Conjuring up a baseball lineup is all about flow and how each hitter can cash in on the success of those before them in the order. The strongest performances tend to come from the heart of the order: the three and four spots.
But in its 8-4 win over Bradley, the Michigan baseball team’s greatest contributions in the order were from the nine and one spots in the nine-men lineup — when the end of the lineup flips back to the top of the order. There, freshman center fielder Jonathan Kim and graduate shortstop Cody Jefferis combined for seven hits and three RBIs.
Both Kim and Jefferis entered the game on different trajectories. Kim launched his first career home run in the Wolverines’ midweek game against Xavier on Wednesday, building off the three hits in his five at-bats over the previous weekend. Jefferis, on the other hand, was struggling, only managing four hits in his six previous games combined.
Yet Michigan coach Tracy Smith was not concerned, attributing some of the hitting slump to bad luck.
“(Jefferis has) hit a lot of balls hard, so it’s nice to see that he’s getting some hits because he’s had, I think some of the hardest luck on a .239 hitter that I’ve seen,” Smith said. “But his at-bats have been good from the start of the season to now.”
And finally today, he got some much-needed good fortune. Leading off the Wolverines’ lineup, Jefferis took the first pitch he saw and turned it into a base hit. He walked in his second at-bat, advancing Kim, batting ninth, to second base after he singled, which became part of a pattern of connected hitting.
Kim went 4-for-4 with one RBI and a double, consistently providing Jefferis with a runner on-base as he stepped up to the plate. Jefferis attributed that to his improved hitting.
“It honestly makes it easier having guys in front of you that get on base and driving guys in,” Jefferis said. “It feels like it makes it easier just because you have trust in everybody else. It takes pressure off your own shoulders having to do things yourself, everybody’s doing it together. It’s pretty fun when that happens.”
And the fun continued for Michigan, as its complementary baseball helped stretch its lead to a peak lead of six runs before two ninth inning runs closed the final tally. For Kim specifically, Friday turned into another breakout performance to increase his chances of more playing time as a freshman.
“He wasn’t inserted in the lineup early,” Smith said. “He had kind of a typical progression as a freshman, wasn’t really ready early in the season. And when guys can sit back and watch the games, I think it slows it down for them. So you know, good for him because when we put him in there, he’s kind of like ‘hey, man, I’m going to go win a job.’ ”
With Kim continuing to improve his batting average, now up to .529, he is proving more reliable as the starting center fielder, a reflection of learning quickly since becoming a Wolverine.
“He can learn, he’s always into the game,” Smith said. “We talk about preparing to play, don’t wait to play, and he’s done a great job of preparing to play.”
Kim and Jefferis are both at opposite junctures of their college career — one just beginning and the other coming to a close at the end of the season. And they bat at opposite ends of the batting order too. But their 9-1 linkage in bookending the lineup and playing a significant role on Michigan this year can guide their team to Big Ten success, just as it did in the Wolverines’ win over the Braves.