Published Friday, January 25, 2013 AT 5:34 PM / Updated at 5:45 PM
NU baseball: Huskers open spring practice
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

Interested in the latest weather forecast? Check with NU coach Darin Erstad. Not many folks will be monitoring the conditions as closely as him over the next three weeks.

Any reasonable opportunity to play baseball outside, and the Huskers will take advantage.

Such was the case Friday, when they kicked off spring practice on a sunny afternoon with temperatures inching into the 50s, according to the National Weather Service. Nebraska tweaked its practice schedule (started two hours early) to fit in a batting practice and a scrimmage at Haymarket Park before sunset.

More on Day One will be in Saturday’s paper. And much more NU baseball content is coming over the next three weeks. The season starts Feb. 15.

You ready?

A taste-test is below, in the form of a few noteworthy nuggets and three position battles to watch…

***

NOTES

>> Lots of talk Friday about Nebraska’s challenging nonconference schedule, which includes Arkansas, Texas, Cal State Fullerton and New Mexico. The players are excited about it. But Erstad wants them to “get to the point where they’re basically numb to who they’re playing … Play your game, you have a chance.”

>> 2012 stats for Nebraska’s pitching staff: A 4.40 ERA (eighth in Big Ten), 591 hits allowed (10th) and 328 strikeouts (ninth). The Huskers struggled to respond to mid-inning adversity too often last year, according to Erstad. But… “I’d like to think our mentality as a staff has matured and they’ll handle those situations better,” Erstad said.

>> Injury report… Senior pitchers Tyler Niederklein and Ryan Hander (hip surgeries) are back, but they now have to rebuild their “strength and stamina,” Erstad said. Redshirt freshman Quentin Urban (foot) missed the fall, but he’s practicing. Pitchers Austin Christensen and Matt Jones are out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Sophomore Michael Hoppes had the same procedure 13 months ago and could be ready soon. First baseman Kash Kalkowski (back) might get a few extra days off this year. Second baseman Pat Kelly left Friday’s practice with a leg injury that’s not believed to be serious.

***

POSITION BATTLES

1. Here’s Erstad on the catcher’s importance in baseball: “You’ve got to be the most intelligent person, the loudest. You’ve got to be able to control the whole pitching staff. You’ve got to make calls on all the cuts and relays. And oh, you’ve got to be able to execute offensively, too, while you’re doing that.” So the coaches will be keeping a close eye on redshirt freshman Taylor Fish, junior Corey Stringer and sophomore Tanner Lubach, who’re competing for the No. 1 spot.

2. There are also three guys — senior Bryan Peters, freshman Jake Placzek and freshman Wes Edrington — who’ll be working at shortstop. Edrington just joined the team this semester. Senior Chad Christensen, a first-team All-Big Ten shortstop in 2012, has moved to the outfield.

3. Who’s capable of becoming a reliable starting pitcher? Nine different players started a game last year. Sophomore Kyle Kubat and junior Zach Hirsch are presumably locked into starting roles. Nothing’s concrete after that. Said junior Brandon Pierce: “We have a game in three weeks. That is three weeks to prove what you can do.”

About Jon Nyatawa

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008. He and his laptop, cell phone, tape recorder, pen and notebook all live in Lincoln. Follow him on Twitter: @JonNyatawa. Email him here: jon.nyatawa@owh.com. He welcomes feedback.