Probable Pitching Matchups Game One: Matt Morgan (Sr, RHP) vs. TJ Oakes (So, RHP)
Game Two: Joe Haase (Jr, RHP) vs. Phil Isaksson (Sr, LHP)
Game Three: Brad Schreiber (So, RHP) vs. Austin Lubinsky (Jr, RHP)
Weekend Weather Forecast for Minneapolis Friday: 46 degrees, 30 percent chance of precipitation
Saturday: 49 degrees, 20 percent chance of precipitation
Sunday (if necessary): 41 degrees, 70 percent chance of precipitation
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue baseball opens Big Ten Conference play on the big stage of Target Field this weekend, taking on defending league champion and preseason favorite Minnesota at the second-year picturesque outdoor home of the Minnesota Twins.
Due to a late schedule change, doubleheader action is now set for Saturday instead of Friday. The teams plan to play a single game Friday. Action on both days is set to begin at 2:05 p.m. (EDT).
Minnesota (8-8) has annually played its Big Ten home series in the Metrodome. But the roof of the venerable multi-purpose indoor facility was damaged by a blizzard in December. The University of Minnesota announced in February its plans to play home Big Ten series at Target Field this year. The Gophers attracted a crowd of 36,056 for their lone game of the 2010 season at Target Field, a March 27 matinee won by Louisiana Tech, 7-1.
Minnesota is slated to play its home midweek games this season at Seibert Field, an on-campus facility which is being completely rebuilt. But the Gophers have been on the road for the first six weeks of the season, flying to Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and California for weekend and spring break competition. Due to heavy rains in Northern California over the last two weeks, Minnesota has only played twice since March 19.
Purdue (16-8) has played five games in legitimately cold temperatures this season. The March 6 doubleheader at Lipscomb and the last three games in the Midwest were all contested amidst temperatures in the 40s. The Boilermakers posted a 4-1 mark in those games.
But Purdue has struggled in the Twin Cities over the last decade. The Boilermakers have not won a series in Minneapolis since 2000 and are 1-11 against Minnesota in the heart of the Upper Midwest since 2003.
The Gophers scored seven times in the final two innings to steal the rubber game of last season's conference-opening series in West Lafayette. In the process, Minnesota posted the first series victory by the road team since the Gophers swept a four-game set in West Lafayette in 2002.
Purdue staff ace Matt Morgan aims to return to the rotation this weekend. The senior right-hander has not pitched since the March 11 victory at Tennessee-Martin. He left the opener of the spring break trip in the third inning due to a finger injury. The Boilermakers will also send Joe Haase and Brad Schreiber to the mound, with both right-handers slated to make their first career Big Ten starts.
Schreiber enters Big Ten play as the league leader with 38 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched. He is also second with a .207 batting average against. Having surrendered only 28 hits and issued just nine walks, Schreiber has tallied more punchouts than walks and hits allowed over his first six starts. The Menasha, Wis., native has pitched at least six innings and left the game with Purdue leading in five of his six starts.
Kevin Plawecki and Tyler Spillner have been swinging the hot bats for the Boilermakers. Plawecki has emerged as the toughest player to strikeout in the Big Ten, ranking eighth nationally this week after fanning only three times in 92 at-bats (109 plate appearances). The catcher feasted on Gopher pitching last season, hitting three home runs in a 6-for-11 showing at the plate in the series. Unfortunately for the Boilers, the bases were empty each time Plawecki went deep against Minnesota.
Spillner has been on base early and often over the last nine games, posting eight multi-hit efforts during the longest hitting streak of his career. The junior has registered 11 extra-base hits while going 25-for-50 during his streak.
Spillner and the rest of the Purdue outfield will also be tested this weekend by the spacious dimensions of Target Field. Though just 328 feet to the right field foul pole, left center measures 377 feet and center field as deep as 411 feet. Spillner, Stephen Talbott and Andrew Dixon have proved themselves as Purdue's top defensive outfielders. But Payton Bieker has seen more action in right field as of late thanks in part to a productive 5-for-10 showing at the plate over the last four games.
The Boilermakers are scheduled to play three of their first four Big Ten series on the road. But the season's stretch run is very home heavy and features three home series over the final four weeks of the regular season.