A 23-year-old graduate transfer, Matt Warren has probably heard all the old-timer jokes from his Nebraska baseball teammates. He can take ribbings about once donning blue, too.
“When you come from a rival school I got a little crap from the guys; it’s all good,” said Warren, a senior pitcher. “They still hold that against me a little bit but it’s all in good-nature fun.”
Warren smiles about that. He’s also happy to be pitching against live competition again.
The one-time Creighton Bluejay was out 15 months after recovering from Tommy John surgery. On Monday, he pitched four scheduled innings as the Huskers wrapped up the Red-White Series with Games 2 and 3 at Haymarket Park.
Another Husker arm who missed the 2017 season, Zack Engelken is back, too. He also pitched four innings Monday.
The Red team, made up of veteran players, won the first game 9-4 and the second 8-6. The contests were each five innings in length, and an inning pitch count dictated the length of innings.
Warren and Engelken are looking to boost a pitching staff as starters or as relievers.
Warren, not long ago, didn’t know if he’d have the chance to pitch at Nebraska, needing clearance for a sixth year after going 22-7 with a 2.60 earned-run average in four seasons at Creighton. But the Omaha Skutt grad received word in July he was indeed receiving a sixth year.
He injured his right throwing arm five games into his final season at Creighton, and did not pick up a baseball again until last fall when he arrived in Lincoln. But bullpen sessions picked up in the spring, “and then coming back this fall was the first time I was able to cut loose, ready to go,” Warren said.
Warren critiqued his performance Monday. He felt off on his change-up and slider. Still shaking off the rust.
“All the negatives aside, it’s just good to get back on the mound again,” said Warren, who pitched for the Red team. “It just feels good to be competing again. When you sit out for 15 months, it just drives a guy nuts, and especially after playing for four years.”
Meanwhile, Engelken is aiming for a big year with his big right arm after undergoing shoulder surgery in July of 2016. The junior was supposed to return at some point during the 2017 season, but setbacks prevented that and the Overland Park, Kansas, native was shut down.
He got 15 innings of work in July while playing in the Northwoods League and continued to build up strength during the fall.
Engelken, who pitched for the White team, settled in nicely after his first of four innings Monday.
“There’s always stuff to work on,” he said. “Got to work on my change-up a little bit (and) fastball command, but for the most part I’m pretty content.”
Said coach Darin Erstad, “After the first inning, I thought he did a nice job of pounding the zone. He’s been through some stuff over the last couple years. You’ve got to be a little bit patient with them and hopefully they put the work in over the next few months here and are ready to go in the spring.”
Engelken said his velocity is good. In fact, it may be better than before the injury. He topped out at 95 mph during fall ball.
"He threw it pretty hard today," junior catcher Jesse Wilkening said. "Had a great curve ball. Got me pretty well today, a few times. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Nebraska is hoping to have plenty of pitching options to work with next spring. In addition to Engelken and Warren, the Huskers are shooting to have Reece Eddins and Paul Tillotson back after they both missed the majority of the 2017 season.
The right-handed Ethan Frazier did not pitch this fall. He continues to recover from a shoulder injury suffered in the Big Ten Tournament. Erstad also said redshirt freshman and Lincoln Southeast grad Connor Curry needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2018 season.
Monday quick hits
* Senior pitcher Luis Alvarado, the team's closer last year, pitched four scheduled innings Monday. The Huskers continue to stretch him into a starter for next spring.
* Senior Scott Schreiber started in right field both games, and made a very nice throw to home plate for an out on a sacrifice fly attempt.
* Seven true freshmen played Monday, including catcher/outfielder Kennet Sorenson, who had a nice night. The Stone Mountain, Georgia, native laced a two-run triple to the right-field wall in the second game.
* Junior pitcher Byron Hood retired all five batters he faced in one inning.