LINCOLN — Nebraska’s trying to figure out how to get its hot-and-cold lineup and its off-and-on pitching staff to click at the same time.
It seems that the key to turning around the season may come down to the Huskers’ ability to reverse that maddening trend.
They’re just 6-6 when they score four runs or more in a game because their pitching staff has a 6.11 ERA in those contests. Meanwhile, when the offense has sputtered, that’s when the pitchers find their rhythm — recording a 3.86 ERA in the 11 games that NU’s totaled three runs or less.
“Once those two balance out and we find that level of consistency, then I think we’ll be good,” senior reliever Dylan Vogt said.
Easier said than done, though.
The players do believe they’re close. A tightly contested series loss to UC Irvine or a back-and-forth midweek matchup at No. 5 Cal State Fullerton proves that. The coaches reinforced that point all last week.
But there’s a focus level missing right now, according to NU coach Darin Erstad.
Erstad’s example: During the last four games, the Nebraska hitters were as locked in at the plate as they’ve been all season (scoring 30 runs and batting .346). But they lost some of their defensive efficiency, committing five errors in that stretch (they had nine total errors in their first 19 games).
It appears that the Huskers (8-15, 2-1 Big Ten) aren’t countering that natural tendency to relax when things start to break their way.
“The details of this game, paying attention to every single part,” Erstad said. “You just have to be hooked up the entire time.”
The players will be challenged to stay mentally engaged this weekend against Northwestern (10-6, 2-1 Big Ten), which lacks the pedigree of the marquee teams that filled Nebraska’s nonconference schedule. The Wildcats stole two of three games in this series last season.
If the Huskers are going to put it all together, they know now is the time. They’ve seen their potential within each individual facet of the game, and now it’s about getting over the hump, according to junior Michael Pritchard.
“We’ve got defense. And we’ve got offense, sometimes. And we’ve got pitching, sometimes,” Pritchard said. “We’re not going to win any games until we get all three of them together. And once we do that, though, we’ll be a pretty scary force.”
NOTES: Senior third baseman Josh Scheffert (arm) will miss at least two weeks. When he returns, he may only be able to pinch hit or contribute as a designated hitter, according to Erstad. ... Sophomore Blake Headley will replace Scheffert at third base. Senior Bryan Peters will also see time there, most regularly against left-handed pitchers. … Sophomore pitcher Kyle Kubat (arm soreness) is still rehabbing back to full strength. He does not need surgery. Erstad said the coaches will continue to be patient with last year’s Friday ace, who still hasn’t appeared in a game this year.
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