Husker Baseball Team talks about the season

Head Coach Mike Anderson and members of the Nebraska baseball team met with the media Monday afternoon to discuss the 2011 season. The Huskers travel to San Marcos, Texas to kick off the new campaign Friday, Feb. 18.

"I'm excited for the year," Anderson said. "It's been a long wait to get back out on the field. I'd say this past year has been a year for reflection for our kids, this staff and myself. It's been a great chance for our kids to get rejuvenated and a great chance for our staff to be rejuvenated."

Nebraska finished the 2010 season with a 27-27 overall record, although NU ended on a four-team winning streak with a victory over Creighton and sweep of Texas Tech. The 2011 Huskers bring back six position starters and three key bats with the return of .300 hitters Cody Asche, Kale Kiser and Josh Scheffert. Asche and Kiser each earned honorable-mention All-Big 12 honors last season as sophomores.

The NU pitching staff returns 39 of 54 starts from 2010. The Huskers have three experienced right-handers who earned time in the weekend rotation in sophomores Tom Lemke and Tyler Niederklein and junior Sean Yost. Nebraska also welcomes back senior reliever Casey Hauptman, who ranked second with 23 appearances last season.

"We're going to go out and play another tough schedule," Anderson added. "The schedule this year is unrelenting, just like it was last year. We played the toughest schedule of anybody in the Big 12 Conference last year and we're going to do the same thing this year. We've got the College World Series runner-up coming to Lincoln (UCLA) and we've got the College World Series champion from 2008 (Fresno State) coming to Lincoln, and four teams that are within the top 25 from the Big 12 Conference. The work is cut out for us, but I'm excited to take this group into it."

Head Coach Mike Anderson

Opening comment on the season "It's time to talk baseball. The weather is starting to get a little warmer. It's that time of year again. I look forward to getting out to practice next week outside and get you guys out there for practice at Haymarket Park. We'll try to do that Monday or Tuesday. I don't know those weather forecasts."

On if he's rejuvenated because of the talent that is in place "I'd like to think that, but unfortunately if you know me I'm probably overly optimistic all the time, even with some things that aren't always right. I'm optimistic about it, of course. I would say this, I used the words reflection and rejuvenated because of that. I think as all coaches go through different cycles and different phases in their career it's important we do that. It's been a reflective time. The good thing that has come out of that is one of the things that we try to do, and that's stay the course and believe in what we've done. There's small changes, obviously, but we've stayed the course. It's been a good process. (As for) the rejuvenation part, it's great to be around great people. I've got four people on our staff right now and one of them is a high profile kid (Darin Erstad). But we've also got Curtis Ledbetter, Joe Simokatis is back getting his degree as a manger and Tyler Farst is a manager, and another big-name guy by the name of Darin Erstad. It's fun for me to be around four of my ex-players. It's a fun process to go through."

On if he is trying to change anything during the reflection the past year "You just start reflecting. You go back through everything. You're always in that process of trying to learn. You go back through and say 'What should we do different?' and 'What can we do in the future?' You do that every single year whether you win or lose, but what you want to do is you want to be on the very top. That was our goal. We reflected on it and said 'What direction do we want to do some things?' The direction is very similar to the past, it's just getting kids here. We've talked about professional baseball quite a bit and landing those kids. We've had a lot of success in doing that the last two years. We've got kids in this program because they chose not to do on to professional baseball. That's a key part of it. Had we chosen a different route, we might have a different make up of our team. That's why I said 'stay the course.'"

On if that explains some of the previous inconsistencies with the younger players the past two years "I think two things - I think we were inexperienced and me putting a tough schedule on them. It's a tough schedule to go through last year. To get 27 wins was difficult. You got six, seven, eight wins in there that you have a chance of taking hold of and you lose them in the ninth innings, that changes things too. It was important for us to look back at everything and look forward to what we're trying to do."

On the bullpen last year and this year "That's the first and foremost thing we need to shore up. I've always been of the belief that you start your roles within pitching of who you're going to finish with and who you're going to close with. We've got a young man in Casey Hauptman, a freshman in Brandon Pierce that we feel strong about who we think can finish games. Those two guys right there finishing games is a key for us. Then we also believe we have guys who can set them up for their roles in short relief, and some quality starters. We think we have some guys who got a lot of experience last year. That experience should pay off for them."

