By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Baseball’s in the air as the Baylor Bears open the 2020 season against Nebraska tonight, looking to go 3-0 this weekend after dropping the series to the Huskers 2-1 in last year’s meeting.
Head coach Steve Rodriguez said the team is healthy and full of excitement to start the season after a long winter of work.
“I think these guys have been working really hard for a lot of months now and tomorrow is just a fun day, it really is,” Rodriguez said. “It’s really nice [to play in front of a home crowd], especially if we can get great weather.”
The starting rotation has been set for the Bears and redshirt junior Jimmy Winston gets the ball on the bump tonight. Senior lefty Paul Dickens will have the start on Saturday and senior righty Hayden Kettler were close things out on Sunday. Winston said having an experienced pitching staff will be a great benefit for Baylor.
“It’s going to be crucial,” Winston said. “We have a lot of guys coming back and a lot of guys in the pen. So to have those guys that know what they’re doing and to teach the younger guys when they get into the game, it’s going to be awesome to have.”
What the lineup will look like is still in question, but Rodriguez said the first few weeks will allow the players to fill into their roles and to find their identity as a team.
The Cornhuskers return to Waco for the second-straight year as last season’s match-up, which was supposed to be an away series for the Bears, was played at Baylor Ballpark due to inclement weather in Lincoln, Neb. And it won’t just be the first series of the year for Nebraska, but also the first series under first-year head coach Will Bolt after the departure of Darin Erstad.
“They have the element of surprise now in regards to what kind of team they’re going to be, what kind of offense they’re going to run,” Rodriguez said. “Any scouting reports we had from previous years are kind of irrelevant just because you don’t know what they’re going to be doing or how they’re going to do it.”
The key for the Huskers this year will be their pitching, however, as they’ve had to completely rebuild their starting rotation. Gareth Stroh, who transferred to Nebraska after two years at Purdue and sat out last season, will be the Friday starter for the Huskers. The native Nebraskan went 10-6 while at Purdue with a 4.34 ERA in 32 appearances and 86 strikeouts in 159.2 innings.
After earning Freshman All-American honors as the Huskers’ closer in 2019, sophomore righty Colby Gomes will take a starting role on Saturday. Sophomore transfer Cade Povich, who went 10-1 with eighth complete games as a JUCO freshman, will round out the rotation for the Huskers in the Sunday spot.
The Bears will be tested throughout the first few weeks of the season, not only by the teams looking to bring them defeat on their home turf, but also as they serve the suspensions announced last Friday by the university.
“I got three weeks to deal with it and I’m going to deal with it accordingly,” Rodriguez said. “Whatever the university said were going to be the consequences we were going to deal with it, it’s just that simple. But being able to stagger them just allows us to make sure that nobody gets hurt and we’re able to put a team out there that can compete.”
Baylor and Nebraska face off in the first game of the series at 6:30 p.m. today at Baylor Ballpark.