DeKALB – Northern Illinois senior pitcher Zach Badgley hasn’t started a game since his freshman year.
After the 2009 season, Badgley tore his labrum and rotator cuff, missed the 2010 campaign, taking a redshirt year, and has been in the bullpen the past two seasons, posting a 3.68 ERA in 2011 and a team-low 4.24 ERA last season.
Tonight in Lubbock, Texas, Badgley will take the mound for the Huskies when they open the season against Texas Tech at 6 p.m. in the Brooks Wallace Memorial Classic.
NIU, which finished 15-40 and 7-20 in Mid-American Conference play (sixth in the MAC West) last year, has to replace 3382⁄3 innings of pitching from last season.
Gone are Jake Hermsen, Taylor Nawrocki, Tony Manville and Tom Barry. Those four combined for 50 of 55 starts in 2012.
Badgley will be one guy expected to help fill those roles. He’s been doing things like long toss in preparation for throwing six or seven innings an outing.
“I got in pretty good shape over the summer,” Badgley said. “... Just this fall, building up (strength). Every day, whether it was conditioning or just throwing more.”
On Saturday, freshman lefty Jordan Ruckman will start the Huskies’ second game in Lubbock against BYU, while junior Eli Anderson will take the mound against Northern Colorado on Sunday. Junior Alex Klonowski will start against Texas Tech in the Huskies’ second game that day.
Anderson has the most starting experience of this weekend’s rotation, making five starts a year ago and posting a 6.79 ERA in 501⁄3 innings. NIU coach Ed Mathey said Klonowski, a setup man last year, might be the team’s most polished arm.
However, he also is a key part of the Huskies’ lineup as a middle infielder. Last season, Klonowski hit .280 with three home runs and 30 RBIs. Mathey is sending him to the mound for the fourth game of weekend so he can play the field the first three.
“Last year, it was a lot different, we had some proven commodities, we had some guys that we knew of. We had some defined roles,” Mathey said. “This year there’s a lot of new. It’s going to be, like I said, an evolving landscape and we’ll see who steps up to it, and who gets those opportunities and runs with them, and who falls back a bit.”
The Huskies’ lineup includes Klonowski, first baseman Jeff Zimmerman (six home runs, 29 RBIs in 2012), utility player Connor Duckhorn and center fielder Jamison Wells, a receiver on the Huskies’ football team whose 64 career stolen bases are seven shy of the school record.
Zimmerman played for the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League during the summer, setting franchise records with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs. He admits he slumped a little bit last spring, and hopes to carry last year’s success into this season.
“It definitely helped me find my swing, helped me get a better approach in each of my at-bats,” Zimmerman said. “I definitely looked at it as just taking a quality at-bat every time. It definitely helped me get more out of each at-bat.”
The Huskies’ roster has 12 true freshmen and two who redshirted a year ago, including right-handed pitcher Jacob Turner, a Sycamore product.
One local player who should see plenty of playing time is DeKalb’s Brian Sisler, who Mathey said will open the season as the Huskies’ starting shortstop.
Mathey said Sisler, a three-sport athlete with the Barbs, has caught on quickly after focusing just on baseball.
“He’s just a veteran kid in a young body,” Mathey said. “He just sees things. Even if he does make a mistake, you couldn’t look at him and tell that he made a mistake. He’s just got a good presence about him.”