On Casey Hauptman's role "I'd be the first one to say this - and I said this a few years back - one of the things that Casey has done in this program is he's had a number of different roles. One of the roles he was forced into as a youngster was a starting role. I think his best spot with his fastball, slider and movement is to be near the end of games. He's been in a starting role because that's where we needed him. His sacrifice was in the beginning of his career. Now he's in a role that I think for him personally, for us and for him down the road professionally is probably in the finishing role or short relief. I think the sacrifice was probably earlier in his career."

On other players sacrificing position changes "I don't think that's an issue. Kale Kiser is a good example. Kale Kiser reminds me a lot of John Cole - second baseman/left fielder. I think right now I could tell you I think Kale Kiser's future is in the outfield. I think for him personally to move on in a professional manner at some point, that's the best position for him to do that. He's all for that. Josh Scheffert creates versatility. By him moving to the outfield, he's got a chance to show people this year he's a first baseman, next year he's an outfielder. Josh Scheffert is willing to do anything, and I'll be honest with you, he's another guy who might be able to finish games for us (pitching). He's probably the most versatile kid on our team right now."

On starting pitching this season "Tom Lemke I think will be in a starting role. We're working Tyler Niederklein into that starting role again. I think we've got some young men in Logan Ehlers and Jon Keller who can fit that role at some point for us. We'll develop those and see where they go. Sean Yost has had a great year. His fall was exceptional. His work habits have been very good. I think he'll have a much better year than he did last year. A surprise that may get a start the first weekend is Dylan Vogt. He's a young man out of Millard South High School who had a great summer and a great fall. He's progresses and is moving along pretty well. We have two weekends to start where we have four games, so we'll need four starters out of that group. Those are some guys who I think have moved along pretty well, along with adding some freshmen that can develop into those roles over the course of the first couple weekends."

On Tom Lemke "Tom Lemke's biggest thing was consistency. You shut out a College World Series team (Oklahoma), and the next time you can't get out of the second inning. Tom knows that. A lot of that I think has to do with tempo, his rhythm of the game, maybe some preparation in between, his consistency. He worked on those things. One great thing about Tom Lemke is he's no longer a freshman, he's a sophomore. He's going to mature and be better that way. I think all of those guys are. You have a couple guys who won five or six games. If young men like Tom can win five or six, you expect and hope there is a jump and he wins eight, nine or 10 and has a breakout year where's not just a guy, but he's 'the guy.' We look forward to having him do that."

On the first baseman "I think we have a first baseman. We have one in right field in Josh Scheffert. We know he can play that, but we think his best spot for us is going to be in right field. I think Kurt Farmer and Patric Tolentino are going to get a chance over there. And we've got a freshman I'd like to develop in Nick Miller. Those three guys will probably be the guys that you see have some rotation over there. I'd like to see some consistency. Nick is one of those guys that would be good to let go in the beginning but he just needs a little experience. Farmer is going to help us out offensively, so he'll probably get those opportunities early. You can look for those three guys to be in the lineup somewhere."

On replacing the offensive numbers Adam Bailey put up last year "The good thing is you're not going to replace them because we don't have the bats. It is what it is. I learned a valuable lesson back in 1999 when we had Ken Harvey. He led the nation in hitting. He was exceptional, and I watched our team develop a completely different identity next year. The biggest question was 'How do we replace him?' You've got 18-22 year old kids that don't think that way. The way they process things is 'Somebody goes down, it's my turn.' 'Somebody leaves, it's my turn.' There's always somebody that wants to step in, they don't look at it by who they're replacing. Adam Bailey and D.J. Belfonte had great careers here. They can't be replaced by numbers but we have a lot of guys who want to step in."

On the status of Logan Ehlers "He had a great practice for us on Saturday. He threw in the pen. He's going through the process right now. There's some issues we need to deal with. I feel strongly about Logan and his family and the decisions that he's gone through. Right now I would leave it at that. We're still waiting on some things. I'm glad that he's able to practice and move forward with us. That's a valuable part of things."

