Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Going Deep: Alvarado Leading Husker Rotation

By Brian Rosenthal

Where Luis Alvarado won’t play this season for the Nebraska baseball team may be easier to answer than where he will.

It’s a dilemma coach Darin Erstad is willing to face with his senior, uh, everything, who returned to the Huskers despite being selected in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft in June.

“When a senior comes back that’s drafted, you’re obviously coming back for some reason,” Erstad said. “There’s some unfinished business there, and he’s just been unbelievable.”

Alvarado, from Salinas, Puerto Rico, will make his first career pitching start Friday when Nebraska opens the 2018 season against UC Riverside in the weekend Husker Classic in Tempe, Arizona.

Since the beginning of practice, Erstad has had Alvarado penciled in as his Friday night ace.

“He’s doing just fine,” Erstad said. “He works very hard, and he’s got a great motor. He’s been able to hold his velocity and his stuff through his extended innings that he’s been building up.”

The question, though, is where Alvarado plays, and how often, on days he doesn’t pitch. He batted .283 last season with the fourth-most hits on the team, including 12 doubles, two triples and two home runs, and ranked third with 39 runs scored.

This, Erstad said, is unchartered territory.

“The biggest thing will be how he bounces back the day after his starts,” Erstad said. “Can we use him in a DH role? Can he play first base the day after or two days after? We’ll just have to see how that goes. But he has bounced back very well. He has swung the bat the day after he’s pitched. I’m probably not going to do that right away. We’ll see.”

Erstad said he personally likes having Alvarado on the infield, “because he doesn’t shut up. He keeps communicating and talking and understands the game. So it’s nice to have him in there.”

He doesn’t anticipate Alvarado in the outfield, which, ironically, is where the made 57 starts last season – 41 in left and 16 in center.

Right now, the focus is on Alvarado on the mound as a starter. He made 16 relief appearances last season, earning a 1.72 ERA in 15.2 innings, and led the Huskers with 10 saves.

“He’s got such a great personality, and to see that come out and see how he interacts with guys, it brings a lot of energy to the team,” Erstad said. “He’s just one of those guys who puts his work in, gets it done and enjoys playing.”

 

Rounding Out The Rotation

Nebraska continues its season opening weekend with games against Washington State and UC Riverside on Saturday and the finale Sunday against Washington State.

Erstad announced junior Jake McSteen (above) will pitch the first game of the double-header, junior Nate Fisher will start the second game and senior Matt Warren will go on Sunday in his Nebraska debut.

Warren, an Omaha native, missed last season while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He’s a graduate transfer from Creighton.

“I’m glad he got that sixth year. He’s been through a lot,” Erstad said. “I would imagine there’s probably going to be some bumps along the way. He hasn’t been out there for two years, so we’re going to have to be patient.

“But Matt knows how to pitch. He’s been out there. He’s had success. He understands what he needs to do. I would imagine there are probably some mental hurdles he’ll have to get over, but I’m a patient person, and he’s put the work in.”

McSteen, a left-hander, pitched 39.2 innings in relief last season with a 4-0 record and 2.04 ERA. He struck out 28 and walked 10.

“I mean, the guy just works his tail off and just gets better and better – velocity goes up, his command has gotten better,” Erstad said. “He’s added another wrinkle, and he can move the ball both directions at the plate now, which is very important.”

Erstad said McSteen has improved in putting hitters away after getting ahead of the count

“It’s nice to have lefties in the starting rotation to be able to control the running game, just be able to pound the zone,” Erstad said. “And he’s able to do that.”

Fisher, a junior from Yutan, made 15 appearances out of the bullpen last season, pitching 27.2 innings with 23 strikeouts and nine walks. He’s two years removed from having Tommy John surgery.

“He started in high school, and we’ve had him out of the pen in the long role, so he’s pitched multiple innings and been huge for us,” Erstad said. “So for him, where we’re at right now, this is a good spot for him to start.”

Erstad will limit all starting pitchers to 90 pitches this weekend, although 75 to 80 pitches is probably a more realistic number to expect, he said.

“Hopefully, that’s not in the second inning,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s in the fourth … fourth or fifth. We’ll see, and we’ll just play it from there.”

 

Softball’s Strong Start

Coach Rhonda Revelle promised last week that her Nebraska softball team would not go winless in its opening weekend series of the season, like it did last season.

The Huskers backed up her word, and then some, going 5-1 in Arizona, including victories over No. 19 BYU and No. 15 Utah.

“As a whole team we played pitch to pitch very well. We didn’t get too high or too low. We stayed in the moment,” Revelle said.

“There wasn’t one game where everything was clicking (offensively), but we stayed with and were able to come up with a big blow.”

Tristen Edwards, named the Big Ten player of the week, set the tone with a two-out, game-winning RBI single to defeat BYU – the same team that handed Nebraska a 12-1, five-inning loss in last year’s season opener that marked the beginning of an 0-10 start.

Nebraska didn’t win its fifth game until March 18, and now heads to its season weekend of action with five wins. The Huskers will play both Georgia Tech (0-2) and Boston College (1-4) twice in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for four total games this weekend in Atlanta. Indiana is the other Big Ten participant.

 

White Makes NBA Debut

Former Nebraska basketball player Andrew White fulfilled his dream and reached a lifetime goal Wednesday night when he made his NBA debut with the Atlanta Hawks.

White, a 6-foot-6 guard, scored 15 points in 17 minutes in the Hawks’ 104-98 loss at Detroit. He was 6-of-11 from the field and 3-of-7 on 3-pointers.

White was called up from the G League Erie Bayhawks on Feb. 11. He started the season with the Maine Red Claws, then signed a two-way contract with the Hawks. Last season, he averaged 15.8 points as a graduate transfer at Syracuse but went undrafted.

White, who began his career at Kansas, played the 2015-16 season at Nebraska after sitting out a season. He averaged 16.6 points, second-most on the team behind senior Shavon Shields.

 

Former Husker Colman Joins Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys have hired former Nebraska linebacker Doug Colman as assistant special teams coach, according to numerous national reports.

Colman, 44, most recently was with the Texans as a special teams and linebacker assistant. He played 43 games in a five-year NFL career as a linebacker with the Giants, Titans and Browns, retiring after the 2000 season.

A native of Ventnor, New Jersey, Colman lettered in 1991 and again from 1993-95 while playing for two national championship teams at Nebraska.

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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