Minnesota looks to shore up a rotation in progress in weekend series at Purdue

by Matt Perkins

Tied for first place in the Big Ten with surprising Illinois, Minnesota’s baseball team is trying to get a grip on sole position of first in the Big Ten.

But first, the Gophers will have to get a grip on their starting rotation.

The Gophers are 38 games into their season and sit 22-16 overall and 12-4 in the Big Ten. Yet only two every-weekend starters have emerged – Matt Loberg and Cole DeVries – and even they have had their struggles lately.

But this weekend, against Purdue (11-22, 5-10) in West Lafayette, Ind., two more starters will have a chance to solidify their spots in the rotation.

The third and fourth starters during the weekend against Northwestern, junior Brian Bull and freshman Dustin Brabender, will start for the second week in a row Saturday and Sunday.

“Timely hitting, defense and pitching are always our keys to a series,” senior catcher Jake Elder said. “But, if we can keep our bullpen fresh for Sunday’s game, we will always be in better shape.”

But keeping the bullpen fresh is something the Gophers haven’t been able to do lately.

Two weekends ago, against Penn State, it was Marcus McKenzie starting in the second game of a doubleheader, giving up five runs on five hits in one-third of an inning. Josh Oslin started the series finale Sunday, giving up four runs on five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

But with Bull and Brabender, things took a turn for the better during the weekend.

In the series with Northwestern, Bull started in game two of the Saturday doubleheader, giving up just two runs in 5 1/3 innings. Brabender started Sunday’s series finale and gave up a three-run home run, but that was all he allowed in 5 1/3 innings.

Brabender’s Sunday performance allowed for the bullpen to get a little bit of a breather, which is something closer John Gaub said it desperately needed.

“I’d rather win by more runs than go out there and pick up a save every day,” he said.

But despite the emergence of possible third and fourth starters, the rotation problems shifted to Loberg and DeVries.

In the April 22 series-opener against Northwestern, Loberg gave up eight runs – seven earned – and 14 hits in 5 1/3 innings.

DeVries gave up six runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings in game one of the Saturday doubleheader.

Coach John Anderson said it is imperative the team saves its bullpen arms for Sunday, which is, in his mind, the most important game of the series.

And Loberg said he knows all four starters need to do better. This weekend gives them an opportunity to put it all together.

“The series really comes down to the bullpen (Sundays),” Loberg said. “And Cole and I are going to do everything we can to get it to them in good shape.

“Cole and I may have not had the best starts lately. This weekend, I’m raring and ready to go. Cole is too. It’s about time things go our way.”