Kelly Christner’s new stance at the plate takes some time to get used to.
From the left-hander’s batter box, the senior outfielder starts with her bat out in front of the plate — almost as if she’s preparing to drop down a bunt. But then, just as the opposing pitcher is winding up, she pulls her hands back and waits for the pitch.
That approach, which is meant to improve timing, has helped Christner climb out of a brutal 10-game stretch, one in which she hit 6-for-29 (.208) with just two runs batted-in and no extra base hits.
“She went to it on her own,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “She went to it a little bit last year because timing is her issue.
“I moved her down because she wasn’t hitting well. If she stays consistent then I’ll certainly consider (moving her up).”
Despite a team-leading batting average over .400, Christner was dropped down from the top of the order to the seventh spot in the lineup last Saturday against Penn State — a move that didn’t surprise the centerfielder even with the team’s triple crown in hand.
“I had some games when I wasn’t really hitting well and other people were,” Christner said. “(Hutchins) is going to move it around by who is hot at that time, so I wasn’t really surprised by it.”
But the relief of pressure that comes with hitting in the bottom third of the lineup didn’t help Christner immediately break out of her slump. In that series against the Nittany Lions, she was held to only one hit, finishing the trio of games 1-for-5.
Then, in a trip to Central Michigan on Tuesday, Christner finally broke through her slump. Setting her hands in front of the plate, she pulled back and blasted a solo homerun off the top of the right field-wall — her first extra-base hit in over two weeks. Later in the game, she notched an RBI single to supply the entirety of the Wolverines’ run production in a 2-0 win.
On Friday against Northwestern, her rebound continued, as Christner plated four baserunners via an RBI single and double.
In her last four contests, Christner is batting .636 with six RBI and two extra-base hits — a stark contrast to her previous dismal stretch.
“My main thing is getting in my legs and having rhythm, and (the batting stance) really helps me with that,” Christner said.
Hitting close to .500 with power through the first month of the season, Christner anchored the top of the Wolverines’ batting order early on, driving in runs with consistency from the third and fourth spots.
But with Christner in the seventh spot, Michigan has scored 50 runs in seven straight wins, proving her potency throughout the batting order.
Her production, coupled with the emergences of junior designated player Amanda Vargas and sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield, made Hutchins comfortable with the current lineup.
“This lineup has gotten us a lot of runs,” Hutchins. “She’s pretty comfortable down there — we’re hiding her. It’s nice to get in that part of the order and look who is up.
“I count on Kelly Christner. If the seniors don’t have good weekends, we’re not going to have one. Your best players have to contribute regularly.”
With the new mechanics at the plate, the consistency that Christner brought to the lineup early on seems to have emerged once again. And considering Michigan’s success with its current lineup, perhaps Christner is where she belongs.
It might look odd, but her new stance is what might help to carry Christner and, in turn, the Michigan offense.