The Michigan baseball team shuffled its lineup on Tuesday and let junior Johnny Slater hit eighth in the rotation, and the move turned out to be beneficial for the Wolverines.
Slater, in his first appearance at Ray Fisher stadium this season, knocked in two runs with a double to left-center field in the bottom of the second inning.
“It felt good,” Slater said. “I’ve been working on my swing, and it’s starting to feel better. We don’t worry too much on who we’re playing, we just focus on us.”
Slater’s double allowed sophomore designated hitter Drew Lugbauer and senior centerfielder Cody Bruder to make it home safely. Then, the junior right fielder scored as well, and the inning finished out with a run by Jake Bivens, leaving the score 5-0.
That hot start, as well as Slater’s strong home debut, helped the Wolverines to defeat Central Michigan on Tuesday, 9-7.
Junior pitcher Keith Lehmann contributed to Michigan’s hot start after throwing a quick first two innings. It was the first time he’s started at home, but that didn’t phase him.
“Regardless of the role, I don’t look at it as starting is bigger than coming out of the bullpen,” Lehmann said. “It’s the same thing and you prepare the same way. I thought everything was totally fine. It was enjoyable to be out there for an extended period of time.”
The only hiccup in his performance was a wild pitch that hit Chippewa second baseman Jason Sullivan in the cheek. Sullivan quickly went down and it took a couple minutes before he was able to stand up and walk off he field. Sullivan’s classmate Jarrod Watkins pinch ran for Sullivan to first.
“That was not what I wanted to do,” Lehmann said. “I don’t know what happened. It looked like (Sullivan) didn’t see it. I clearly wasn’t trying to do that, so I went up and apologized. But that’s baseball, it happens.”
Michigan coach Erik Bakich, following the hit, took out Lehmann — the first of six pitching substitutions.
According to Lehmann, that’s the beauty of the Wolverine pitching staff. Every athlete is able to come out of the bullpen and be effective on the mound. It helps that Michigan is strong offensively, too.
“It’s fantastic,” Lehmann said. “The team itself, offensively, this year is a very good offensive team. No matter who you are as a pitcher, if you have a good hitting team, it makes your job a lot easier.”
In the top of the third inning, Central Michigan scored its first runs when sophomore Zach McKinstry doubled to left field and batted in two runs.
Michigan (16-5) has played the Chippewas (5-20) every year since 1991, compiling an overall record of 39-28 and the Wolverines have won the last six consecutive games. And despite a bind in the seventh inning, this contest was no different.
Michigan allowed Central Michigan to the game at six in the bottom of the seventh. But after two stolen bases, a run on a wild pitch and a single RBI, the Wolverines scored three runs to assure the Chippewas’ defeat.
Junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti and fifth-year senior left fielder Matt Ramsay stole second and third, respectively. Following the play, junior catcher Harrison Wenson flew out to right field, allowing Ramsay to make a run. Benedetti soon scored on a wild pitch to make it 8-6.
Wenson, who is the cleanup hitter, went 0-3 at bat, but still managed to keep his batting average at .400. The slump comes after an impressive weekend, but according to Bakich, “That’s baseball.”
The final run of the game by the Wolverines came when junior shortstop Michael Brdar hit a RBI down the right-field line to let sophomore designated hitter Drew Lugbauer score.
“We have a team that knows how to find a way and respond,” Bakich said. “We know you’re going to get knocked down and you’re going to have to get back up, which is what we’ve done.”