind. Instead of four games against UC Riverside in Tempe, Arizona, the Huskers split a Friday doubleheader before weather washed out contests Saturday and Sunday.
Players went through mental reps and worked in the batting cage Saturday. NU ended up taking the day off Sunday — visiting a mall and waiting for the plane — and came back with a light Monday practice.
The canceled games cost Nebraska (1-1) a chance to see more of its roster in action, coach Darin Erstad said. But there’s no time to dwell on what might have been. Not with two games each against No. 8 Oregon State (4-0) and Utah (2-1) as part of the Big Ten-Pac-12 Challenge across four days at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona.
“Those are the kind of teams we’re going to have to beat if we want to go where we want to go,” Erstad said. “Obviously quality programs. … Great baseball. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
Added Meyers: “We’re excited for this weekend. We didn’t get to play our last two games, so it’s game on now.”
Matt Waldron will throw Thursday against Oregon State and Meyers will make his mound debut Saturday against the Beavers, who are tied for eighth nationally with an 0.75 ERA through their first four games. OSU hasn’t announced its rotation for the weekend, but begins with reigning Pac-12 pitcher of the week Luke Heimlich (11 strikeouts in 52⁄3 shutout innings against Indiana last Friday) atop a deep staff.
The Oregon State games might be higher profile, but Nebraska should learn more about its own pitching depth against defending Pac-12 champion Utah. Derek Burkamper — a weekend starter last year who went 6-3 with a 3.09 ERA — takes the ball in a game for the first time since feeling shoulder tightness in the spring. Erstad said it’s likely the right-handed senior will operate with a pitch limit in the 50s as he continues to build arm strength.
Junior righty Jake Hohensee draws the Sunday nod opposite the Utes, marking his first start since the 2014 season. He pitched 171⁄3 innings across 12 relief appearances two years ago (1-0, 2.08 ERA) before undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of last spring. The Lincoln East grad will go after sitting out the first five games for violating team rules a season ago.
“Both of them are just itching to get out on the field again,” Meyers said. “I saw a lot of excitement between those two, so I’m excited to see them get back on the mound and compete like they do. I know they’ll compete; it’s just going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
» The Huskers heard their share of jokes last weekend from supporters at home basking in sunny weather while NU battled storms in Arizona. Sunshine and temperatures in the 70s greeted the team as it loaded the bus Wednesday afternoon at Haymarket Park.
“It’s a little too hot to play here, so we need to go somewhere else where it’s a little cooler,” Darin Erstad said. “It’s crazy. I mean, it’s warmer here than it is in Arizona.”
» Nebraska closer Chad Luensmann threw 56 pitches across three innings in a one-run win over UC Riverside last weekend. Erstad said the 2016 Big Ten freshman of the year will fill whatever role the Huskers need — whether that’s starting, in long relief or finishing games.
“The best way I can put it is we’re going to maximize Chad,” Erstad said. “He’s our best pitcher, he’s got some of the biggest outs for us and we’re going to find a position to use him efficiently, effectively, and maximize what he can bring to the table.”
Luensmann allowed five hits, three walks and a pair of earned runs in his debut. His stat line last year featured a 1.18 ERA in 38 total innings.
» True freshmen Mojo Hagge (outfield), Luke Roskam (third base) and Paul Tillotson (starting pitcher) made their college debuts last week along with redshirt freshman Ben Klenke (right field).
Hagge, an Omaha Skutt graduate, made the most of his chance by going 2 for 3 with a double and a walk. Erstad said competition will continue to play out in the upcoming four-game series.
“We didn’t get everybody in there we wanted to (against UC Riverside), but you’ll see some more new faces (Thursday),” Erstad said. “And we’ll hopefully get some other guys in there throughout the weekend.”
» Nebraska is looking at possibly adding a midweek game to its schedule to make up for the cancellations. Erstad said the team is looking into options, including “working through” whether it would be productive to the Huskers’ RPI.
» Surprise Stadium is the spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. … Oregon State holds the all-time series lead on Nebraska 2-1, though NU won the most recent game 9-2 in 2014. The Huskers hold a 4-2 all-time edge on the Utes, most recently meeting them in 2014.