On if he is eligible to play the first games "I wouldn't go that far yet."

On how confident he is that this process will be resolved positively "I'm confident in Logan. I'm confident in his parents and the decisions they have made. My confidence lies in the process. Logan is not isolated in this situation. This is really not a Logan Ehlers situation. This is an NCAA situation that involves the process. It's extremely important to understand that we not isolate Logan in this process, or his parents. Logan Ehlers and his parents have made very strong decisions that are very, very good."

On if he expected Kale Kiser's breakout offensive season last year "Kale Kiser is a hitter who needs a little bit of leeway to do some things. He'll swing and miss at a bad pitch and right when you think you need to control him, he'll take the next pitch off the wall. He'll have a little bit of leeway. His on-base percentage was good, his average was good, his base-running is great. He's got a lot of opportunities. He's a valuable leadoff guy for us."

On Cody Asche "Cody is a pretty structured and disciplined kid. He'll take pitches. He'll work counts. He's more of a traditional type hitter. He'll swing at a couple he shouldn't, but he's more of a traditional-type hitter. It's much more natural. They both (Asche and Kiser) have natural swings, don't get me wrong, but some difference in terms of structure. They're both valuable kids. If you didn't know this, Cody Asche went through some things in the fall where we didn't know if we would have him. We went through about three weeks. He hurt his foot and we're thankful that he's back and is not going to miss any time for us."

On Josh Scheffert "By my actions last year I think you know how I feel about Josh Scheffert. He's a young man that we put in the 4-hole as a freshman. He was hitting above .300 before his injury. He's highly competitive, has a great knowledge and understanding of the game. That's why he was hitting in our 4-hole. He's gotten better through the adversity of his injury. He fought back last year to get in the lineup. I think he might be a guy you see in the lineup and at some point on the mound. That's the versatility he can create for us."

On what the offensive identity of this team will be "That's a great question and I'm not sure any college baseball coach could answer that right now. I think every team is going into this season trying to figure out what their identity is going to be with the new bats. The bats are going to change college baseball dramatically. I think most teams are going to find out if they have speed that can play at this level, or if they're going to have to bunt more or if they can rely on the home run power that they have in the past. If they can, they may not change much. My guess is you're going to have to change your offense a little bit. I know what we can rely on in terms of a philosophical approach. I think the biggest thing we'll rely on is that strategy. You look at the last 10 years, the two teams that led the conference in bunts and sacrifice bunts were Texas and Nebraska. We also have the highest winning percentage during that time. Last year, we were the lowest. We were about at 230th in sacrifice bunts in the country. We can't be at that. We've got to be better. One of identities you'll find with us is you'll see some small ball, you'll see some running, you'll see some hit and run, because it's going to have to be a part of college baseball."

On if that changes recruiting "We always need speed. I try to do that, and guys who are heads-up. They have to run bases and do those things. You look at your lineup I think Kale Kiser can run, I think Bryan Peters can run. I think we have some of those guys in place. That transition with the new bats I think fits us well this year. I think we'll be okay. The key again, our offense is going to be pretty strong if our pitching is. It goes right back to the pitching question all the time. We have to have strong pitching. If we do that and average 4.4 runs per game and only give up three, then we're going to be in pretty good position."

On the bats "The new certification is called BBCOR (batted ball coefficient of restitution). Basically, they deadened the bat with the trampoline effect, the exit velocity - when the ball comes off the bat. In the old aluminum, you could have quite a bit of exit velocity. That same bat, same pitch, same swing does not create as much exit velocity now, which means the ball probably doesn't go out of the ballpark as much. I called around the league this year asking a couple of my friends how many home runs they were hitting, and they said 'We'll call you when we hit one.' It's going to be a different ballgame. I would say most coaches were pretty happy with the game the way it used to be played. We're college baseball coaches for a reason. We liked it. We're optimistic that if this isn't the style the public likes, maybe it goes back to the old way. But it is what it is right now, so let's live with it, strategize around it and play with it."

"The old bats were what we called 'trampoline bats' with the way it exploded off the bat and the exit velocities. You can make a good pitch now and that ball can stay in the ballpark. You better be very conscious as a hitter, line drive hitters, moving runners, advancing runners, playing small-ball or what we call 'playoff baseball.' In major league baseball, it comes to playoff baseball you'll see lots of bunts and different things. That's the style of play we're going to have to play to score runs with these bats."

Senior Pitcher Casey Hauptman

On the excitement of this time of year "This is a really exciting time of year. It's my fourth go-around, every year has been exciting. This is the best part. We're ready to head down to Texas in a couple of weeks and get the ball rolling."

On his role this year on the pitching staff "I always say this, I've been in almost every role possible in the last three years. Really, being in the bullpen is kind of like coach said, it's where I like to be. If I'm on the mound that is the best part, any way I can help out this team is what I'll do."

On what he did this summer "This summer I was up in Anchorage, Alaska. I did a few relief appearances up there, but I was mainly a starter. That was just what my team needed up there so I did that."

On how his mindset changes with the different amount of innings he will appear in "From a reliever standpoint, knowing that you're only going to go in and pitch a two or three innings, each out is really crucial. You have to go in there with the mindset, get going right away, get the first guy out and don't pace yourself like maybe a starter would."

: On the team chemistry this year "This team this year is a real close knit group. On and off the field we're really close, and that shows up in practices. Everybody comes to practice with energy every day. It's the most I've seen in the last three teams I've been a part of. We're really excited to get going here in a couple weeks."

On his last year as a Husker "This is my last year; you always want to make it count. It's either all or nothing here for me. As far as the last couple years, we don't talk about that at all. None of the team really thinks about that. We're just ready to go this year and get the ball rolling."

On the pitching staff as a whole "Our starters, we don't have it set right now. We have some guys like Tom Lemke and Sean Yost who are really looking to start on weekends. We have a core of relievers who know their role and what they're going to be doing. As for the past, people were just filling in spots, but this year people are going out there and know what they're going to do. That makes it a lot easier to pitch."

On when he is most effective "As a starter you're going to face batters one, two, maybe three times throughout a game. I think with the pitches I have and what my core stuff is, facing them once or twice is when I'm at my best and that is most effective."

On the changes in the bats on the pitchers "We really haven't talked much as a staff about the bats. Definitely there will be differences. You're probably allowed to make more of a mistake as far as moving pitches over the plate, but you're still going to have to execute. We might not see as many homeruns; we might see more ground balls. That will be a good thing, a positive thing, but you still have to execute pitches and stuff."

On a difference they'll see with the new bats "In the past with the old bats, they probably try to hit in the gaps, score a run from first. This year they may try to bunt it over, hit and run, you just have to be prepared. You have to know the situation, you have to hold the runner at first maybe more and just make a pitch where it is a good location and you're ready to field the bunt or do whatever you might be asked to do."

On working on changes with the bats "We spend so much time doing the little game, we always talk about the mental part. We haven't really changed much because of the bats; we just do what we need to do."

On hosting UCLA in March "I have a couple friends that play for UCLA. One of the last things I told them is it's going to be cold in March when you come here and I can't wait. They haven't played baseball in 30 degree weather and hopefully it is about 35 degrees. We'll be ready for it and it will be exciting to play those guys - a College World Series Team last year. We'll be excited for it and ready."

On what they say to that "They don't believe we'll actually play. They think we'll cancel the game. It's just a funny conversation, how they view Nebraska as a state. They think the weather is terrible. It will be exciting."

Junior catcher Cory Burleson

On the bats "In the fall, it was really a demo bat. It didn't have labels on it. It was just grey and white or grey and black. I think it will be a little different now. They've had six months now to make preparations so it's going to be a little different than the fall. As compared to last year, as Coach A said, it's going to be a lot more bunting, hit and run, moving runners. You're not going to be able to rely on the long ball anymore. I kind of get the best of both sides with it because of catching. It used to be that with two strikes you couldn't go inside because you could get a jam shot and base hits. Now, that's going to almost be eliminated, similar to wood bats. We cannot make more mistakes, but we can live in the zone a little more and not have to waste as many pitches with two strikes."

