Long before Christian DeLeon, Kyle Kubat or Aaron Bummer steps on the mound to pitch for the Huskers, the Nebraska catchers have a good idea of what kind of game is on tap.
“You can tell during warmups, just throwing in the bullpen, if somebody is on or not,” said Nebraska freshman catcher Taylor Fish. “With Christian, the ball is down in the zone pitch after pitch. Bummer is throwing hard, and with Kyle, it’s his change-up moving a lot.”
Those three starters, plus the resurgence of Tyler Niederklein, have the Huskers thinking positive this weekend as No. 16 Indiana comes to Haymarket Park for games Saturday (6:05 p.m.), Sunday (1:05 p.m.) and Monday (12:05 p.m.).
The Huskers (20-23) and the Hoosiers (34-8) are both 11-4 in the Big Ten and share second place, just percentage points behind Minnesota. The top two teams in the regular season receive the top seeds and first-round byes in the Big Ten Tournament on May 22-26 at Minneapolis.
For Fish and sophomore Tanner Lubach, who has started 31 of NU’s 43 games, the work with pitchers throughout practices and warmups is crucial.
“We work with the pitchers all the time, and it’s important to know which guy does what and which pitcher you can yell at to fire them up and which ones you approach in a quieter way,” Fish said. “I know I’ve messed up on that, so Tanner and I talk a lot about the pitchers and their personalities. And lately, we’re talking about how all our starters are going deep into games.”
For Fish, catching comes naturally.
“I was a quarterback and, in hockey I played goalie, so I’m used to having the whole game in front of me and seeing how everybody is working,” he said. “I see how we’re playing well, but except for Big Ten games, we’re not winning that much. I see us putting a lot together for Big Ten games we don’t otherwise. But we’re close.”
Getting six, seven or even eight innings from its starters is critical to NU’s hopes of success in the biggest conference series of the season so far.
“Our starters give us a chance to win,” NU coach Darin Erstad said. “Most important is that our guys are confident that our pitching will give us a chance. That mentality is pretty powerful for our team. Outside of the one midweek start (Kansas State on April 23), our guys have done a nice job of filling up the zone and letting our defense work.
“We’re probably going to give up a few (runs) this weekend because of who we are playing, but we’re capable of scoring some runs. We’re going to take some punches and still be able to stick with what we’re doing.”
Erstad said Indiana has excellent starting pitching and hitting. The Hoosiers have three hitters batting .390 or higher and seven regulars batting .300 or better.
“They pitch well and hit the ball, bash it, and they hit home runs and steal bases,” he said.
Indiana leads the Big Ten in hitting and pitching overall and is ranked third in hitting and first in pitching in conference games only.
* NU first baseman Kash Kalkowski, injured when hit by a pitch Sunday, is expected to return to the lineup.
* Huskers are 5-0 in conference series openers. Indiana swept Michigan and was 5-0 last week, while Nebraska was 1-4 in nonconference games.
* Heavy-hitting Hoosiers in the top 35 nationally include sophomores Kyle Schwarber (.397 with 10 home runs), Scott Donley (.390 with 47 RBIs) and junior Dustin DeMuth (.390, with .456 OBP). Indiana leads the NCAA in eight offensive categories.