On Saturday, the No. 16 Michigan baseball team was locked into a defensive battle with Southern California. Through seven innings, junior right-hander Karl Kauffman allowed two runs while the Wolverines faced a one-run deficit. But in the next inning, relief pitchers sophomore left-hander Angelo Smith and junior right-hander Jack Weisenburger allowed two runs adding to the deficit.
In the bottom of the eighth, Smith walked the first batter, Chase Bushor, on four consecutive pitches. Bushor then advanced to second base after a wild pitch. Four pitches later, Matthew Acosta singled up the middle, sending Bushor to third. At this moment, Michigan coach Erik Bakich saw fit to make another change, and Smith was replaced by Weisenburger.
Weisenberger was unable to stop the bleeding as the Trojans would score two additional runs off a sacrifice fly and another single to put the game to bed, 4-1.
“The relievers, it’s just who we feel good about in that situation against the opposing hitters that are coming up that have the best chance to put a zero up and get quick outs for us,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “And most of the time, it’s like any baseball game. You feel good about it going in, but sometimes, you don’t always get the call, or a guy bloops one in or a pitch isn’t executed or whatever happens happens.”
In a 3-2 loss to Oklahoma State on Sunday, Bakich got the call right as the relievers gave up just a single run.
Michigan’s traditional pillars of the program have been their defense and their pitching. Thus far this season, their hitting has been a pleasant surprise.
But, at the Dodgertown Classic, the relief pitching was a mixed bag and the bats fell flat. The Wolverines have lost four out of their last five on the West Coast, and the increased competition is a good measuring stick for Michigan against warmer-climate teams with more repetitions under their belt.
The relief pitching was solid Friday against UCLA with the exception of an outfield mistake that led to runs. Freshman right-hander Willie Weiss came in for junior left-hander Tommy Henry in the bottom of the seventh and was looking to close out the game up 6-2. Weiss got two outs, but had the bases were loaded before a misplayed ball in the outfield led to a bases-clearing triple for the Bruins. But this didn’t faze Weiss as he bounced back with consecutive 1-2-3 innings to close out the win.
“The relief pitching we got on Friday from Willie Weiss was really good,” Bakich said. “He got three outs and we dropped a pop-up in foul territory and as kinda what happens when you give good teams extra chances, they make you pay for it. Then the guy hit the bases-clearing triple but he actually (went through) that particular inning unscathed.
“I thought a huge moment in that game was where he showed some pretty good poise for a freshman after giving up three runs and having a really tough inning to come back pitch the eighth and the ninth scoreless. Put up zeros against an excellent UCLA team, maybe the best team in the country, so the relief pitching was good there.”
Relief pitching is a delicate mechanism, and the season is still in its infancy. But this facet of baseball can make or break teams, and a questionable bullpen is not an issue a team wants to have when competing for championships.
“We have some guys that need to mechanically iron out a few things,” Bakich said, “Haven’t gotten off to a great start but, you know, it’s early and there is plenty of season left and plenty of growth opportunities left for everyone, position players and pitchers alike.”