Michigan’s early season struggles continue in series against Stanford

Sunday, March 4, 2018 - 11:49pm

Tommy Henry was one pitcher who earned praise from head coach Erik Bakich.

Tommy Henry was one pitcher who earned praise from head coach Erik Bakich. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

A spring break tour that was so promising two weeks ago finally came to an end Sunday as the Wolverines (3-8 overall) lost to No. 8 Stanford (11-1) by a score of 7-4.

The trip had not only offered Michigan the chance to finally play some meaningful baseball after a long offseason, but also to escape from the winter weather. After a quick three game series in Florida against Army, the Wolverines traveled west to California, where they participated in the Tony Gwynn Legacy tournament, played a game against San Diego State and then wrapped up with a four game series against the Cardinal.

The Californian portion of the trip was particularly dismal for the Wolverines, with the 3-1 series loss to Stanford capping off a tough start to the season.

Michigan only recorded two hits in a 7-0 shutout loss Friday. Striking out twelve times and stranding all three of their baserunners, the Wolverines weren’t able to get anything going offensively against Stanford’s starter Tristan Beck.

If you can’t score, you can’t win. Michigan’s pitching staff faced an uphill battle all night long. With that being said, the Wolverines’ number one, senior Alec Rennard, didn’t pitch his best game. In five innings of work, he let up six hits and had four earned runs. Junior reliever Troy Miller also saw time, allowing two runs on two hits.

Saturday’s early matchup was a much closer affair though. In fact, Michigan was up 2-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth, when freshman Jeff Criswell gave up a walk-off three run homer to Stanford’s Tim Tawa. The ending wasn’t indicative of the Wolverines’ overall performance. Sophomore lefty Tommy Henry allowed only five hits in seven shutout innings.

Coming off the back of the demoralizing loss earlier in the day, Michigan bounced back to a degree in Saturday’s second game. Sophomores Karl Kauffman and Jack Weisenburger showed just what the Wolverine pitching staff is capable of, allowing three hits combined as they shutout the Cardinal in a 5-0 win.

“Tommy Henry and Karl Kaufmann pitched really well Saturday,” said coach Erik Bakich. The most important thing for them is to throw their off-speed pitches for strikes. When you get in to an extended outing, for Tommy and Karl to pitch deep into the game they need to throw multiple pitches for strikes, and that’s exactly what they did. Very encouraging signs for sure.”

Offensively, shortstop Jack Blomgren had two RBIs on two hits, while senior catcher Brock Keener scored twice. Michigan also took advantage of four errors on the part of the Cardinal defense.

If Saturday’s second game showcased the best of the Wolverine’s pitching staff, Sunday’s loss  accomplished the exact opposite. Excluding a great performance by freshman Ben Dragani, who didn’t allow a hit in four innings, Michigan’s pitching was at times mediocre. Senior Jayce Vancena allowed five hits and four earned runs in just over an inning of work. Junior Will Tribucher didn’t fare much better, as he walked three people and allowed a run in relief of Vancena. On the other side of Dragani’s performance, junior Jack Bredeson also struggled before the team turned to freshman Angelo Smith to pitch the eighth inning.

“Yeah Jayce didn’t have a good day,” Bakich said. “It was just as simple as that. He’s one of our starting pitchers, he’s one of our better guys. In order for our team to have a good season, we’re going to need him to be good. I would say today was just more a fluke than anything else.”

The Wolverines out-hit Stanford but were unable to turn their baserunners into runs for the most part. Redshirt junior outfielder Miles Lewis led the way going 2-3 with 2 RBIs and a run. Ako Thomas, Michigan’s most prolific hitter in the series, also went 2-4 and scored on an RBI groundout by junior outfielder Jonathan Engelmann.

A series loss to the eighth-ranked team in the country wasn’t necessarily unexpected for the relatively young and inexperienced Wolverines. The team showed obvious improvement over the course of the series, and played much better than they had in their first four games in sunny California.

Michigan's start to the season is clearly worrisome, but as they return to Ann Arbor, optimism is still in the air.

“I think (the team) is encouraged,” Bakich said. “We were a couple plays away from being 3-1 this weekend instead of 1-3.

“We challenged ourselves. I just looked at the schedule numbers, we have the number one strength of schedule in the country. For a young team with a lot of guys who haven’t gotten a lot of repetitions, this (trip) has been good. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got really hot because of getting punched in the mouth over the past couple of weeks.”