Gophers already seeing NCAA-tourney-caliber foes

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson calls the road his team has traveled thus far one of the tougher first 15 games of his coaching career – and he’s been coaching for 23 years.

In the eight games played in 10 days between Feb. 27 and March 7 and the seven games played in nine days ending Saturday in California, the Gophers got their first taste of outdoor baseball and NCAA-Tournament-caliber competition.

They’re still a long way from home games – their first game at Siebert Field is April 14 versus South Dakota State – and the Gophers (7-8) are encouraged by their performances so far.

But just 15 games into their 47-game regular season schedule, neither the lineup nor the pitching rotation are set, and Anderson is still trying to find what fits.

“I think we have an idea now of what we’re good at and what we’re not good at,” said Anderson, who hoped his team would be around .500 at this point in the season. “I hope over the next weeks we can start to polish and clean some of those things up and get better.”

The apparent strength of Minnesota this year lies in a proven and experienced pitching staff.

The four-man rotation includes 2003 Big Ten freshman of the year and All-American Glen Perkins, senior Craig Molldrem, 2003 third-team All-Big Ten selection Matt Loberg and a fourth spot currently occupied by senior Josh Krogman, who took a medical redshirt last year for Tommy John surgery.

All four have fair amounts of starting experience, but Anderson is leaving the rotation open to younger arms who could assert themselves as the season progresses.

“I definitely think we’re the best pitching staff in the Big Ten,” reliever Andy Peters said. “We had a good pitching staff last year, and we should be the best this year.”

On the offensive side of things, Anderson is still trying to figure out the best combination in the heart of his lineup.

Minnesota lost starters at first base, second base, shortstop and in right field. As such, the Gophers have had to try different things in the two-through-four spots in the lineup, which were vacated following the departure of Ben Pattee, Luke Appert and Scott Welch.

“I think our hitters are starting to understand what it takes to hit quality pitching,” Anderson said. “We’ve faced quality pitching, and they’ve exposed some of our weaknesses and showed the kids some of the things they need to work on.”

Anderson blames most of the team’s problems – including base running, defense and hitting – on inexperience. Though things aren’t set yet, he hopes to have a consistent lineup by the time his team returns home in mid-April.

“Every individual has to come up with their game plan and their approach – things they’re really good at and need to work at,” Molldrem said. “Everyone needs to look at what they need to do.”