As freshman outfielder Clark Elliot stood on first base with one out in the top of the ninth last Friday against then-No. 1 Vanderbilt, fifth-year senior infielder Matthew Schmidt walked from the on-deck circle to the right-handed batter’s box as the go-ahead run.
Two pitches later, every hitter’s favorite sound resonated throughout Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. as Schmidt sent a 1-1 fastball from Vanderbilt junior right-hander Troy Brown skyward, launching the ball over the left field fence for his first career home run.
“It was kind of a surreal experience,” Schmidt said.
The Wolverines went on to win their College World Series rematch with Vanderbilt, 4-3, in large part thanks to Schmidt’s go-ahead blast.
Given that Schmidt hit in the seven spot against the Commodores, the long ball wasn’t necessarily expected. It was indicative of the bottom third of the lineup’s production from the weekend.
“One through nine we can all provide pop,” Schmidt said. “It doesn’t really matter if it comes from the three-hole or whatever position you are in the lineup. I think our team has a dynamic like that. It doesn’t really matter who it is, we can all provide pop like that.”
Schmidt contributed two RBI when he barrelled up Troy Brown’s fastball, but this was far from the only strong swing from the bottom third of Michigan’s lineup. In fact, the Wolverines’ seven, eight and nine hitters accounted for nine of the 15 RBI Michigan accrued in its four games last weekend.
It is always helpful for a team’s bottom third of the lineup to contribute to the offense, but Michigan’s current situation makes it particularly important.
Much of the Wolverines’ production from the 2019 season — 129 RBI to be exact — left the team when Jordan Brewer and Jimmy Kerr went to the minor leagues. And with junior centerfielder Jesse Franklin — the favorite to fill the cleanup spot — currently injured, the Wolverines are certainly thankful for any production their bottom third can bring to the table.
Aside from Schmidt, freshman designated hitter and noted power threat Jimmy Obertop is another potential contributor. The promising freshman flashed his power stroke with a double against the Commodores and has repeatedly drawn praise from teammates and coaches alike.
“I made the mistake of shoving Jesse Franklin up in the four-hole his freshman year — probably not smart on my part to put those kinds of expectations on a young kid,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “We did that again to Jimmy Obertop against Vanderbilt in the fall game, put him in the four-hole — that was a nice four-strikeout game.”
Bakich’s self-deprecating tone indicated that he doesn’t plan on moving the young slugger far away from his current place in the eighth slot in the immediate future. And as long as Obertop occupies the bottom third, Bakich thinks he will have a productive hitter in that slot.
“I like the fact that he’s got big juice in his bat,” Bakich said. “He can hit a double or extra-base hit at any time, really put a charge into a ball, very mature approach for a young kid.”
While the seventh, eighth and ninth slots are not where teams expect to see the bulk of their production, Michigan will take offense from whatever source it can.
After all, the cleanup hitter isn’t always the one making the walk to the batter’s box with the game on the line.