LINCOLN — Eighteen newcomers stepped on the field at Haymarket Park for the first practice of their careers as Nebraska started its fall season Thursday.
The Huskers will be practicing for the next five weeks, tinkering with lineups, emphasizing fundamentals and establishing roles. Their three annual fall scrimmages open for fans are set for Oct. 15, 16 and 17.
Coach Darin Erstad said he’ll have an “open mind” as he approaches the upcoming workouts, since about half of the fall roster is made up of first-year Huskers.
“We have a lot of versatile pieces, guys that can pitch and play in position,” he said. “(I’ll) just let them do their thing this fall and see how it plays out.”
By design, many of the freshman pitchers were told not to throw in August, in an attempt to rest their arms, Erstad said. Most will only pitch one inning at a time this fall.
“The health of our players is obviously No. 1 (priority),” Erstad said.
Two players who underwent Tommy John surgery, Austin Christensen and Matt Jones, should be available to pitch this fall. The staff will limit junior Michael Hoppes (back) early in fall practice.
Erstad said junior catcher Tanner Lubach (hip) will be monitored. Same goes for junior left-handers Kyle Kubat and Aaron Bummer, who’ve had heavy workloads since April.
Highly regarded freshman Ryan Boldt, a top 50 MLB draft prospect before suffering a knee injury this spring, is nearly back to full strength, Erstad said. Boldt, from Red Wing, Minn., arrived on campus in July.
Strong finish to spring season carries over for Bummer
Bummer used the summer to build on his strong finish to the 2013 season, gaining confidence by enjoying success against some of the sport’s most talented hitters.
He was starting pitcher for the East team in the Cape Cod League’s all-star game. Bummer finished his summer with a 1.41 ERA in seven starts.
He struck out just 18 batters in 44 2⁄3 innings, but Bummer said his objective was to use his fastball to generate weak contact — not necessarily swings and misses.
“There was times in the summer when I was throwing 45 straight fastballs,” Bummer said.
And he was pleased with the results.
“The Cape Cod’s known as one of the better leagues in the country,” he said. “Just going out there and having success helped me a lot, just physically and mentally, everything.”
In Bummer’s final three starts of his season at Nebraska, he recorded a 1.20 ERA, striking out 11 batters and allowing 11 hits in 21 innings of work.
Pritchard hits .386 while playing for San Luis Obispo Blues
Senior Michael Pritchard had to spend last summer rehabbing a shoulder injury, so he was sure to make the most of his time away from campus this year.
The Husker outfielder led the California Collegiate League in hitting (.386), playing primarily in left field. Pritchard said he hit mostly fourth in the lineup — and that was an ideal spot for him because driving in runs more consistently is one of his goals.
He tried to get lower in his stance to generate more power at times. Pritchard had 34 RBIs in 46 games for the San Luis Obispo Blues this summer.
“I finally got that summer ball experience,” he said. “I loved it.”
Pritchard, out of Omaha Creighton Prep, drove in 18 runs and hit .333 during his junior season with the Huskers in 2013.
Bits and pieces
Former Husker Ken Harvey, a first-team All-American in 1999 and a four-year major leaguer, has enrolled as a full-time student at Nebraska. He was at practice Thursday and plans to help out with the team. … Erstad announced that pitcher Brandon Pierce, outfielder Quentin Urban and pitcher Michael Hadden are no longer part of the program. … Nebraska has extended Erstad’s contract one more year through the 2017 season. His previous agreement, signed last summer, expired in 2016. The specific terms of the deal remain unchanged. Erstad’s base salary is still $163,200.