Depleted rotation is a high priority as Gophers head into a new season

Glen Perkins is just one of three starters lost from last season’s Big Ten title team.

Matt Perkins

Last year, Minnesota’s baseball team became the first team since 1995 to win both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles.

That team had the luxury of being led by senior star pitcher Glen Perkins.

But an encore appears to be in reach with the team returning eight starting position players from last year’s roster. The pitching staff, however, is a bit troubled.

The Gophers lost one of the best pitchers in the history of the program when 2004 Big Ten pitcher of the year Perkins was drafted 22nd overall by the Minnesota Twins in the 2004 Major League Baseball first-year player draft.

“You can’t fill a Glen Perkins’ shoes,” junior center fielder Tony Leseman said. “He’s a one-of-a-kind great pitcher and will do very well in the professional leagues.”

Craig Molldrem and Jay Gagner, who became the Gophers’ fourth starter at the end of last season, both graduated as well.

Now, the team is left with Josh Krogman and Matt Loberg – who both struggled at times last year – as its only returning starters.

Though the Gophers return eight of 10 pitchers who worked in relief last season, the starting rotation will be a work in progress.

“I don’t think the cupboard is bare,” coach John Anderson said. “We have some arms; I like our arms. We just need to figure out what role each player is going to play.”

For once, Gophers fans will get the chance to watch those roles being played out, as the Gophers will host 18 home games in a row after a weekend starting Friday in Fayetteville, Ark., with the home stand running March 4 to April 3.

All of the games will be played at the Metrodome, where the Gophers have plenty of experience.

“We get the opportunity to practice in the Metrodome,” senior catcher Jake Elder said. “We get to simulate a lot of things we normally wouldn’t get the chance to.”

Elder should be an important part of an experienced offense this year. He hit .317 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs while catching 54 games for the Gophers last season.

Elder’s leadership should be important as Anderson searches for a rotation that works.

“It’s not something I take lightly,” Elder said. “It’s something I take very seriously – trying to help out everybody on the team.”

If the team can put together sufficient pitching and continue to develop its hitters, it could return to the NCAA regionals. The Gophers have made the regionals nine out of the last 13 seasons, but they haven’t won a regional since 1977, when Paul Molitor starred on the team.

But Anderson insisted first things are first, starting this weekend in Arkansas.

The 23rd-ranked Razorbacks will play host to the Gophers for games Friday, Saturday and Sunday to begin the season.

Anderson said playing against Arkansas will give the team experience competing with NCAA class teams.

And then, the Gophers will get to return and try to put the pieces together in the comforts of home.

“We want to learn about our pitching staff and how we can hold up against quality competition,” Anderson said.