Pitching staying on track
There can't be enough made of the loss of a key starter on the mound, so when one does go down, how others step up is of major importance. Nebraska got two good starting performances in this last series, the first coming from Phil Shirek who started off kind of shaky in the first inning allowing 2 earned runs, but settled down, allowing only one in the next five innings after that. All while giving up only five hits throughout. The second was from Zach Kroenke, which had to be a nice change from his last outing when he faced the Aggies, going 4 innings, allowing 10 hits and giving up 3 earned runs. In this contest against Cal Poly, Zach looked solid, allowing only 4 hits thru 6 full innings, allowing no earned runs. A great improvement overall.
As for the rest of the staff over the two-game stretch, 6 innings were pitched in relief and it was six stellar innings at that. Only two total hits allowed, no earned runs and 7 total strikeouts. Steve Hale highlighted the bullpen as he came in for Phil Shirek in game one, pitched a shutout for three innings, while fanning five in the process. When Hale has his off-speed stuff working and of course, that curve, he's definitely one of the best weapons NU has coming out of the pen. This was a good sign for NU.
Just filling in?
Daniel Bruce got out of a hitting funk in a big way this series against CP as he filled in for an injured, Jeff Leise. Going 5-9 at the plate, while knocking in 4 RBI's, including an RBI double which broke open a close first game and later on in the eighth, he added a 2-run triple which helped to put it away, Bruce's "substitute" role turned into a significant role, especially in game one. In game two, Bruce notched his first homer in his belt, as he hit a 2-run blast over the left-field secondary fence. Bruce raised his average from a woeful .148 to a not-so-great, but much better, .226 on the year.
At this rate
You ever hear someone say of a statistic, "At this rate, he will have such and such by the end of the season."? They bring that up when someone is on some kind of major tear statistically. Well, look at Brandon Fusilier and let's look at what his RBI total is and could be if he continues his torrid pace. Right now, "Fuse" has hit RBI's in apprx. 35% of his at bats. That means that roughly every 3 times (actually, a little under) at the plate, he's knocking someone in. Just as a comparison, NU's RBI leader last season, Jed Morris was at 33% and was actually over 3 in appearances at the plate it took to knock someone in. "At this rate", if Brandon were to continue based on his average number of at bats per game and he played the same number of games that Jed Morris did this last season, Brandon would end this year with 96, making him the All-Time single-season record holder for RBI's by a single person in a year. The current record is 90, that being held by two players, Jed Morris (last year) and Mike Duncan in 1985.
Just one of those interesting if not ridiculous statistics.
Statistics, statistics, statistics
Hey, some of the good and bad from the last two games for NU.
At the plate, the team hit .338
On the mound, NU's ERA was a very nice 1.5
Nebraska completed the two-game series with no errors in the field. (Currently, it's a two-game streak)
Bubbs Merrill is still perfect in the field, having played 18 games thus far. Just in case you were wondering, no Husker has ever gone the season, scoring a perfect 1.000 in fielding percentage, the closest and ironically enough, the most recent as well was Tito Rivera in 2001, who posted a record .995 for the year.
Did you know?
Danile Bruce set the All-Time Husker record for being hit the most times at the plate during a single season. The old record was 24 (Corey Miller, ‘96) and Bruce's new record is 27 from last season. Well, Bruce isn't threatening to break his old record, but don't think it's for a lack of trying. In fact, if you go simply on the rate of how many times Bruce got hit in ratio to how many times he was at bat, he's almost equal to his rate last year. Last year, it took just about 7 times at the plate before he would get hit each time and this year, he's at 7.2. The leader this year in getting beaned is Joe Simokaitis, but he's doing it at a dismal 9 at-bats per. Come on Joe, get in there. No, I mean IN there!!!
Not having talked to coach Anderson in the last week or so, I haven't gotten to ask him about what he feels is acceptable as far as that nasty LOB stat, but NU is pretty consistent, at least in this last series, averaging almost the exact same per game as it did against Kansas State, that being around 7 stranded per contest. I know what he would say in that it's never acceptable, but the fact that NU has usually been on the downside in comparison to the teams they are playing, you can probably figure that answer out for yourself. In this last series against Cal-Poly, it was a split, each trading leads for who stranded the most each day.
The pitching is what really stood out for this two-game tilt. Solid in just about every aspect and other than a rather rocky start for Phil Shirek in the first inning against Cal-Poly, NU was almost invincible. The real nice thing here is that coach Childress seems to be very intent on getting a lot of guys in there and though some might not understand one guy getting one inning, shutting people out and all of a sudden, getting yanked, down the road, all this really pays big dividends. You can NEVER have enough experience in the bullpen.
Fielding got better this series and though KSU was decent overall, that last game against the Wildcats that saw 3 errors, this was a nice break and I am sure people are still trying to shake off that 5-error debacle against Sam Houston State.
With the .338 average, hitting was good, but not great. Cal-Poly doesn't have an inordinately good staff, so I am sure that numbers weren't quite where they would have liked them, but in any series, if you can pound out a better than .300 average, you are doing well. Any team that bats .300 overall, that's a team that is usually in it by the end of the year.
On the Road Again
NU hits the road once again, heading south to play the Oklahoma Sooners. OU (11-10-0-3 in conference play) is coming off a rough butt-kicking at the hands of Baylor, but they are going to be at home where they are 8-2. The probable starter for OU on Friday will be Mark Roberts who's undefeated thus far and he can say that he did what only 3 other pitchers in the entire country can say and that's beat Arizona State. He's OU's "go-to" guy, so if Marsden can get to him, that will go a long ways into starting some good momentum for NU throughout the series.
Check back next time as we will re-cap the Sooner series and give out our kudos and "uh-ohs" for the weekend.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619