Minnesota looks to turn around hitting luck at Metrodome

Robert Mews

With a 9-7 record at the Metrodome this season, Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson said it’s time to start winning four-game series at home.

That quest begins at 6:30 tonight when the Gophers (20-17, 8-8 Big Ten) host Illinois (20-18, 7-9 Big Ten) for a four-game set, which concludes with the 1 p.m. Sunday game.

“We haven’t won a series at home yet, and if you’re going to move up in the standings Ö we’re going to have to win the last two series at home and it starts this weekend,” Anderson said. “Another split doesn’t do us any good.”

Minnesota is 3-5 at the Dome in conference play this season, and has struggled offensively.

In the eight home conference games the Gophers scored an average of 3.38 runs a game. In the eight away conference games they average 8.38 runs a game – although some of that run support is skewed down by the 20 run outpouring in last weekend’s showdown with Michigan State.

Despite those numbers, the offense has been more consistent as of late, and Minnesota will face a young Illinois pitching staff.

“Pitching wise it looks like they’re starting over a little bit,” Anderson said. “I think we need to try and capitalize on some of the inexperience there.”

The lllini will send freshmen pitchers out to the mound for two of its games this weekend. Both will pitch in Saturday’s doubleheader.

“I think we definitely can take advantage of their inexperience on the mound a little bit,” outfielder Sean Kommerstad said.

Furthermore, Illinois is starting right-handed pitchers for all its games this weekend. That, said left-handed batter Matt Nohelty, is something the Gophers possibly can exploit.

“As a lefty batter it’s much easier to hit against a righty,” he said. “Most of our team is fairly confident against righties.”

Anderson said he’ll put some left-handed batters in the lineup to face those right-handed pitchers.

“What can you do with left-handed hitting?” Anderson asked. “You can take away the right-handed breaking ball some.”

As far as the Gophers’ pitching breakdown goes, the team will send Cole DeVries (4-2, 2.20 earned run average) to the mound Friday.

Beginning a series is a change from his usual Sunday starts.

“We really just bumped him up because we knew we were going to bump him up in the second half of the season,” Anderson said. “(We are) trying to look at the big picture for the Big Ten Tournament.”

Brian Bull (3-3, 2.65 ERA) usually starts the Friday games, but has been moved back to Sunday. This might be the only weekend he does so. Anderson said he would like to get Bull to pitch Saturday sometime after this weekend to prepare for the tournament.

As for this Saturday’s pitchers, the Gophers are sending Dustin Brabender (3-4, 4.81) and John Gaub (1-2, 2.76 ERA) to the mound in the first and second game, respectively.

And those pitchers might be contested by Illinois, which is the Big Ten’s fourth-best hitting team at .312.

“It’s going to be another challenge for our pitching staff to try and keep those guys at bay offensively,” Anderson said.