Gophers still looking for consistent fourth starter

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson said he chose to start pitcher Matt Loberg on Sunday against Purdue because of the success Loberg has had against the Boilermakers – namely, a 10-0 complete-game shutout May 4 of last season.

But Loberg’s one-third inning, five-earned-run outing in Sunday’s 15-6 loss to Purdue ended up being just the latest in a series of rough starts for the senior this season. He has now allowed 21 earned runs in 12 innings in Big Ten play, for an ERA of 15.75.

The problem is bigger than just Loberg. The Gophers (26-16, 13-7 Big Ten) have struggled this season to find an effective starter for the finale of their four-game conference series. Minnesota has now lost four of five series finales and is 2-4 on Sundays.

As the Gophers get set to play host to Hamline today at 4 p.m., Anderson said, the team’s inability to find four consistent starters is just part of college baseball.

“That’s the nature of our game,” he said. “It’s hard to accumulate enough pitching to have four quality starts every weekend.

“They’re amateurs, and they’re going to have one good outing here and one good outing there.”

Glen Perkins and Craig Molldrem have been cemented into the starting rotation for most of the season.

Senior Jay Gagner appears to have the inside track on the third spot, with two straight quality performances. After Saturday’s 5 2/3 inning, two-earned-run outing, Gagner is 3-0, with a 2.42 ERA.

At this point, Loberg and junior Josh Krogman are the only available fourth starters with significant starting experience. But Krogman has also struggled in conference play, with a 5.65 ERA.

Krogman had started every other weekend of the Big Ten season, but Gagner’s emergence and Loberg’s history against Purdue made him the odd man out this time.

Anderson said he would pitch Krogman today.

Still, Gophers coaches and pitchers didn’t seem to be concerned about the spot, because they feel they can win with anybody starting.

“We don’t really even have a rotation,” Molldrem said. “The fourth starter is not really an issue, because we have so many good relievers.”

Still, the Sunday struggles are abnormal for a team that was 8-0 in series finales and 9-1 on Sundays in Big Ten play last year.

Loberg started the fourth game of all seven Big Ten series that went four games last season. He went 4-0, with a 3.19 ERA in those starts.

But that was last year, and the team is dealing with this year’s issue right now.

“We had talked about it, and then we won,” Gagner said of the team’s 12-3 win over Northwestern on April 25. “Now we forgot about it, and we lost again.”

Steidl 2nd on hit list

Senior center fielder Sam Steidl’s first career home run in Friday’s 7-0 win over Purdue was just his first feat of the weekend.

With a leadoff single in the bottom of the first inning and a double in the third, Steidl tied and passed Luke Appert for sole possession of second place on Minnesota’s career hits list.

Steidl, who is leading the team with a .393 average, has 288 hits in his Gophers tenure. Robb Quinlan, currently in the Anaheim Angels system, sits comfortably in first with 345.

Perkins honored

Perkins was named the Big Ten co-pitcher of the week with Penn State’s Clayton Hamilton on Monday.

It marks the second time in Perkins’ career that he has received the honor, and the first time this season.