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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Gophers baseball’s pitching staff build on promising 2023 season

The Gophers’ rotation has improved each of the last three seasons.
Image by Brad Rempel (courtesy)
Minnesota’s pitching staff is healthy and primed to improve off another positive season.

Coming off its best season since 2019, Gophers baseball brought in reinforcements through the transfer portal and will see the return of several pitchers coming off season-ending injuries in 2023.

Minnesota posted a team-wide 5.95 ERA last year, which has been steadily decreasing since 2021 when the team ranked dead last in the Big Ten with an 8.06 ERA.

Richie Holetz and George Klassen, two of the Gophers’ top three arms, left after last season. The team brought in three pitchers through the transfer portal and will see the return of four in-house pitchers coming off season-ending injuries in 2023.

According to Gophers pitching coach Ty McDevitt, injuries among pitchers have become a routine occurrence.

“Unfortunately, injuries have become as much a part of pitching as anything,” McDevitt said. “It’s more routine than I’d like it to be, but it is routine at this point.”

McDevitt said the Gophers have a great medical staff that gives the pitchers a good rehab plan whether it be a shoulder or elbow injury.

Minnesota pitchers Will Semb, T.J. Egan and Sam Kennedy missed the entire season due to injury. 

Noah Rooney, one of the Gophers’ top relievers in 2023, suffered a season-ending labrum injury on May 5 against Michigan. Semb is coming off a torn hip labrum and rotator cuff, forcing him to miss his entire second season at Minnesota.

Semb said he has improved his arm strength and mix of pitches since arriving in Minnesota.

“When I came here, the first thing I noticed was I started throwing a lot harder,” Semb said. “I used to not throw any breaking balls. My two main pitches I throw are two different breaking balls. One’s a harder slider and then a slower curveball.”

Coach McDevitt said Semb will challenge for a starting role this season.

Connor Wietgrefe played a significant role on the staff in 2023 and looks to step into an even larger role in 2024.

Wietgrefe took an unconventional route to becoming a pitcher at the Division I level. In high school, Wietgrefe was on Minnesota’s radar, but his pitching velocity did not hit the threshold required to reach the next level, according to McDevitt.

Wietgrefe embraced the challenge to throw harder by strengthening his pitching during his first college season at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC). After his time at NIACC, Wietgrefe called up McDevitt and got the opportunity to play for Minnesota, according to McDevitt.

From not being recruited to Minnesota out of high school, Wietgrefe looks to become an integral part of the staff in 2024. McDevitt said the Gophers want Wietgrefe on the mound in any “high-leverage situations.”

“That’s huge, having the confidence from your pitching coach obviously makes it a lot easier,” Wietgrefe said. “Having him believe in you takes a huge load off your shoulders.”

Wietgrefe is not the only talented arm Minnesota will lean on this season; Tucker Novotny, after posting a team-high 73.1 innings last year, looks to be the ace of the staff again.

McDevitt said Novotny is fearless on the mound and keeps hitters off balance in the box.

“Tuck’s just a strike thrower,” McDevitt said. “He’s fearless, and he competes. The [pitches are] not going to jump off the page at you right away, but he creates deception in different ways.”

Novotny led the Gophers with 80 strikeouts in 2023 and started 14 games.

Minnesota will start the season with 22 straight games on the road while the U.S. Bank Stadium’s turf is replaced.

McDevitt said the long road trip is no excuse for poor performance on the field under the lights.

“You can talk about the time zones, the changes, the flights… All that stuff is real, but at the end of the day, how much of it can you control,” McDevitt said. “All you can control is your ability to eat quality food, get the best sleep you can possibly get and be ready to go whenever those lights come on.”

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