On using old bats one last time during fall practice "It was Coach Erstad's idea. We brought out all the old bats and he told us to have fun with it. Then at the end of it he threw them away and said he didn't want to hear anything else about them, no more complaining. That's how it's been. We had that one day to let it fly and after that we moved on."

On what volunteer coach Darin Erstad brings to the program "If you had to sum it up with one word it would be fire. We all know from when he played that it was the same way. He's a hard-working guy, a lot of fire, a lot of passion. He's just brought that hard work and competing nature that maybe has been missing the past few years. It's great to have him on the staff."

On putting the last "Don't worry about it. We're focused on the day-to-day process. We're worried about what we're doing today and tomorrow. What has happened in the past we don't worry about. We're a completely different team. We don't have the guys that we had last year. We have new guys in and we're just worried about what's going to happen this year and what's going to happen today."

On Casey Hauptman and Brandon Pierce "If you talk to Brandon Pierce he kind of likes to compare himself to Brian Wilson, the closer for the San Francisco Giants, just that off-character loud guy. And we see that mentality in Brandon Pierce. We really, really like it. He's got to be held back every once in a while, but with guys like that you just kind of let him go. The confidence he has in himself has also made the rest of the team have confidence in him. If we go into a game winning 4-3 or 4-2 in the ninth, he's going to shut that down most the time."

"It's the same thing with Casey. He's been very reliable for us. He'll do whatever he needs to do for our team. He's a hard guy to hit. In a situation where we need a ground ball, he's going to get a ground ball with his sinker and slider. He's a good combination at the end of the game when we need outs."

On the schedule "We wouldn't want to have it any other way. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. That's the way we look at it. Playing in the Big 12 you know it's going to be a tough schedule year in and year out. But we're more focused on the day-to-day process. We have to win today's game. We can't worry about tomorrow. If we win today, then we can worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes."

"We know it hard. We Coach Anderson recruited us he told us we're going to have hard schedules. We know that and we look forward to that."

Junior third baseman Cody Asche

On his successful summer in the Northwoods League "The coaches place us in the summer leagues to give us a chance to succeed and get better. I think that's what I did in the summer. I just worked to get better so I could come back and help lead this team to great things."

On how scary his foot injury was in the fall "For about a week or two there it was pretty stressful. It was just in the hands of if it healed or not. Luckily I made good progress and we stuck to the rehab good. We have great people down here that take care of you when you're hurt. I ended up coming through it."

On what he wants to lead this team to "We want to be top in the conference, win a conference title and go play in a Regional. Once we get in a Regional, we go from there. You can't accomplish everything unless you start in a Regional."

On difference of this team compared to the last two years "I think our togetherness is a big thing that has really helped this team succeed to what we've done so far in the offseason. We come to practice every day and we love competing against each other. I think that competiveness is really good for our team. It's been great so far."

On if this an older team that is looks "If you look on paper you see we're loaded with freshmen and sophomores but we have a lot of kids that have played a lot of innings so far. We have a lot of experience even though they're young on paper. They don't play like they're young in practice."

On infielders moving to outfield (Kiser and Scheffert) "I think Kale and Josh have really embraced the opportunity to be out there and help the team. It's something that needed to be done. We had some holes out there. Those two guys got asked if they would be willing to do that and they both accepted it. That's a big part of being a team player. We respect that a lot out of them. They've both been excelling and they're going to do great things out there this year."

On Chad Christensen and Bryan Peters at middle infield "I feel real good about it. They came in in the same class and have great chemistry up the middle. They played a lot together last year and that's a good building block. Then you add me and whoever is at first base at the corners. I think we're going to have a solid infield this year."

On volunteer coach Darin Erstad "Coach Erstad has brought a lot of passion and energy to our team. All the hitters and outfielders love being around him. You want to be around him all the time and learn everything he knows. He's brought a good approach to teaching offensive philosophy for our team. He's really setting the footwork for what we're going to do this year. He lets everyone know what their role is. Being around him is just awesome."

"When Coach Erstad talks, he for sure has everybody's attention, especially the hitters. There's not anything he says that's not worth taking in."

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