Michigan bench gains useful experience in blowout win
While the Michigan baseball team’s 12-0 victory over Toledo (0-3 Mid-American Conference, 5-19 overall) was just another day at the office for the starters, it was an eye-opening game for the Wolverines’ bench.
“It’s two-fold,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “Number one, it helps them because it gives them repetitions and opportunities to compete. And number two, it gives the starters, who have been in there every inning of every game, a little bit of a breather … We want to be able to take advantage of that and keep those guys fresh for the entire year.”
Once the Wolverines (1-2 Big Ten, 18-6 overall) took a substantial lead, Bakich decided to use the comfortable margin to play some players who had just a few appearances this season. Five fielders — who had just 10 appearances combined prior to Tuesday — were substituted in the game.
The standout bench player was junior catcher Brock Keener, who came in to relieve junior catcher Drew Lugbauer behind the plate. In just his second at-bat in a Michigan uniform, Keener notched his first hit as a Wolverine with a single through the right side, earning his first run batted in as well.
Keener’s hit earned Michigan’s 10th run and propelled the Wolverines to tack on two more before the end of the inning.
“Everything matters,” Keener said. “Not saying practice doesn’t matter, but you contribute towards the wins and losses. The game’s sped up a little bit and instead of playing against your team, everybody’s all going towards the same mission.”
But besides Keener, the bench’s hitting was off the mark.
Redshirt freshman infielder George Hewitt appeared in just two games this season and had only one at-bat previously. His inexperience showed when he struck out twice.
While the field didn’t experience much action due to the lack of offense in the Rockets’ lineup, there was still an opportunity to see new pitchers go to work.
Freshman right-hander Karl Kauffman made three appearances for Michigan prior to the game’s matchup, but had his best game yet against Toledo. He came in to relieve junior right-hander Jayce Vancena on the bump at the start of the sixth inning.
Kauffman opened action against the Rockets with three straight strikeouts to retire the side. Immediately, he earned a new career high in strikeouts per game — a record he would add to in the next inning.
He has appeared in 3.1 innings this season and almost doubled that in one outing by pitching 2.0 more Tuesday.
With the last two innings approaching and Toledo unlikely to make a comeback, the Wolverines brought in redshirt sophomore left-hander Grant Reuss.
Reuss had pitched in just 1.1 innings this season, but has managed to make his mark in what little playing time he has received. He had four strikeouts this season and added two more in the one inning that he pitched.
“Grant Reuss looked very good in his inning,” Bakich said. “He’s a junior now and really struggled with command his first couple years, and he’s done a very nice job of commanding his fastball in all the outings that he’s had so far this season.
“He’s a guy that is very much improved and looks very good out there on the mound.”
While it remains to be seen when these reserves will see the field again, experiences like the one they got against Toledo could prove to be vital as the season progresses.