As the Midwest is blanketed once again with snow, the earliest signs of spring have begun to peek through as the Husker baseball team heads West to Arizona for baseball weather. Despite the snow, the Huskers enter the season ranked 39th in the Collegiate Baseball’s preseason poll.
Thanks to the snow, the Huskers have only been able to practice outside a couple times in the past few weeks and will take on two west coast teams next weekend who have had a healthy dose of playable weather. Junior infielder, Angelo Altavilla, urges this shouldn’t affect the team much.
“That’s something you got to do playing in the Midwest,” Altavilla said at Thursday’s presser. “You can’t really go into the game feeling bad for yourself just because you didn’t get outside, you got to deal with it.”
Early season action and adjusting from indoor practices hasn’t been friendly to the Huskers though. Each of the past two seasons Nebraska has gone 3-6 through the first three weekends of play and just 2-4 each year in February. To combat this, Coach Darin Erstad is revamping the offensive approach in hopes of giving his team more run production. The new approach is something Nebraska, a side who only averaged three runs per game in February could certainly use.
“We don’t hit enough home runs to strike out as much as we do,” Erstad said Thursday. “So we have really hammered in the two-strike adjustments. They’re pretty much free up until two strikes.”
Erstad stresses the need for more plate discipline and to put pressure on the opponent’s defense.
“We’ve chased a ton of pitches down, and when you’re not hitting for a lot of power, those things cannot happen. College baseball teams don’t defend like they do at the professional level. We have to put pressure on defenses.”
The new offensive approach could be what it takes for Nebraska to take the next step onto the national scene after finishing with the best record in the Big Ten regular season last year.
Who to watch
With the season beginning, expect Erstad to move around the squad quite a bit. This team features tons of defensive versatility and Erstad has expressed his willingness to “be creative” with the defense and bullpen.
Luis Alvarado, RHP/UTIL, Senior: Alvarado is going to be featured in an expanded role for Nebraska this upcoming year. The returning senior has experience all around the diamond, coming out of the bullpen last year, playing shortstop, third base, and in the outfield throughout his time as a Husker. Erstad expects Alvarado to be the Friday night starter, as well as a possible DH and first basemen on his days away from the mound.
Matt Warren, RHP, Senior: Warren, a Creighton transfer, is expected to be a weekend starter. The Omaha native, who was with the team last year but did not play due to Tommy John, brings a lot of experience to the mound. Warren finished his Creighton career top five in program history in wins (22), ERA (2.69), and winning percentage (.759). His ability to produce quality starts, as well as helping develop younger arms, could be crucial for the Husker’s season.
Jaxon Hallmark, IF, Freshman: Flying under the radar for playing time is this Midland, Texas native. With an open spot at second base, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Erstad give younger guys a shot to log some defensive reps and at-bats. Hallmark gained some positive momentum when he launched a home run in the team’s scrimmage back in October, something Nebraska, ranking 234th in home runs, seriously lacked last year.