When something doesn’t work, you change it.
When it still doesn’t work, you keep making changes in order to find the solution.
Michigan softball was searching for a solution this past weekend. The problem: an uncharacteristic lack of offensive production. The solution: making changes to the lineup.
Going into the weekend, the Wolverines were averaging 5.22 runs per game, a respectable number by any measure. But in the first three games of the Gamecock Invitational, Michigan only managed to put up two runs. Total.
“We didn’t do a real good job at the plate of swinging well and swinging free,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said.
It was no coincidence that in those three games, the Wolverines suffered their first two losses of the season. Their only win on the weekend came from a 1-0 victory over Liberty, held together by pitching and defense.
Hutchins knew something needed to change.
“We moved people around as we’re trying to find something to spark our offense,” Hutchins said.
Some sparks were found.
Senior Abby Skvarce found a place in the batting order as designated player and left fielder, previously only getting a chance as a pinch hitter. Skvarce hit .333 on the weekend in her new role.
Senior Thais Gonzalez was also able to find success, producing for Michigan wherever she was placed in the lineup. Gonzalez showed versatility by hitting in the eighth, ninth and second spot in the batting order over the four game slate. The final game was the one in which she took up the most responsibility by batting second, and still she produced, batting 1-for-2 with one run in the game.
Another notable adjustment came from freshman second baseman Julia Jimenez moving into the lead-off position ahead of struggling outfielder Lexie Blair. The sophomore is hitting just .175 this season — a stark contrast to her .406 average a year ago.
Here, the Wolverines may have found one solution.
“Juju (Jimenez) I thought did a really nice job,” Hutchins said. “Juju didn’t make it any bigger than it was. Which was, ‘I’m batting.’ She doesn’t care when.”
Jimenez echoed Hutchins’ thoughts:
“I just have to be on my A-game. No matter what happens, I just have to keep rolling with it and just do my best to stay up there. Just help my team out.”
Skvarce, Gonzalez and Jimenez were responsible for 10 of the team’s 20 hits on the weekend as well as three of its seven runs. Each member of the trio — whether they were a starter before this weekend or not — found themselves in a new position in the lineup. With their new positions came new roles, and they delivered.
That was the purpose of Hutchins’ changes — move players around and see what works. So with Skvarce, Gonzalez and Jimenez producing in new spots, one could reasonably expect them to remain there.
For Hutchins though, it’s not that simple. Because although there were sparks, they didn’t start a fire.
The Wolverines finished the weekend 1-3, and they only scored more than one run in the final game. The trio made a positive impact, but the entire puzzle wasn’t complete.
“I don’t think there’s any right answers or not,” Hutchins said. “You know when our offense definitely isn’t clicking, it’s definitely difficult to know who to put where. … We’re going to continue to give people different looks and different opportunities.
“The people that can handle it and compete when they’re called upon are those who are going to end up with it.”
New opportunities bring new changes to the lineup. Hutchins is prepared for that. She knows that eventually, the lineup will settle, but now is not that time.
Now, Michigan needs solutions. And for solutions, it needs change.