LINCOLN — Nebraska doesn't want to be reliant on its high-powered offense again this season, even though the Huskers return nearly all of the heavy hitters who combined to form one of the nation's most productive lineups in 2012.
Last season, when it finished fourth in the Big Ten, Nebraska was eighth nationally in scoring (7.1 runs per game), eighth in batting average (.315) and 21st in home runs (47).
But there were some stretches — full games, even — when the bats went quiet. Then NU's true flaws revealed themselves and the Huskers seemed helpless, losing 11 of the 12 games they scored three runs or fewer.
“When you face good pitching, you're not going sit up there consistently and get three or four hits in a row,” coach Darin Erstad said. “You're going to have to manufacture runs.”
That starts by how Nebraska runs the bases, which has been a point of emphasis all offseason. The Huskers bunted well last year. And they were effective base stealers when given the opportunity.
But Erstad wants more. Like making quick reads when baseballs hit the dirt. Or reacting properly to shallow fly balls. Or executing hit-and-runs. Or going first-to-third.
It's purposeful aggression that Nebraska's players assume will put opposing teams in uncomfortable situations. Senior Rich Sanguinetti said the Huskers have to set the tone from the start.
“Just letting them know right off the bat, hey, we're here, and we're going to play on our terms,” Sanguinetti said.
The pitchers in the starting rotation have a role to play, too. They allowed opponents to score first in 30 of Nebraska's 58 games last season. The Huskers won 13 of those contests.
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The entire staff often struggled to escape the high-pressure moments without mistakes, especially in conference play. Opposing Big Ten batters hit .317 with two outs — 25 points higher than with fewer than two outs.
“The last three years that I've been here, we really haven't met our expectations as a pitching staff,” senior reliever Dylan Vogt said. “It's been kind of a letdown.”
The Huskers won't have much margin for error this year, especially since they'll be called on to keep pace with several talented arms during a demanding nonconference schedule.
It starts Friday when Nebraska opens against CSU Bakersfield. The Roadrunners are slated to start left-hander Jeff McKenzie, who held the Husker offense to two runs over 8 13 innings in a win at Haymarket Park last year.
Up next for NU is a doubleheader Saturday against a Cal State Fullerton team that ranked 25th in team ERA (3.17) last season. No squad walked fewer batters than the Titans' staff.
And on Sunday, USC will send freshman Kyle Twomey to the mound. He's a 6-foot-3 lefty who was selected in the third round of the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics last summer.
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