Gophers’ hopes rest on series with Hawkeyes

If Wednesday night’s 11-5 loss to Minnesota State was a foreshadowing of the rest of the season, the Gophers baseball team needs to check into Boynton.
The ill play of Minnesota couldn’t have come at a worse time. After a split against Northwestern, the Gophers needed a jumpstart in the form of a mid-week win before this weekend’s Iowa series.
They didn’t get it, and all of a sudden the four games against the Hawkeyes will have a huge impact on the rest of the season for Minnesota.
“No doubt about it, it’s a big weekend for us,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “We have an opponent coming here that’s been struggling. We’d like to try and make some hay here this weekend.”
The Hawkeyes are on a skid — they were swept last weekend by Penn State.
And Iowa is only the beginning. The Gophers’ final four Big Ten opponents have a combined conference record of 25-35. Only Purdue is above .500 in the league.
But the Gophers can’t afford to count on poor play from their opponents as a way to get back in a winning mode.
It starts with themselves. After they rolled off 10 straight wins last month, Minnesota is an even 5-5 in the past 10 contests.
Over that stretch, the biggest inconsistency surrounds the pitching staff.
And it will continue to be a question mark for the Iowa series, and the rest of the conference season, for that matter.
While Mike Kobow and Kelly Werner are each etched into the starting rotation, the other two spots remain up in the air.
Kobow, last week’s co-Big Ten pitcher of the week, will get the nod to start game one against the Hawkeyes on Friday.
Werner, who won the same award as Kobow the week prior, will start one of the two games on Saturday.
But that’s where the certainty ends.
Ben Birk will start the other end of the doubleheader, but remains under close watch by Anderson and pitching coach Todd Oakes.
Birk continues to battle tendinitis in his left throwing arm, and was only able to go 3-plus innings last Sunday against Northwestern. He probably won’t last too much longer than that on Saturday.
That leaves Sunday’s starter as the biggest question mark. Chadd Clarey had the job, but after two consecutive sloppy outings, he may have lost it.
“We’re going to take a look at what to do come Sunday, whether we’ll start him or somebody else,” Anderson said. “It’s something we have to give some thought to.”
While questions surround the pitching staff, the major concern on the face of the players is not having to play on a rainy, 40-degree day.
“We’re looking forward to getting back to playing good baseball,” Gophers’ shortstop Rick Brosseau said. “Hopefully in some good weather conditions.”

John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]