By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 29, 2014
Midweek games have been an Achilles heel of the Michigan baseball team.
Going into Tuesday against Oakland University, the Wolverines hadn’t won one since April 2 against Central Michigan University, losing three in a row since. And though Michigan finally ended the drought by defeating the Golden Grizzlies, 3-1, Michigan coach Erik Bakich was still disappointed.
“We haven’t played very well in midweeks, and we didn’t play very well today,” Bakich said. “We’re certainly at a point in the season where we’ll take every win we can get, and we’ll certainly take this one today. Whether it was ugly or pretty, it doesn’t matter — we’ll take it.”
Senior right-hander Ben Ballantine started on the mound for the Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 20-24-1 overall). In his last five appearances, Ballantine has given up 17 hits and 12 runs, well below the expected level for someone who was supposed to be Michigan’s weekend ace earlier in the season. Despite a turbulent midseason, Ballantine pitched 5.0 innings, his longest outing since March 16 against Kent State.
Ballantine had a rough fourth inning, when Oakland’s first two batters led off with singles, and the leadoff man crossed the plate after just seven pitches. That would be the only run of the game for the Grizzlies (2-13 Horizon League, 7-24 overall) though — Ballantine threw one more inning, giving up three hits and two walks in total.
According to Ballantine, his slightly improved Tuesday performance lifted a huge weight off his shoulders because he has struggled to get back on track in the recent month.
“There’s a problem in admitting that, because I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time the past five weeks or so just worrying about things outside of my control, like mechanics or what the coaches think,” Ballantine said. “But one thing that remains consistent is my work ethic and my focus on getting better.”
On the other side, Michigan’s offense went a combined 5-for-26 at the plate. The Wolverines had a lot of mental mistakes and wasted several scoring opportunities, one of which came in the third inning, when Oakland right-hander Tyler Palm threw 19 balls.
With the bases loaded, Palm threw a passed ball that scored junior first baseman Kendall Patrick. But with runners on second and third, the next three Wolverine batters couldn’t find the timely hit and all struck out swinging.
Later in the seventh with two outs, sophomore second baseman Jacob Cronenworth hit a triple to left field that Trent Drumheller couldn’t catch on the slide. After a walk from junior center fielder Jackson Glines, freshman designated hitter Carmen Benedetti flew out to left field and couldn’t bring in Cronenworth.
Michigan left seven runners on base and had no RBI, and the Wolverines’ three runs came solely from two passed balls and a wild pitch with a runner on third.
“We were fortunate to score three runs on three passed balls,” Bakich said. “But I thought we didn’t compete and give our best effort today.”
But scoring on passed balls is the not the type of fortune Michigan is going to want this weekend against Northwestern, the Big Ten’s worst team. According to Bakich, the necessary improvements on offense are going to come from a mental readjustment.
“As a coach that’s frustrating,” Bakich said. “We’ve just got to do a better job. At no point in the season is it past the point of trying to get better.”