Ed Servais normally isn’t the type of baseball coach who relishes the idea of having a half-dozen freshmen play key roles on his pitching staff.
But Servais has accepted that Creighton could find itself in that situation next spring, and he’s embraced the youth movement during a month of fall practices.
“I’m anxious, to say the least, knowing we’re going to have to rely on these young guys,” Servais said. “But I see a lot of potential in this group. Normally, we might use one freshman in our fall game against the alumni.
“We used six when we played the alumni last week. This group is going to be very, very good. It’s going to be one of the best young groups we’ve had here, but there still is the question how quickly it will all come together.”
Creighton plans to get the young pitchers some seasoning this weekend as the Bluejays play a pair of games against Iowa at the CU Sports Complex. The games, which will count against the Bluejays’ spring total of 56, begin at 11 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
Servais started fall ball in early September knowing that he and his staff would have to take a long, hard look at the young pitchers. Creighton lost ace Ty Blach and its two other weekend starters, along with three highly productive relievers from last season’s NCAA tournament team.
“We knew these young guys had a bright future,” Servais said, “but we also knew we were going to need some of them to contribute right away.”
Four incoming freshmen — Nick Highberger of Rye, Colo.; Matt Warren of Omaha Skutt; Taylor Elman of Omaha Creighton Prep; and Austin Groth of South Sioux City — have made solid progress this fall, Servais said.
Redshirt freshman Tommy Strunc of Highlands Ranch, Colo., and John Oltman of Cortland, Neb., have also made strides after playing in the summer leagues.
Warren, Elman and Strunc put themselves in contention for spots in the rotation, while the other three are being looked at as relievers. Those roles could change, especially since the staff must decide how to use Mark Winkelman.
The senior left-hander has been one of the bullpen’s workhorses the past three seasons, but Servais said Winkelman could move into a starting spot.
“We need to figure out how Mark can best help this team next spring,” Servais said.
Creighton also could be looking for pitching contributions from sophomore Jake Peter. A two-way star in high school, Peter came out of practice last fall as a pitcher. An injury early in the season opened a spot at second base, and Peter wound up starting 56 games at the position.
Peter has worked primarily this fall as a position player, but took the mound when Creighton had professional scouts on campus last month. Though Peter had thrown only one bullpen session, he impressed the coaches and scouts.
“He was throwing 92 (mph),” Servais said. “He can help us on the mound, and we’ll have to find a way to get him out there.”
Overall, Servais said he is happy how some of the veteran position players — Peter, shortstop Alex Staehely and outfielders Mike Gerber and Brennan Murphy — have performed during the fall.
Servais is interested to see how it all translates against another opponent, complete with some spring baseball-like weather. After a month of practicing in temperatures in the 70s and 80s, Creighton and Iowa will be looking at temperatures in the high 30s or low 40s this weekend.
“I told our guys that we don’t play a lot of games in the spring when it’s 70 or 80 with no wind,” Servais said, chuckling. “It could be a little chilly, but guys have to get used to that. The important thing is we’ll be facing some outside competition, and that’s what we need at this point.”
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