With the game tied at two and the heart of the Michigan baseball team’s order due up in the third inning, Minnesota replaced its starting pitcher, who was experiencing arm soreness, with a reliever.
The Wolverines made the most of their opportunity to face the bullpen so early in the game. They immediately loaded the bases before a single, walk, hit batter and double play scored a run each. By the end of the inning, they had jumped out to a 6-2 lead. As the game went on and the lead grew to double figures, Michigan coach Erik Bakich emptied the bench and sent graduate student Joe Pace — a pitcher — to bat.
Pace crushed a double to the power alley.
The No. 25 Wolverines couldn’t do much damage against the Gopher’s starters, who combined for a 3.75 ERA during this weekend’s series. Nevertheless, Michigan swept the series by scoring 28 runs off of relievers, saddling Minnesota’s bullpen with a 15.00 ERA on the weekend.
“When a team’s got good starters, sometimes you have to wait them out, get through the lineup once or twice and try to get in the bullpen,” Bakich said. “Sometimes you can jump them and attack them right away and get into their pen sooner. But it all comes down to execution.”
The Wolverines had no trouble executing, especially in Friday’s 21-5 rout. Hitters held the strike zone against relievers who struggled with control, drawing 14 total walks. By piling one quality at-bat on top of the next, they batted around in both the third and fifth innings. They hit four home runs, three of which were against the bullpen.
“Balls that are belt-high are the balls to smash,” redshirt sophomore outfielder Jordon Rogers said. “Minnesota left a lot of balls up, and we did our job by putting a good swing on them.”
The next day, the Gophers held Michigan scoreless for the first eight innings thanks to a quality start by Jack Liffrig. But in the ninth, when Minnesota sent reliever Ryan Duffy back to the mound for a second inning, the Wolverines’ bats came alive; sophomore second baseman Ted Burton hit a two-run homer and his teammates followed it up with a station-to-station rally that scored another two runs.
On Sunday, Michigan once again knocked the starter out early and scored six runs against the bullpen. The Wolverines never broke the game open but still swept the series with a few scattered insurance runs. Fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems and sophomore right fielder Clark Elliott both homered against relief pitching.
“Eliminating their pitches, honestly, just laying off the off-speed and hitting the fastball,” Rogers said. “We’re a good-hitting team when we’re all locked in, and it was a good example of that tonight.”