The Gophers' starting rotation knows how to say no. Now the team needs their actions to match their words.
T.J. Oakes will be on the mound Friday when the Gophers baseball team opens the 2012 season against Louisville, lefthander Tom Windle will follow him Saturday against St. John's and Austin Lubinsky gets the start Sunday against South Florida. All three pitchers were selected in the Major League Baseball draft in 2010 or '11, and all three chose to wear a Gophers uniform rather than sign a contract.
One more trait they have in common: Talent.
"I feel pretty comfortable saying I think we'll be able to pitch," said John Anderson, who last season completed his third decade as coach of the Gophers. "We have three starters as good as any in the [Big Ten]. Hopefully, they can perform that way."
If they do, the Gophers figure to improve on last season's Dome-doomed 25-24 season and challenge for their second Big Ten title in three years. Assuming, that is, they figure out a way to provide their big three some runs to work with.
The Gophers were the only Big Ten team to fail to score 200 runs, and the only one to collect fewer than 425 hits. Their 16 home runs were fewer than half as many as conference leader Penn State's 34.
This year, Anderson believes additional practice time in the restored Metrodome will help his hitters improve.
"The question is, can we score four runs consistently?" he said. "If we get to four or five runs consistently, we should be able to finish people off."
That's because of those three starters, and a deep (though inexperienced) bullpen. Oakes, the son of pitching coach Todd Oakes, has been third-team All-Big Ten twice already and last season went 5-5 with a 3.26 ERA in a team-high 85 innings. The Twins drafted him in the 41st round last June, but he returned for his junior season with a new pitch in his repertoire.
"He's really worked hard on developing his changeup, a third pitch," Anderson said. "His velocity's gone up a little bit, too, but becoming a three-pitch guy will really help."
Lubinsky was chosen by the Giants in the 36th round, but turned them down to remain a Gopher, too. And Windle, a 6-5 lefty, was drafted in the 28th round by the White Sox in 2010 after his senior year at Osseo. After a dominating freshman season (6-2, 1.52 ERA) spent mostly in the bullpen, Windle has claimed a spot in the rotation.