The Nebraska baseball team's starting rotation for its season-opening series at UC Riverside will have a familiar feel and some new blood.
Right-hander Chad Luensmann will get the ball Friday when the Huskers open their season in the suburbs of Los Angeles. The 6-foot-4, 237-pound junior will be on the mound for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in January 2018.
A lights-out reliever who was the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year in 2016, Luensmann was set to move into the starting rotation before his injury and subsequent surgery.
He'll be on a 50- to 70-pitch limit, NU coach Darin Erstad said Wednesday, with what inning he exits depending on how he fares in his return to live action.
"He's going to be excited. And if he's spraying it all over the place after two innings and has 60 pitches, those are probably going to be high-stress innings. Or if he goes 10 pitches an inning and he's into the sixth," Erstad said. "But he's going to have to manage his emotions. He's invested a lot into it, and he's about as motivated as you're going to find."
Senior Reece Eddins will start the first game of a Saturday doubleheader, with senior lefty Nate Fisher scheduled to start the day's second game. Eddins and Fisher have their own injury histories, with Eddins missing parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and Fisher, a Yutan native, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015.
Nebraska will turn to a true freshman for Sunday's series finale, sending Millard West graduate Colby Gomes to the hill.
The 2018 Perfect Game Player of the Year in Nebraska, Gomes went 7-0 with a 1.05 ERA last season while earning honorable mention All-American honors from Rawlings.
"He's got a chance. Why not throw him out there and see how it goes?" Erstad said. "He's got ability, he's got some potential. Is he going to have some rough spots as a freshman? Sure. But it works."
No outside practices before first game: For the first time in Erstad's eight seasons as head coach, Nebraska has not yet practiced outside before its first game.
The Huskers wrapped up preseason preparations Wednesday with a practice in the Hawks Championship Center, a venue with which they have become very familiar during a snowy winter.
Scheduled to fly to California on Thursday morning, the first time the Huskers take a ground ball on dirt could likely come during pregame warmups for Friday's series opener, Erstad said.
Erstad said that, despite the lack of outside practice time, he feels comfortable with where Nebraska is defensively. At the same time, there will likely be at least a couple hiccups.
"So we're going to be patient and understand that there might be a few things we might see that aren't going to be typical of what we're going to see," Erstad said.
Erstad joked that Riverside coach Tory Percival, Erstad's former teammate with the Los Angels Angels, has been kind enough to text the NU coach photos of Riverside's sun-splashed, green-grass-covered field.
NU sixth in preseason poll: Nebraska tied for sixth in the Big Ten's preseason poll, which is voted on by the league's coaches.
Each of the league's 13 coaches vote for their top six teams, and each select three players from their own teams to form a preseason honors list.
The Huskers tied with Purdue for sixth in the poll. Defending regular-season and tournament champion Minnesota was picked first, with Michigan second, Illinois third, Indiana fourth and Ohio State fifth.
Huskers on the preseason honors list were Luensmann, senior infielder Angelo Altavilla and junior catcher/infielder Luke Roskam.
The Huskers went 24-28 last season, finishing 10th in the Big Ten with an 8-14 league record.
Video review: One of several rule changes this season will allow coaches to challenge plays in a limited capacity. Erstad said the Huskers won't have that capability this weekend and will likely only get the chance to use it during the Frisco Classic in Texas the first three days of March.
Erstad said the rule will be in use during the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament play, but not during the Big Ten regular season. There had been talk of perhaps "a couple" Big Ten teams serving as test sites for the rule, but it appears that option will not come to fruition.
"It's disappointing, to say the least, but that's out of our control," Erstad said of the limited opportunities to use the new rule.