One week away from its first game of the season, the Nebraska baseball team continues to work.
Indoors, of course.
"That’s just something you’ve got to do playing in the Midwest. It’s not that big of a deal. Other schools are doing it too," junior infielder Angelo Altavilla said Thursday. "You can’t really go into the game feeling bad about yourself just because you didn’t get outside. You’ve got to deal with it."
So the Huskers deal while working to establish the beginnings of an identity before playing in the Husker Classic starting Feb. 16 in Tempe, Arizona.
"They think they're pretty good," Husker coach Darin Erstad said of his players. "We're going to find out next week where they're at."
Where, in the literal sense, everyone is at is still up for grabs. Both Altavilla and Erstad spoke Thursday of the ability of several Huskers to play multiple positions. Altavilla is in that group and will play either shortstop or third base after starting 56 games last season. Luke Roskam, who made 35 starts, could fit in at either corner infield spot or as a catcher. Luis Alvarado, after playing outfield and serving as NU's closer last season, will get first crack to be Nebraska's Friday starter this year and could play first base or designated hitter on his off days.
Erstad has options when it comes to moving pieces around defensively. It also gives the seventh-year head coach flexibility in putting Nebraska's best offense on the field.
The Huskers ranked 128th out of 290 teams last season in runs per game (5.8) and 110th in total runs. NU scored zero, five, one and four runs in losing its final four games last year after winning the Big Ten's regular-season title, and ended 2016 by scoring one, two, zero and one run in four straight losses.
"We need to have better offensive production and we’ve got to find ways to get that out there. We are always going to stress pitching and defense because, I will argue anybody until I’m blue in the face, that you have to have that to consistently win baseball games, and we will do that," Erstad said. "Offensively, we’ve got to get the right pieces out there to maximize our run production."
Nebraska also isn't likely to hit for much power after finishing 2017 234th in total home runs with 25, and 250th in homers per game. For comparison, Indiana led the Big Ten last season with 75 homers.
That makes February's games in Arizona more important for Nebraska to see who can play where defensively, and who can deliver at the play.
The Huskers will play two games each against UC Riverside and Washington State on Feb. 16-18 before returning to Arizona on Feb. 22-25 to face Oregon State and Utah twice each in the Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge.
A better offensive performance could mean a better start to the season. Nebraska started 2-6 last year and 3-6 the year before.
"We haven’t really got off to the best start the last couple years, and it’s huge. It sets us up for the end of the year, and just comes down to those mental reps and that visualization just because we can’t get outside," Altavilla said. "That’s a big part of the game and that will help us in those beginning games."
While a lineup will have to be settled on eventually, Nebraska's versatility serves it well in preseason workouts when it comes to keeping players engaged and competition for spots ratcheted up.
"It's going to be piecing it together," Erstad said. "Like 'Gelo said, we have guys that can play multiple positions and we're going to have to mix and match, which we will, and we'll see how it goes."