Amid pitching struggles, Max Meyer will make first start

Meyer, who tied a program record of 16 saves last season, will make his first start on the mound Friday.

Patrick Fredrickson throws the ball to first as a UCLA player tries to steal second during the game on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at Siebert Field. The Gophers won 3-2.

Ellen Schmidt

Patrick Fredrickson throws the ball to first as a UCLA player tries to steal second during the game on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at Siebert Field. The Gophers won 3-2.

Jack Warrick

The Gophers’ starting pitching staff, recovering from the loss of key starter Reggie Meyer from last season and from early difficulties with preseason All-American Patrick Fredrickson, has struggled so far this season, contributing to a 2-8 record in the first three weeks.

Head coach John Anderson said sophomore Max Meyer, a reliever and designated hitter for the team, will make his first start on the mound on Friday against defending NCAA champion Oregon State. Meyer tied the program record with 16 saves last year.

“We got to get deeper into the game and be in the game, and have a chance for the last half of the ball game. … it starts with starting pitching,” Anderson said. “I think it was inevitable at some point in Max’s career he was going to be a starter. Now is the time.”

Meyer currently has a 0.96 ERA on 9.1 innings pitched this season. He broke onto the scene last season after tallying a 2.06 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched, while successfully closing almost every game he was called into. Meyer, a preseason All-American, made the save in both of the team’s wins this season. He has become crucial to the team’s offense as well, and currently leads the team in batting average with a .313 in 32 at bats this season.

Meyer, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins out of high school, said he doesn’t work out with the pitchers much in practice, and focuses on hitting almost exclusively. 

“Hitting just kind of takes my mind off pitching,” Meyer said. “I’m a kind of guy that when I’m going in, I’m only going to throw like three warmup pitches before I go out. So, I try not to think about anything mechanically, or anything like that. I just like to go out and do stuff.”

Fredrickson, a Gig Harbor, Washington, native, came into this season with high expectations after going 9-0 last season as a freshman starter. He was named a preseason All-American along with Meyer for his 1.86 ERA in 97 innings as a starting pitcher for Minnesota. He has started this season 1-2, along with a 3.86 ERA in 14 innings pitched. 

He said he knew he wasn’t going to stay perfect, and it takes time to get back into a groove.

“It’s been OK, I mean definitely not ideal. But, it’s still early, and just takes some time to get your feet back under you,” Fredrickson said about his early performance. “I think that’s kind of the thing with our whole staff right now. We’re slowly getting it back, and we’re heading in the right direction.”

With Meyer moving to starting pitcher, Anderson said the Gophers will need relief pitchers like Nick Lackney, Jake Stevenson and Jeff Fasching to throw like they did last weekend.

“We’ll figure out the back end of the game, people we have available,” Anderson said. “I hope Lackney and [Stevenson] have found a place now, and hopefully they can continue to pitch like that out of the bullpen because we’re going to need them to.”

The Gophers have been out-scored 74-39 this season, and have lost eight of the first 10 games. Last season, they started 7-3 through the first 10 games. Minnesota won’t be able to play home games in the U.S. Bank Stadium, like the last two seasons, because of the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. The Gophers are scheduled to play their first home game on Friday, March 29, after 21 away games.

“This is pretty normal, [a] really difficult schedule. [I] knew that going in, [and am] not surprised where we are in terms of win/loss record,” Anderson said. “Probably had a chance to win two or three more games, but we didn’t. So I’m not panicked at all; I think we’re going to be a different team a month from now than we are now.”

Minnesota will play four games in Seattle over the weekend. The team will play Oregon State on Friday, San Diego on Saturday and Washington on Sunday at T-Mobile Park. Then the Gophers will play Seattle University at Bannerwood Park.