Four-man rotation set as conference season begins

by Paul Cordes

The beginning of conference play for the Minnesota baseball team meant the departure of three-game weekend series and the arrival of the four-game Big Ten weekends.

And with the addition of an extra starting pitcher on Saturday, the Gophers starting rotation is set, at least for now.

With junior right-hander Dustin Brabender the only returning starter for Minnesota from last season (17-6 overall, 2-1 Big Ten), questions about the Gophers’ pitching depth arose, but coach John Anderson has expressed confidence in his starters.

“I think all of them have had pretty good tempo on the mound. We’re throwing strikes and making them put the ball in play and not getting beat because we’re issuing free passes,” he said.

“I think their success has been their ability to execute pitches, whether it be the first, second, ninth or 10th pitch of an at-bat. When you execute pitches, you always give yourself a chance to win.”

And junior right-hander Ethan Vogt (2-1) has been an anchor for the pitching staff so far this season, on Fridays.

With a 1.91 earned run average in 33 innings, he has been dominant. In his last two starts, Vogt has gone 17 innings and given up just two runs.

“For me, on a Friday, I just try and set the tone for the entire weekend,” Vogt said. “I try and go as long as I can to save the bullpen for the rest of the weekend.”

The junior transfer from Ridgewater Community College has experienced firsthand Minnesota’s tendency to battle back late in games this season. Anderson said Vogt has proven himself by staying solid until the Gophers offense gets rolling.

“When you’re a number one guy, you’re going against their number one guy, and a lot of times you’re not going to get a lot of runs behind you,” Anderson said. “Ethan hasn’t allowed that to affect him; he just goes out there and does his job.”

Things don’t get any easier for Minnesota’s pitching staff on Saturday.

The Big Ten conference schedule is set up for two seven-inning games on Saturday instead of one nine-inning game like other powerhouse conferences – forcing junior right-hander Gary Perinar (0-3) and senior left-hander Marcus McKenzie (4-0) to make adjustments.

McKenzie, who will start the latter half of the Saturday doubleheaders, said there is good reasoning behind

why Anderson picked the two guys he did to take the mound Saturday.

“On Saturday, we come back with a guy like (Perinar) who throws hard and me being a lefthander for the second game. It just helps to shake things up.”

In the case of Perinar (0-3) it works out OK for the Gophers, as he is known to throw a lot of pitches, including a hard fastball.

He also is the team leader in strikeouts with 33 – 18 more than any other Minnesota pitcher.

“You just have to take the same approach to pitching a seven-inning game as a nine-inning game,” Perirnar said. “Obviously the game is going to be quicker and we have fewer chances to score runs. I think a seven-inning game changes a whole lot.”

Maybe a little too much.

Not only does it throw off recruiting as coaches are forced to look for more pitchers, but the elimination of two innings, especially for a Gophers team that is known to make late surges, can affect a lot at the plate and on the mound.

“I don’t like the seven inning game,” Anderson said. “You don’t have to use or have a lot of depth to win those games. It’s not a real baseball game.”

The awkward situation the league schedule puts Minnesota in makes Sunday all the more important, and Anderson chose to go with experience in his six-foot-seven veteran out of Wisconsin.

Brabender (2-1) is holding opponents to a .278 batting average, and Sundays in league play can make or break a weekend.

“I just go out there and do my best,” he said. “I like the pressure of whether we win, lose or tie, a series kind of resting on me.”