Published Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 7:41 pm / Updated at 12:36 am
baseball
Huskers taking chances on mound
New Mexico (2-4) at Nebraska (0-7)
Game 1 at 1:05 p.m. Saturday: Jr. RHP Brandon Pierce (0-2, 9.39) vs. Jr. RHP A.J. Carman (1-0, 0.82)

Game 2 at 12:05 p.m. Sunday: Jr. RHP Christian DeLeon (0-0, 2.53) vs. Jr. LHP Kevin Baumgartner (0-0, 0.84)

LINCOLN — Nebraska's Ryan Hander had just surrendered a run-scoring double to break a scoreless tie at Texas on Sunday when the senior right-hander went against the advice of his pitching coach.

Hander shook off the fastball. Chose his curveball instead.

And he hung it.

The result was a screaming line-drive single into left field that was hit so hard it failed to score a speedy Texas runner from second base.

Those are the kind of moments that still stick out to Hander, who did manage to escape that jam (and others like it Sunday) with back-to-back strikeouts.

Forget the positives. Hander, who pitched six innings and tied a career-high with seven strikeouts in that 2-0 loss, knows there are plenty of areas for improvement.

“We all have things to work on,” Hander said. “We've got to stay focused. Especially late in the game, when things get serious, we've got to go after people.”

The intent, though, is there, much more so than last season.

Nebraska is 0-7 and its pitching staff (with a 7.11 ERA) has made costly mistakes at times. But it's clear that the pitchers have carried more fearlessness and grit to the mound than last season.

Three Longhorns reached third base with one out against Hander on Sunday, but he left each of them stranded. A day earlier, Texas had seven at-bats with runners in scoring position against NU starter Christian DeLeon, but managed just one hit. Later in that game, reliever Josh Roeder entered with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth and recorded an inning-ending strikeout with a gutsy 3-2 slider.

There's a mentality surfacing that wasn't present in 2012. Now NU coach Darin Erstad is curious to see if it remains.

“Yeah, there were some critical situations where we made some great pitches. That's fine and dandy,” Erstad said. “What I want to see is that repeated. I want to see that consistency.”

It won't be easy this weekend.

New Mexico (2-4) is off to a slow start, but many of the key pieces are back from an offense that ranked fifth nationally in batting average (.326) and runs per game (7.7) last season. Third baseman DJ Peterson and catcher Mitch Garver, both hitting better than .400, lead a lineup that's already delivered several clutch hits (22 of its 37 RBIs have come with two outs).

Hander's heard all about that from pitching coach Ted Silva.

That scouting report, of course, came after the earful for throwing a hanging curveball Sunday instead of the preferred fastball.

“I should have made a few different pitches that I regret,” Hander said.

After all, Nebraska is winless. So despite two quality outings (3.97 ERA over 1113 innings) for a guy who didn't throw all fall after undergoing offseason hip surgery, Hander's approach is to stay humble.

He's certainly more comfortable — the ability to throw all three of his pitches for strikes boosts his confidence, too.

Erstad wants to see more, though.

“Command had been an issue at times, but he's been stringing starts together, at the end of last year and now,” Erstad said. “He's just competing out there.”

ĽNOTES: Saturday's game between Nebraska and New Mexico is scheduled for 1:05 p.m., instead of the original 2:05 start time. ... Sophomore Kyle Kubat (arm soreness) is not expected to pitch for the third straight weekend. ... Junior leadoff hitter Michael Pritchard (oblique strain) didn't make the trip to Texas last weekend, but returned to practice Wednesday. His status is questionable for the New Mexico series. ... Nebraska also announced that the series finale against the Lobos will begin at 12:05 p.m. Sunday.

Friday's home-opener cancelled

Nebraska's home opener against New Mexico has been canceled, the NU athletic department announced Thursday night.

The two teams are still set to play twice this weekend — at 1:05 p.m. Saturday and at 12:05 p.m. Sunday. Both of those games are now set to start an hour before their originally scheduled start times.

Chilly conditions in Lincoln are presumably the reason for the late alterations to the three-game series.

Friday's game will not be made up. Fans with tickets to Friday's game will be allowed to redeem them for general admission to another Nebraska baseball game this season.

Contact the writer:

402-473-9585, jon.nyatawa@owh.com, twitter.com/JonNyatawa

Contact the writer: Jon Nyatawa

jon.nyatawa@owh.com    |   402-473-9585    |  

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football and baseball, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008.

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