Probable Pitching Matchups Friday: Jordan Minch (Fr, LHP) vs. ILL's Kevin Johnson (Sr, RHP)
Saturday: Robert Ramer (Sr, RHP) vs. ILL's John Kravetz (So, RHP)
Sunday: Brad Schreiber (Jr, RHP) vs. ILL's Ryan Castellanos (Fr, RHP)
Series History All-Time Series: Illinois leads 150-80-1
Purdue Under Doug Schreiber vs. Illinois: Purdue leads 29-18 (Since 1999)
2012: Purdue swept a three-game series in West Lafayette
Last Series in Champaign: Purdue won 2-of-3 (2010)
First Meeting: Illinois 14, Purdue 5 (1893 in West Lafayette)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue baseball begins a challenging three-week stretch with its first trip to Champaign-Urbana since 2010, taking on Illinois for the fourth weekend of Big Ten play.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (all times ET). The Boilermakers will make their Big Ten Network debut Sunday. It will be the first of four games over the next three weekends televised live by the BTN.
This weekend marks the beginning of a three-week stretch in which the Boilers will play three teams predicted to make the Big Ten Tournament by the league coaches in the preseason poll. Illinois (19-10, 2-4 Big Ten), Nebraska (13-17, 7-2 Big Ten) and Michigan State (18-11, 2-4 Big Ten) are a combined 50-38 this year. The Fighting Illini went 12-1 over a 13-game stretch from late February through mid-March and were among the league's hottest teams entering Big Ten play. Illinois had a tough draw to start the conference season, hosting Nebraska and traveling to nationally-ranked Indiana for their first two Big Ten weekends.
After Purdue hosted the Illini each of the last two seasons, the Boilers will be making their first appearance at Illinois Field, which features an all field turf artificial surface, for the first time since 2010. Among current Purdue players, only Angelo Cianfrocco and Brad Schreiber played in the 2010 Purdue-Illinois series in Champaign. The Boilermakers have not lost a series in Champaign since Doug Schreiber's first season as head coach in 1999. Purdue swept the three-game series between the two teams at Lambert Field a year ago.
The Fighting Illini are a veteran team led by twin brothers Justin and Jordan Parr as well as staff ace Kevin Johnson. Jordan Parr and Johnson both opted to return to school after being selected in the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft. But it's Justin Parr who leads the Big Ten with a .435 batting average. Both Parr brothers will steal bases and Illinois as a team is 65-of-74 this season.
Johnson is a four-year member of the weekend rotation, starting on Friday for the third season in a row. His 1.94 ERA is among the best in the Big Ten and he has only issued 11 walks in 55 2/3 innings, going the distance in two of his eight starts. Johnson shut out Purdue at Illinois Field as a freshman in 2010. The Boilers won a pair of slow-scoring games against him the last two years.
Freshman Ryan Castellanos was recently promoted to the Fighting Illini's Sunday starter. He beat Indiana in Bloomington last weekend with six innings of two-run ball, as Illinois snapped the Hoosiers' 18-game win streak. Castellanos, who was also selected in the 2012 MLB Draft, has surrendered only two extra-base hits in 17 1/3 innings this season.
The weather is supposed to warm up over the course of the weekend and so to could the offensive numbers. Illinois Field is already a fast surface with the artificial turf and it can also be very hitter friendly on warm days when the wind becomes a factor. Thomas Lindauer (6) and Jordan Parr (4) have been the main power threats for the Illini. Lindauer's six homers rank second in the Big Ten and are equal to the number Purdue has hit as a team this year. He's also a good defensive shortstop.
For Purdue, a number of hitters have enjoyed recent productive stretches at the plate. Conner Hudnall and Cianfrocco each hit safely in all three games of the Northwestern series. Hudnall is 8-for-21 in the last five games while reaching base safely in the last 12 he has started. Cianfrocco is 8-for-24 with three doubles and six walks in the last nine games.
Cody Strong is riding an eight-game reached base safely streak. He's 6-for-17 with nine walks in the last nine games. Kyle Johnson has seen his batting average rise .131 points while going 14-for-34 with six RBI and six walks in the last nine games. Jack Picchiotti is batting .390 over the last nine games and now leads the team in RBI (18) after driving in at least one run in six of the last seven games.