Every now and then, that belt-high fastball you're expecting to see in a 2-1 count doesn't end up coming. Sometimes it's a change-up. Occasionally, it's a breaking ball out of the zone.
And in that scenario — when you're fooled — it's likely that your aggressive, get-me-extra-bases, smash-the-pitch hack won't result in the type of solid contact you were hoping for. In fact, you could whiff all together, spoiling your chance in a hitter's count and possibly dooming your at-bat.
But that's OK.
Nebraska's coaches have made this clear. That was the point of the offseason, when the staff and the players together studied pitcher tendencies, evaluated their own strategic weaknesses and developed a plan to take advantage when ahead in the count. Coach Darin Erstad talked about this before the season. And again a couple weeks ago.
One of the biggest mental keys for NU batters, at least according to junior Ben Miller: Being encouraged to attack, no matter the results.
First pitch. 1-0. 2-0. 3-1. That's when the Huskers, armed with a better understanding of how opposing pitchers will try to regain count leverage, are most likely aiming for the outfield gaps or the outfield seats. And even if they do pop out, or foul a ball off, or swing-and-miss spectacularly, they're still going to be encouraged to bring the same mentality to the plate the next time up.
“The coaches are completely fine with us swinging through a ball if we take a big swing at it and we're up in the count,” Miller said in an interview two weeks ago. “So that's nice, knowing that they're OK if we happen to miss a ball or foul one off.”
The Huskers can live with it because the inevitable positive outcomes are making all the difference.
Whether it's sophomore Luis Alvarado triggering a game-winning rally Saturday because he'd seen inside fastballs all day — and after taking a ball in his eighth-inning at-bat, he knew another drivable heater was coming his way. So Alvarado unloaded on it.
Or whether it's sophomore Scott Schreiber working the count into his favor after Miller led off the fifth inning with a single on Sunday. Schreiber swung through the at-bat's second pitch, but ignored three others off the plate. Then he obliterated a 3-1 fastball, launching it well beyond the fence in the left-center field gap to tie the game.
Almost two-thirds of Nebraska's 30 home runs this season have come in hitter-friendly counts...
0-0 count: 10 homers
1-0 count: Three
2-0 count: One
2-1 count: Three
3-1 count: Two
(Six home runs were on 0-1 pitches and another was hit in a 1-1 count. NU has hit four two-strike homers this season.)
It's not just the long ball, either.
The Huskers averaged 1.56 doubles per game last season — that rate is at 2.1 so far in 2016.
They had 13 triples in 2015 — they have seven at this year's halfway point.
Their slugging percentage was .359 last season — it's .469 so far now (ranked 24th nationally).
Said Miller: “They've always given us the free reign to swing away when we're up in the count. But this year specifically, he wants you to get your swing off when you're up in the count. Which is good. I guess we're just sticking to the approach and (taking advantage of) situations where we can swing away and try to do some damage.”
|2016 Big Ten Baseball Standings|
|Teams||Conf. Record||Pct.||Overall Record||Pct.|
|4. Ohio State||14-9||.609||37-17-1||.682|
|6. Michigan State||13-10||.565||34-17||.667|
|t-8. Penn State||12-12||.500||28-27||.509|
» Updated through 11:45 p.m. on May 20