Plenty has been said about Michigan’s pitchers.
Junior right-hander Alex Storako and senior left-hander Meghan Beaubien have been outstanding. The two pitched all but one-third of an inning in the Wolverines’ opening weekend set of six games. Combined, they only allowed three earned runs.
But as many strikes as the pitchers throw, there always has to be someone behind the plate to catch it. They’re not just one end of an exchange, they’re partners.
“Well, the catcher and the pitcher really have a special relationship, and it’s something that develops, obviously, in the bullpen,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
That relationship between catcher and pitcher isn’t only special, it’s crucial, and for Storako and Beaubien — it’s committed.
Junior Hannah Carson joined the team in 2019, Storako’s freshman year and Beaubien’s sophomore year, though she didn’t play much until the following season. At this point, they’re more than just well connected. Still, Carson keeps it simple when it comes to preparing her partners for a game.
“I just try to give them confidence,” Carson said. “I’m the one that’s supporting them. I just want to make sure that there’s a trust between the both of us. I usually just tell them that they’re the best, they got this and just pump them up before games.”
But Carson’s approach behind the plate isn’t so simple. She has come to know the different tendencies of Storako and Beaubien down to their every pitch.
Obviously, throwing with different arms leads to differences in pitching that Carson must adjust for, but it goes beyond that. Storako’s pitches generally have a little more rise to them, while Beaubien’s drop off more. With Carson’s many hours of experience with them, she’s got it nailed down to even the slightest differences in the pitchers’ changeups.
As with any healthy relationship, the support goes both ways. In Michigan’s first weekend outing, Carson had an uncharacteristically inconsistent showing as the backstop. Storako, seeing the issues Carson was facing, quickly assumed the role of hype-man that Carson often does for her to help lift her catcher out of that mindset.
“We see moments of them helping each other,” Hutchins said. “ … Storako called her out and, you know, pumped her up a little bit. But yeah, they work together as a unit.”
Carson’s job does not end with Storako and Beaubien. There are three other pitchers on the roster that the Wolverines are going to need innings from if they want to succeed in this season’s format.
The three other arms include sophomores Lauren Esman and Chandler Dennis along with senior right-hander Sarah Schaeffer. With the sophomores’ lack of experience and Schaeffer not seeing the circle much since her second season, Carson can’t approach them the same way she approaches Storako and Beaubien.
“I just slow the game down for them,” Carson said. “They’re not out there as much as (Beaubien) and (Storako) sometimes so I’ll just walk out to them, walk back to behind the plate slowly, just kind of take my time make sure they’re taking their time. Keep their energy under control and just make sure they’re taking a breath in between each pitch.”
While Carson is generally the one controlling the game from behind the plate, there is a new face that’s beginning to get reps and build her own relationships with the pitchers. Freshman Keke Tholl saw some game time last weekend and even a brief start.
Going forward, it’s going to take both backstops to rally their pitchers and complete the pitching circuit to propel Michigan’s game past where it currently lies.