U bats key vs. Iowa

Sarah Mitchell

Heading into the Big Ten season, it seemed as though the Gophers baseball team’s downfall would be its bullpen. However, in last weekend’s split with Purdue, offensive production surprisingly proved to be the team’s shortcoming.
After dominating the non-conference schedule, Minnesota’s hitters dropped off considerably, particularly with runners on base. Getting back on track offensively will be the key for the Gophers (18-6 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) if they are going to move up in the conference standings this weekend against Iowa (9-7, 3-1).
“I think that our bats failed us last weekend,” senior Mark Groebner said. “We didn’t score many runs. We left a lot of guys on base and that’s a problem, but I don’t think that’s going to happen to us two weekends in a row. As long as our pitchers do all right I think our hitting will pick up the slack.”
Head coach John Anderson would like a repeat performance of last year, when the Gophers swept Iowa, but would be satisfied if his team at least won the series.
“A split doesn’t help our Big Ten standing,” Anderson said.
Iowa’s pitching staff carries a hefty 5.82 earned run average, but is led by nine returning relief pitchers and starters Steve Rasmussen and Troy Wulf.
Iowa’s mediocre pitching so far this season could bode well for the Gophers as they attempt to re-emerge from last weekend’s lethargic offensive performance. Overall, the team has compiled a .354 batting average. Eleven Gophers hitters bring a batting average of at least .300 to the plate.
Iowa’s offense is capable of putting some runs on the board. Jeff Wick and Zach Grabinski lead the Hawkeyes’ attack, with .463 and .453 batting averages, respectively. Groebner said the Gophers’ main concern is the Hawkeyes’ offense.
“Sounds to me like the heart of their lineup is good,” Groebner said. “When you have a series you look at who their best hitters are, and try to keep them from killing you.”
Minnesota is still waiting for the return of number one pitcher Ben Birk, but Anderson said being without Birk’s services should not be a factor in this weekend’s series.
“I think we have had a week to digest the loss of Ben Birk and play a series without Ben,” said Anderson. “It’s probably going to be easier for the players to have a better understanding of where we are at pitching now.”
Jason Dobis, Brad Pautz and Kelly Werner are scheduled to start the first three games of the series for Minnesota. A question mark remains where the number four pitcher’s name should be. Dan McGrath, who has a 4-0 record, is Sunday’s probable starter, depending upon how much relief work he does in the first three games.
This weekend also marks Minnesota’s first series at Siebert Field and will be a blustery change from the temperature-controlled Metrodome.
Anderson said playing on grass instead of turf involves an adjustment, but he doesn’t think it will have that much of an effect.
“I want to see us play aggressively and compete,” Anderson said. “If we play the way we are capable of playing, I think we have a good chance to have a good series.”