- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Max Cohen , Daily Sports Writer
Published April 3, 2013
In his first year at the helm of the Michigan baseball program, coach Erik Bakich hasn’t focused on his team’s rivalries. With a series against Michigan State on the horizon, Bakich knows the in-state Big Ten series will mean a lot to his players, but to him, it will just be another chance to earn Big Ten victories. While Bakich might develop rivalrous feelings for the Spartans during his years at Michigan, for now, the series is pure business.
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“We’re going to prepare the same way, and we’re going to go in expecting to win the series,” Bakich said.
With the team playing two midweek games against Bowling Green and Central Michigan, the series with Michigan State was far from a priority for the Wolverines. At the conclusion of the game against the Chippewas on Wednesday, when Michigan (1-2 Big Ten, 13-14 overall) completed its second consecutive shutout, Bakich finally told the team it could focus on Michigan State (2-1, 16-8). Though Bakich hasn’t experienced Michigan’s Big Ten rivalries yet, many of his players have, and they are looking forward to playing against the Spartans.
“There’s something different about playing Michigan State and Ohio State,” said junior outfielder Michael O’Neill. “There’s a little extra edge that guys come to the park with.”
Though Bakich and his players have different feelings about the rivalry, they can all agree on the recent effectiveness of the pitching staff. In the Wolverines’ past five games, they have given up just eight runs. With the recent shutouts, confidence in Michigan’s rotation is at a season high.
“Any time you’ve got a pitching staff that’s putting zeros up and pitching with quick tempo and forcing contact and letting the defense work, it just keeps everybody into the game,” Bakich said. “It’s a huge confidence builder.”
This weekend, Bakich hopes to stick with his all-left-handed weekend rotation by starting freshman Evan Hill, redshirt junior Logan McAnallen and sophomore Trent Szkutnik. Because McAnallen has been battling with tricep and shoulder soreness, he’s scheduled to start on Sunday as opposed to Friday — when he has been starting the past few weekends — to give him time to fully recover. Last weekend, the trio combined to pitch 19 innings and surrendered just four earned runs.
With senior right-hander Ben Ballantine — who has had the dual role of starting midweek games and coming out of the bullpen during weekend games — likely finished for the season after his ankle injury on Tuesday, Michigan will depend even more heavily upon its top three starters to pitch deep into games.
Offensively, the Wolverines hope to receive good news as senior centerfielder Patrick Biondi continues to recover from his sprained thumb. Biondi was scheduled to be evaluated on Thursday to determine if he can play against Michigan State. Biondi’s return could provide the Michigan lineup with a much-needed spark. In the 15 games Biondi has started for the Wolverines this season, they’ve averaged 6.5 runs per game; in its 13 games without him, Michigan has averaged 3.66 runs per game. Excluding an 11-run outburst against Minnesota, the run production drops to 2.75 runs per game without Biondi.
If Biondi’s potential return creates a resurgence within the Wolverine offense, Michigan could be in position to turn its Big Ten season around. If not, the Wolverine pitchers will be tasked with delivering Bakich his first rivalry victories.