Baseball: Quick-hitting Cats face IU

Christine Todd

A hot hitter is a scary proposition for an opposing pitcher. Indiana’s Alex Dickerson, a potential first-round pick in June’s major league draft, seems to be on a perpetual hot streak.

“Any time (Dickerson’s) got a bat in his hand, he’s a threat,” coach Paul Stevens said. “Hitting is definitely what he lives for.”

Last year, Dickerson won the Big Ten’s Triple Crown, hitting .419 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs. He also led the conference in slugging percentage (.805), on-base percentage (.472), hits (99) and total bases (190). Through 44 games in 2011, the junior is fourth in the Big Ten with a .367 average and has hit six home runs, good for a five-way tie for third in the conference.

In Northwestern’s 2010 three-game series against Indiana, Dickerson went 7-for-12 with six RBIs and two home runs. Even though Dickerson’s numbers are down this year, the Wildcats are still game-planning for the powerful bat he wields.

“He’s a big kid, and he’s got really quick hands,” said junior Francis Brooke, NU’s only starter not to surrender a home run to Dickerson in the regular season last year. “I try to stay as far away as possible and make him hit a pitch he couldn’t hit very hard, try to just limit him to singles.”

Prior to the introduction of the BBCOR-certified bats, Dickerson, at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, seemed to be able to hit home runs by accident, just by virtue of his strong swing and a little help from the bats. Now, the trampoline effect of the aluminum bats has been minimized, making the ball come off the bat more like it would off wood. Dickerson can still hit, but he doesn’t hit as many jam-shot long balls as before.

“The key is to just keep it out of the middle of the plate,” Brooke said. “Keep it down and make him actually hit it well,”

Stevens said Dickerson ranks at the top of the totem poll with all the hitters he’s seen come through the Big Ten in his 24 years as NU’s coach.

“You’ve got to get the people around him out,” Stevens said. “If he is in one of his streaks, which is usually from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, you have to make sure there aren’t a lot of people that he can drive in. That’s how you’ve got to prepare, and then you do the best you can with him.”

Quick attack

You walk up to the plate, dig in with your spikes and prepare for your at-bat. What’s your approach going to be?

If you play for NU, there’s about a 30 percent chance you’re going to swing at the first pitch and make contact. That’s what the Cats did against Illinois last weekend: NU hitters fouled off or put in play the first pitch in 36 of their 119 at-bats in the series.

“We try to sit there and find gaps and be as aggressive as we possibly can,” Stevens said. “For the most part, we’ll strike out quite a bit, but we’re going to get our money’s worth in most cases.”

Freshman outfielder Nick Linne has had success with this approach early in his college career. Against Illinois on Sunday, Linne hit a first-pitch single and first-pitch triple but also drew two four-pitch walks.

“I’m usually always looking to swing at the first pitch,” said Linne, who’s hitting .300. “If I’m looking for a fastball and I get a fastball, I’m going to swing at it, usually. Same with a curveball: If I know he’s going to come with a curveball and I see it, I’m going to be swinging away. That’s kind of what (coach Stevens) likes to get after; he likes aggressive hitters. He has no problem with me swinging at the first pitch… I’m looking to attack up there.”

When NU (14-25, 6-9 Big Ten) heads to Indiana (25-19, 6-9) this weekend, it will try to blitzkrieg the Hoosiers, who have lost their last seven contests. Being aggressive against Indiana could help NU jump the Hoosiers in the Big Ten standings, as the teams are currently part of a three-way tie for seventh place.

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