Defensive blunders come into focus

by Matt Perkins

If committing nine errors in a four-game series isn’t typical for Minnesota’s baseball team, committing five of those nine in the series finale is unacceptable.

But defense has been the Gophers’ strong point during the last five years, helping them win four regular-season Big Ten titles. Anything but top-notch performance on defense could put a defense of their titles in jeopardy.

After Purdue swept the Gophers during the weekend, they are lacking that same winning confidence that has become a team trademark in recent years.

The current issue comes from a Gophers pitching staff that relies heavily on confidence in its defense.

“You have to assume the ball is going to be put in play, and you must be prepared for that,” coach John Anderson said. “The pitcher must have confidence that his guys can make the plays.”

Without strong defense, pitchers are more apt to go for strikeouts, which the Gophers have been good at this year. Minnesota ranks second behind Penn State, with 283 strikeouts.

The Gophers (22-20, 12-8 Big Ten) will travel to Iowa this weekend for a four-game series. The Hawkeyes, who are tied for second place in the Big Ten with the Gophers, have struck out 255 times this season, which is third-most in the conference and 47 more times than the Gophers.

But the numbers can be deceiving, as most of the team’s pitchers said they don’t consider themselves reliant on the strikeout.

The defense doesn’t want to make them feel that way either.

“It’s tough for a pitcher to feel like they need to strike everyone out,” junior second baseman/left fielder Luke MacLean said. “It’s too much added pressure for them to deal with.”

In any case, no Gophers pitcher can feel confident on the mound when his defense commits five errors. So tonight’s game against North Dakota State at Siebert Field will be proving grounds for the Gophers to show their defensive lapse at Purdue was a fluke.

“It’s a trust relationship between the defense and the pitcher,” MacLean said. “We need to get back to the basics of playing solid defense and getting good pitching, and the rest will come.”

Only Michigan and Ohio State have higher team fielding percentages than the Gophers’ .965, which is just six-hundredths off their school-record mark from last year.

But with the troubles against Purdue just days behind them, North Dakota State presents an opportunity to give Minnesota’s pitching staff more confidence in the team’s defense.

Not to mention, a chance to get back onto a winning track.

“If you look at our track record, we don’t win a lot of games when we make two or three errors,” center fielder Tony Leseman said. “I think we’re going to come out against North Dakota State ready to make the pitches and the plays necessary to win.”

Krogman has surgery

Senior pitcher Josh Krogman underwent surgery Monday to repair a shoulder injury that has sidelined him most of the season, ending his playing career at Minnesota.

Krogman started his career as a true freshman in 2001, going 4-0 with a save in 12 games.

He was forced to redshirt the 2003 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery

Krogman has been named a student volunteer assistant coach for the rest of the season.

Carlson qualifies in 10K

Minnesota men’s track and field senior Andrew Carlson automatically qualified for NCAA regionals with a 28:56.59 mark in the 10,000 meters Monday at the Cardinal Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif.