Creighton outfielder Mike Gerber is ready to make up for lost time.
The junior hasn’t played since April 21 due to the appendectomy he underwent April 26. He took batting practice for the first time since his surgery Saturday. He got in some hacks Sunday before the Bluejays left for Normal, Ill., and the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. He will take some more swings Monday.
On Tuesday, he expects to step in the batter’s box against Indiana State’s Sean Manaea — a projected first-round draft pick — and perform in the same manner that made him Creighton’s most dangerous hitter before his illness.
“I won’t be thinking about how many swings I haven’t gotten or anything like that,” Gerber said. “I expect to take BP and do all the other pregame stuff. And once it’s game time, I’ll forget about all the other stuff.”
To say the Bluejays are expecting a boost in Gerber’s return is hardly an understatement. Though Gerber has missed 15 games, he is still tied for second on the team in RBIs. Only second baseman Jake Peter has more extra-base hits (16) than the 15 that Gerber recorded in the season’s first 31 games.
Creighton also will benefit from getting the best center fielder in the Valley back on the field. Brad McKewon has done a commendable job of filling in for the past 15 games, but no outfielder in the league eats up more ground in center than Gerber.
“We need a break, we need something good to happen,” CU coach Ed Servais said. “If we get Mike back, that will be huge.”
Servais figures Gerber’s return will help stabilize the lineup. Gerber had been hitting .328 with five doubles, six triples and four homers. Batting fourth in the lineup, Gerber kept teams from pitching around Peter.
Peter was hitting a team-high .379 when Gerber went out of the lineup. Peter will take a .345 average into the tournament. Several other players experienced notable dips in their production as they were forced to hit higher in the lineup while trying to pick up the slack with Gerber on the bench.
“We’ve been able to hang in there without Mike,” Servais said. “Getting Mike back will allow us to put everybody back in the spots in the order they should be in. That’s going to be a big, big lift for us.”
Gerber received medical clearance to return to action Friday but couldn’t do any physical activities because he was sick with an unrelated illness. He took batting practice before Saturday’s final regular-season game against Missouri State. Had he been on the active roster, he might have pinch hit late in the game.
Afterward, he said he feels he’s close to 100 percent.
“When I went to the doctor, he said everything is healed,” Gerber said. “I felt pretty good when I took some swings today. I’ll try to get some extra work in on Monday just to try to get the rust off a little bit.”
When asked last week what he expects out of Gerber, Servais recalled how the outfielder missed more than a month last summer while recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered in the Bluejays’ next-to-last game at the NCAA regional tournament.
When healed, Gerber headed to the collegiate Northwoods League, where Servais said Gerber went 5 for 5 in his first game.
“Actually, I went 4 for 4,” said Gerber, grinning. “My leg was still bothering me, so I was only up there for a day.”
Servais laughed when informed that he had slightly embellished Gerber’s summer comeback.
“You know how us coaches are,” he said.
Like most coaches, Servais is looking for that little extra spark entering the tournament. Creighton likely will need to win the tournament to extend its string of NCAA appearances to a program-best three, though the Bluejays do appear to have slim hopes of earning an at-large berth.
Gerber’s teammates are glad he’ll be on the field rather than limited to cheering them on from the dugout as he has the last three-plus weeks.
“Getting him back is going to be huge,” Peter said. “He’ll take a lot of pressure off everybody if he can get back to the form he was before he got hurt.”
Jake Peter finalist for Olerud Award
Peter is one of 12 finalists for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, which recognizes players who excel on the mound and in the field.
The award will presented by the National College Baseball Hall of Fame on June 29.
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