It seems unlikely that a pitcher with over 546 career innings, 789 strikeouts and a career earned-run average below two entering her senior season could make a big improvement.
But in the early season, Michigan right-hander Megan Betsa has done just that — looking to stamp her legacy as one of the greatest pitchers in Michigan history with an improbable breakout senior season.
With 19 games in the books — and notably having faced some of the strongest opposition she will face all year, with five starts against ranked opponents already — Betsa is heading toward career bests across the board. Her ERA, 1.69, would be a career best, as would the 350-plus strikeouts she is on pace for.
The low ERA and high strikeout total, though, are nothing new for the pitcher, as she’s been productive in those areas her entire career.
Coming off a fall season in which she did not pitch due to lingering injuries, Michigan’s ace did not rest on her laurels, setting out to lower her walk total and pitch count in order to allow her to throw more innings. So far, the improvements have been evident.
Her 27 walks through 66 innings put her on pace for the lowest output since her freshman year, when she threw just 130 innings total. Betsa’s strikeout-to-walk ratio now sits at 4.26, a number that would exceed her career-best by a full strikeout (3.20 in 2015).
“We talked a little bit this past trip about not trying to nit-pick the corners so much, and just spin the ball over the plate,” Betsa said. “Because as long as it’s spinning it’s still gonna move and they’ll still have a tough time hitting it. So not trying to be so perfect on the corners.”
Perhaps the most notable development with Betsa, however, is the optimism about her durability going forward.
Taking off time in the fall, she and Michigan coach Carol Hutchins believed, would be the best way to assure her health for the postseason. In a sport whose postseason can be controlled by one pitcher throwing virtually every game, Betsa will be the Wolverines’ most valuable weapon as they head deeper into the season. And by all accounts, that rest period has served its purpose.
“I don’t feel as fatigued as I did, per se, last year at this time,” Betsa said. “So I think that’s something positive to keep in mind. All those pitches I didn’t throw in the fall, I still have them to throw now.”
And Michigan will need every single one of those pitches.
With the offense struggling mightily in recent weeks, Betsa has been responsible for leading the team through some of its struggles. Against No. 20 Arizona State on March 2, Betsa had to nurse a 1-0 lead for the majority of the game. The lack of run support didn’t faze her, as she carried the Wolverines to victory with a dominant 16-strikeout complete game.
“Our pitching keeps us in the game,” Hutchins said. “That’s kinda their role.”
No one would have faulted Betsa for being content with the production that ranks her comfortably among the best pitchers in school history.
According to Hutchins, that’s just not who Megan Betsa is.
“She is a perfectionist,” Hutchins said in her season-opening press conference. “Her own worst enemy.”
But with a newfound combination of dominance and efficiency, it might be that perfectionism that has lifted an already-dominant pitcher to new heights early in her senior season.