This season, senior infielder Blake Nelson has the second-best batting average, the third most doubles and is tied for the fewest walks from batters with more than 50 at-bats on the Michigan baseball team.
Though Nelson was the opening-day starter at third base after playing at that position most of last year, he had a flaw — his defense.
In just the second game of the season, Nelson made a mistake. And then another, and another, and another; he had four errors that day — two throwing, two fielding. He was a liability.
That liability was quickly taken care of. Nelson didn’t play the next game, and was the designated hitter for the next series, a placeholder while junior outfielder Dominic Clementi was recovering from an abdominal sprain he suffered early in the season. When Clementi returned, Nelson had one pinch-hitting opportunity in seven games and he struck out.
Nelson was relegated to covering shifts. He didn’t play in big games and only got the opportunity to prove himself when senior infielder Ako Thomas’ nagging injury deemed that the second baseman would need a weekend to rest.
In his first game in two weeks against Manhattan, he went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two doubles.
“He had a great night,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich after the game against the Jaspers. “It’s even more special because he hasn’t played in a while and it would be very easy for him to come out and use the lack of playing time as a reason for not being in a rhythm to do well, but he’s been a great teammate even when he’s not in there. It’s great for a guy to have success because of the type of teammate that he is.”
Added Nelson: “It starts with our team. We’re all bought in for win. Whether that’s warming up with the outfielders, doing the chart or playing in the game. It doesn’t really matter, we all know our roles and we’re all ready to come in when our number is called.”
It wasn’t a fluke. Over the next three games, Nelson hit at a .583 clip with five RBIs.
“We saw that this weekend, he’s going to be a hard guy to keep out of the lineup,” Bakich said. “I really like what Blake brings from an energy standpoint, and offensively he just brings a knack for quality at-bats and making hard contacts. He delivered some clutch hits.”
Unless Nelson experiences another drastic collapse of defensive competence, a replacement won’t be needed for a while. His two competitors — Thomas and Clementi — have two of the worst batting and slugging percentages on the team and are both plagued by injuries, the same reason Nelson got his chance in the first place.
Meanwhile, Nelson has been firing on all cylinders. His defense has been nearly impeccable — just two more errors — and his offense has been invaluable, hitting .377 with 14 RBIs since the game against Manhattan. Even if there were people to take his spot they would be hard pressed to replicate his performances.