Two standout freshmen pitchers — starter Patrick Fredrickson and closer Max Meyer — have helped put the 20th-ranked Gophers baseball team back in the Big Ten title hunt entering this weekend’s home series against No. 15 Indiana.
Fredrickson, a lanky 6-6 righthander from Gig Harbor, Wash., is 6-0 with a Big Ten-best 1.61 ERA.
Meyer, a hard-throwing righty from Woodbury, has 11 saves and a 2.19 ERA.
“It’s been astonishing what they’ve accomplished,” coach John Anderson said on the eve of Friday’s series opener at Siebert Field.
The Gophers (29-12, 11-3 Big Ten) have won seven consecutive series, including five against conference foes, leaving them one game behind first-place Michigan.
Indiana (31-10, 9-5) sits two games behind the Gophers in conference play with three weeks left in the regular season. The Hoosiers are 22-5 in nonconference play and hold the Big Ten’s highest ranking in the latest D1Baseball.com poll.
The Gophers will need more pitching brilliance to match an Indiana team that leads the nation with a 2.40 ERA.
“They’re pitching numbers are daunting, to be honest with you,” Anderson said. “Obviously, we’ve got a pretty good offensive team, but the challenge will be scoring enough runs against that pitching staff.”
The Gophers ranks 14th nationally with a .302 batting average, led by junior shortstop Terrin Vavra (.385). Vavra dealt with a stress fracture in his back his first two seasons with the Gophers but started feeling fully healthy last July.
“He was able to practice and play and weight train all summer long,” Anderson said. “I think we’re seeing the player we thought we had.”
Fredrickson has been a much bigger surprise. Gophers assistant Rob Fornasiere found him while recruiting sophomore catcher Eli Wilson in Seattle.
“In recruiting today, everybody’s making all these early decisions, and [Fredrickson] was a late developer,” Anderson said. “By the time he really started to show a high Division I ability, everybody else had made their choices.”
Fredrickson has been thriving as Minnesota’s No. 2 starter, behind junior righthander Reggie Meyer.
The bullpen has received a boost from converted starter Brett Schulze, a sophomore from Maple Grove who is 8-0 with a 2.27 ERA in 15 relief appearances.
Schulze has helped get the ball to Max Meyer, the closer whose fastball averages 90-94 miles per hour with a slider at 83-87.
“We knew [Max] had a great arm,” Anderson said. “It’s just a question with all freshmen, how long is it going to take for them to slow the game down and understand how to pitch at this level?”
With so many pitching storylines, it’s probably fitting Friday’s game will follow a tribute to one of Minnesota’s all-time best. The Gophers will name their indoor training facility the “Glen Perkins Family Baseball Performance Center.”
Perkins went 19-5 with a 2.87 ERA in two seasons with the Gophers before the Twins made him the No. 22 overall pick in the 2004 draft.
“He’s been a big supporter of our program, not just financially, but his willingness to come over and talk to the kids,” Anderson said.
Anderson looks forward to honoring Perkins and settling in for a warm-weather weekend at Siebert Field. With all the crazy spring weather, this will be just the fourth game for the Gophers in their on-campus stadium.
“It’s been impressive,” Anderson said of his team’s consistency. “I look to the leadership of our team. We have a lot of juniors and seniors in our position players, and I think they’ve really kept guys focused on the things we can control.”