Junior right-hander Blake Beers forced Cal Poly freshman shortstop Bradlee Beesley to swing through his 2-2 offering to close out the bottom of the eighth in Sunday’s game, ending Beers’s stellar outing with his sixth strikeout of the afternoon.
Beers pitched eight strong innings against the Mustangs, allowing only one earned run on two hits to help lead the Wolverines to a 4-2 win.
This win gave Michigan a 2-1 series victory over Cal Poly, and Beers’s performance gave the Wolverines one of many answers they received to early-season questions this weekend.
Coming into the season, one of the largest questions looming over Michigan’s head was who would be able to replace the production left behind by Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman. It was clear that junior right-hander Jeff Criswell would fill much of that void, but Henry and Kauffman combined for over 250 innings. So even Criswell’s most herculean effort would leave innings uncovered.
Beers showed over the weekend, as he has shown throughout his starts this season, that he can cover many of those remaining innings.
“Blake Beers, who didn’t play a lot the first two years, but has just come out and consistently put up great outings,” junior catcher Joe Donovan said. “The past three weekends he has just done phenomenal, and it's really great to see.”
Beers’s performance came in the context of a weekend that represented a positive shift in many areas from an unexpected 2-1 series loss to UConn last weekend.
For one, the bullpen’s uncharacteristically spotty performance in the UConn series begged a response.
Michigan’s bullpen needed to bounce back, and it did. In 9 2/3 innings of work, the Wolverines’ relievers allowed just four runs, posting a 3.72 ERA for the weekend.
Michigan’s bullpen received a lot of help from Beers’s start as well as Criswell’s 7 2/3 innings, three-hit performance in the team’s 4-3 win on Friday, but still stepped up when needed most.
On Saturday, redshirt freshman left-hander Steven Hajjar left the game early after racking up 75 pitches in just three innings, leaving the bullpen the tough task of putting together six solid innings just one night after a 10-inning game.
“Much like Jacob Denner did last week, he did a fantastic job just settling the game down and giving us a chance,” Bakich said. “Isaiah Paige did a really good job holding it down, and the runs they scored in the 9th and the 10th was more a credit to Cal Poly really doing a good job initiating those innings. … If you’re going to go down, you want to go down making the other team earn it.”
This effort came in a 5-4 loss in 10 innings for the Wolverines, but score lines often get much less pretty for a team when its starter checks out so early. Michigan’s bullpen is not yet where it wants to be, but it is taking strides in the right direction.
Additionally, last weekend’s performance left people wondering when players like Donovan were going to start hitting to expected levels.
Donovan answered those questions with a four hits, two of which were doubles, on the weekend.
“It’s still pretty early in the year,” Donovan said. “So we’re still working things out both as a team and personally. I feel like things are trending in the right direction for both, though, and it’s really good to see.”
After last weekend’s UConn series, Michigan players and coaches were speaking about how they needed to compete harder and execute better. Now, after a 4-3 win in 10 innings Friday, a 5-4 loss in extra innings Saturday, and a 4-2 win Sunday, the Wolverines’ tone has changed.
“We feel like our best baseball’s to come, and we have a lot better play left to show,” Donovan said. “We had some mistakes that kinda kept us close or kinda squirted the lead away. But I thought we showed a lot of toughness, especially coming back late in the game. I think that the general around the team is that our best baseball’s to come and we are only going to trend up.”