Last week, the Michigan baseball team scored at least 12 runs in each of the five games it played. In each game, the 19th-ranked Wolverines also came out on top by a lot.
The success was accompanied by several standout performances. Junior catcher Harrison Wenson smashed a grand slam in Friday’s series opener against Rutgers, and sophomore first baseman Drew Lugbauer drove in six runs for Michigan the following day. Junior utility player Carmen Benedetti also showed prowess at the plate, hitting 12-for-21 with 12 RBIs to earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors.
“Our offense is very balanced, we’ve got some speed at the top and the bottom and we’ve got power in the middle,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “There’s flow to our offense, and it creates a lot of momentum and run-scoring opportunities for our team.”
But because of the fireworks from the batter’s box, it was easy to overlook other outstanding performers: the starting pitchers.
Together, the four regular starters for the Wolverines — sophomores Ryan Nutof and Oliver Jaskie, junior Brett Adcock and senior Evan Hill — have an earned-run average of 3.27 while holding a 24-9 record. Nutof leads the group with a 2.06 ERA and a 6-1 record on the year.
Last weekend, the four asserted their dominance against Rutgers, a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team. Adcock struck out 11 in six innings of work Friday, Jaskie allowed only one run in seven innings Saturday and Hill limited the Scarlet Knights to just two earned runs on Senior Day during Sunday’s contest. Nutof pitched in relief Sunday, and didn’t allow a single run.
Wednesday was a different story for the Michigan pitching staff. Bakich handed freshman left-hander Will Tribucher the ball against Central Michigan, and the Chippewas were having their way. By the fourth inning, Michigan found itself in an unfamiliar position, trailing 8-0. A spirited comeback was stopped short, and Michigan fell, 8-7.
“We played pretty well last week, scoring a lot of runs and keeping the opposition down for five games,” Bakich said after the loss. “We’ve got to bring it back to the middle.”
The Wolverines’ starting pitchers will hope to forget about Wednesday’s hiccup and return to their previous form. Going forward, getting quality starts from the pitching staff may be more of a necessity, and not the luxury that it was last week.
Michigan (12-5 Big Ten, 34-13 overall) faces Ohio State (10-8, 32-16-1) this weekend. The Buckeyes have a pitching staff that ranks second in the Big Ten with an earned-run average of 3.08, and Ohio State’s ace, Tanner Tully, is riding a 10.2 inning scoreless streak.
Though Michigan will face a top-tier staff this weekend coming off of a tough loss, it’s not lacking confidence in its ability to hit.
“With the offense, we have we feel that no matter the deficit we can come back and no matter what the lead is we can always extend,” Bakich said.
Recently, run support has been boosting the pitchers’ confidence levels. But in order to continue to move up the Big Ten conference standings, the starting pitchers will have to continue their shutdown performances — especially in the case that Michigan doesn’t score 12 runs per game this weekend.