Spring break is no break at all for Minnesota

The Gophers open up a stretch of 14 games in 18 days this weekend against Pacific.

So much for a spring break.

The Minnesota baseball team begins a grueling stretch in their schedule where they will play 14 games in 18 days, beginning this weekend against Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

This is the second road trip of the year for the Gophers before they return for an 11-game home stand, which concludes with the Big Ten season opener against Indiana.

“(The road trip) is pretty big because Big Ten season is right around the corner. It’s always good to get some momentum going into that,” junior third baseman Nate Hanson said. “If we can get that on the road this weekend, then carry that into next week when we’re in the dome, I think we’ll be sitting in really good position when Indiana comes in.”

Minnesota (4-5 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) faces a struggling Tigers team. Pacific (2-12 overall, 0-0 Big West) have lost seven straight, and opponents have outscored the Tigers 76-24 in those losses.

To make matters worse, Pacific has committed 35 errors in just 14 games for a team fielding percentage of .937. In comparison, the Gophers have committed 17 this year.

After this series, Minnesota returns home and begins playing midweek games, which means a final analysis of the roster.

“There’s a 10-game stretch in here where there’s going to be more opportunities to evaluate people, try different lineups, try to get more information about our team,” head coach John Anderson said. “So I’m going to use the next 10 games probably before I know what I’m going to do here.”

The Gophers still need to find a fourth starter and settle the lineup before the Big Ten schedule opens.

Anderson said he has a few pitchers in mind for the fourth starter role, and they will see their opportunity in the coming days over spring break.

The lineup, meanwhile, remains up in the air as Anderson continues to find the right combination. The designated hitter spot remains an issue as five different players have assumed the role at some point in the season.

The other concern with the lineup is protection for Hanson, last year’s RBI leader.

Hanson has zero RBI this season. Part of that stems from not having a big bat behind him and from not taking advantage of his RBI opportunities.

“It’s unusual. He’s had chances, he’s had some pitches he fouled off, popped up,” Anderson said. “I think we’ve identified why, and it’s just a matter of time with Nate.”

Although the big bats haven’t produced like they normally do, junior lead-off hitter Matt Nohelty has picked up the slack.

Nohelty leads the team with 10 RBI and is hitting .425 on the year. Over the past two weeks, he has gone a combined 14-for-29 (.482) at the plate.

Nohelty is tied for the Big Ten lead in hits with 17 on the year, and he earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors earlier in the week.

“I’ve been seeing pitches well and gotten my fair share of breaks with it, as well,” Nohelty said. “Hopefully we can carry it and keep playing well as a team.”

Minnesota has won two out of three games the last two weekends and they would like to keep that trend going.

“We are hoping to get another two out of three. Hopefully we can get a sweep,” Hanson said. “If we play every weekend to get two out of three, we’re going to be a very good team.”