Published Monday, February 4, 2013 AT 3:13 PM / Updated at 12:26 AM
NU Baseball: Christensen comfortable in OF
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

Chad Christensen hadn’t played much outfield when coach Darin Erstad proposed the position switch during the fall of 2011.

“He just kind of threw me out there one day just to see how it was,” Christensen said.

The experiment worked. But Christensen spent the 2012 season at shortstop because of injury and depth concerns. He was a decent infielder last year — actually, the conference coaches thought he was the league’s best shortstop (an All-Big Ten first teamer).

But Erstad thinks Christensen projects better as an outfielder — “he’s a natural,” Erstad said Monday. Christensen said after he was drafted by the Miami Marlins in June that he assumed the franchise wanted him as an outfielder. He played outfield all summer long in the Northwoods League.

So Christensen will start the 2013 season in left field, which is what he prefers.

“It’s a lot of fun to be out there,” he said.

Christensen and Erstad were among the Huskers who chatted Monday with local reporters about the 2013 season, which begins in 11 days. Some highlights are below. Be on the lookout for plenty more NU baseball preview coverage during the next week or so.

>> Nebraska’s top four starting pitchers at this point, according to Erstad: Sophomore LHP Kyle Kubat, senior RHP Ryan Hander, junior LHP Zach Hirsch and junior RHP Brandon Pierce.

>> Four other right-handers — junior Luke Bublitz, freshman Jeff Chesnut, junior college transfer Christian DeLeon and freshman Colton Howell (Christensen mentioned Howell Monday as an early standout) — have been “stretched out” and could compete for starting jobs, Erstad said.

>> No surprise here, but Erstad said he plans to use senior RHP Dylan Vogt as the team’s closer. And by league play, Vogt’s role could increase — maybe it’ll be something like him entering in the seventh and finishing the game from there. The coaches have lots of confidence in him. Vogt never started a game last year but he was second on the team in innings pitched.

>> It’s still a three-man race for the top job at catcher: sophomore Tanner Lubach (who could also play some outfield), junior Corey Stringer and redshirt freshman Taylor Fish.

>> We’ll dive deeper into these two things next week (because I believe they’re somewhat interconnected) — but Erstad mentioned base running and pitch execution as areas the coaching staff has emphasized with the players this offseason. And he said there’s been some improvement … More specifically on offense: Hit-and-run situations. Said Erstad: “There’s another level of causing chaos on the bases that we have worked hard on.” … And in regard to the mound, Erstad wants his pitchers to locate down in the strike zone with more consistency. “Our guys are starting to grasp that concept,” he said.

>> Funny to hear both Sanguinetti and Vogt mention the Texas series already. You better believe those three games in Austin (Feb. 22-24) are important to this team.

>> A couple national Big Ten preview links. Baseball America picks Nebraska to finish second. College Sports Madness names five NU players to preseason all-conference first- and second-teams. And Perfect Game predicts that the Huskers will finish fourth in the conference.

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.