Published Monday, February 3, 2014 AT 2:56 PM / Updated at 7:17 PM
NU Baseball: Players looking forward to opening day
Jon Nyatawa Omaha World-Herald

Senior Michael Pritchard calls this the worst week of the season. You’d have to imagine most of his teammates agree.

Why?

Because the initial excitement associated with the first day of preseason practice has dissipated. Because their course work is intensifying. Because the weather’s not getting any better (snow is coming, people. I repeat: Snow. Is. Coming.) … And because there is — still! — no game this weekend to immediately prepare for, or provide that extra ounce of motivation during a practice’s low points.

Game 1 is close. But not close enough.

Said Pritchard: “All we want to do is play.”

So the Huskers will have to hang in there for a few more days. Their season doesn’t begin until Feb. 14.

But they are indeed ready for it. They could play now. Coach Darin Erstad can see it. He said the way the players performed during game-like situations during Sunday’s practice showed that.

Said Erstad: “The old guys have taken the young guys under their wing and said, ‘Let’s go. This is what we’re going to do.’”

We’ll have plenty more Nebraska baseball content as opening day approaches. Erstad, Pritchard and junior Pat Kelly met with reporters Monday to discuss the season. Some highlights are below, starting with an at-the-moment/subject-to-change starting lineup.

Catcher – Junior Tanner Lubach (2013 stats: .239, 2 HR, 27 RBI)

First base – Sophomore Austin Christensen (recovered from Tommy John surgery)

Second base – Kelly (.331, 2 HR, 33 RBI)

Shortstop – Junior college transfer Steven Reveles

Third base – Junior Blake Headley (.284, 1 HR, 25 RBI)

Right field – Junior Austin Darby (.292, 2 HR, 33 RBI)

Center field – Freshman Ryan Boldt

Left field – Pritchard (.333, O HR, 39 RBI)

Key reserves to watch – Junior college transfer Christian Cox is splitting time with Pritchard in left field. … Senior Ty Kildow (two hits in 19 at-bats) and freshman Quinn McGill can provided NU with right-handed options in the outfield. … Sophomore Jake Placzek (four hits in 25 at-bats) is battling with Reveles for playing time at shortstop.

Starting pitchers — Junior LHP Kyle Kubat (5-0, 1.81) , junior LHP Aaron Bummer (3-1, 2.50) and senior RHP Christian DeLeon (7-4, 3.21) … No particular order set here yet –Kubat’s still working on getting his pitch count up. “All three of those guys could” start on Fridays, Erstad said. … Junior college transfer Chance Sinclair, a right-hander, is expected to be the fourth starter on opening weekend.

More notes…

>> It’s worth a mention that five of the projected starters in the field (Headley, Christensen, Darby, Boldt and Pritchard/Cox) bat from the left side of the plate. This will likely be a storyline to revisit later this season. For now, though, Erstad’s not concerned. “If you have good left-handed options against left-handed pitching, I have absolutely zero problem with that,” he said.

>> Erstad said the staff would like to get Headley some reps at first base during the season. “Just to keep him on the field,” Erstad said. “He’s such a great leader for us out there.” Headley could play some shortstop if necessary, too.

>> Boldt will start the year at the bottom of the batting order, according to Erstad. Teammates and coaches are apparently reminding the highly regarded freshman that he’ll make a few mistakes, and that’s OK. No need to press. Forget the hype — Baseball America has Boldt ranked No. 2 on its list of top 50 college baseball freshman. … [Clears throat] … Well, TRY to forget the hype. Just play. That’s what Kelly has told Boldt. A sampling of Kelly’s advice: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Grind every day.” … With that said, Erstad admitted that he doesn’t anticipate Boldt staying at the bottom of the lineup too long.

>> As it stands now, Pritchard’s the three-hole hitter and Kelly will bat in the clean-up spot. Those are two guys who don’t give away too many at-bats, according to Erstad.

>> Pritchard, a career designated hitter so far, is pumped for his chance to earn a regular spot in the outfield. What kept him from that role in the past? Learning how to practice hard every day, he said.

>> Kelly said he tried to do too much at times last year. That’s changed, though. No more irrational swings for the fences, even in hitters’ counts. “I think just being, at the plate, more calm,” Kelly said of his improvement this offseason. “Take each pitch, pitch by pitch. Not trying to do too much. Stick to the approach.”

Video: Interview with Erstad

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.