Against a strong team, changing things up is a common practice.
After losing in a heartbreak Friday night, the Michigan baseball team came out on Saturday with a different game plan.
For most of the season, the Wolverines’ bullpen has struggled to keep runners at bay, so on Saturday, Michigan coach Erik Bakich decided to switch things up and go with an opener to start the game for a second straight time. Instead of junior right-hander Cameron Weston, freshman right-hander Jake Keaser started the game — his first time filling a starting role.
But Keaser’s night ended after just two batters. After walking the first two hitters, he was replaced by another relief pitcher: junior left-hander Jacob Denner. Unfortunately for Denner, a single and a double in the second inning gave Maryland a lead and cut Denner’s night short.
The Wolverines (25-23 overall, 10-10 Big Ten) could not overcome the 18th-ranked Terrapins’ (40-10, 15-5) overpowering offense as they lost 20-6.
Bakich mentioned on Friday night his intention to change up the pitching rotation.
“I made this decision on Monday that we were going to flip the script a little bit and use openers,” Bakich said after Friday night’s game against Maryland. “We’re going to do the same thing tomorrow too. We’ve listed tomorrow as a TBA but we’re (still) looking at Weston to come in at some point in the game.”
Bakich stuck to his plan and started relief pitchers Keaser and Denner before he brought Weston in to relieve both of them.
Woefully, Denner gave up four runs in his 1.2 innings of work, putting Michigan at a 4-3 deficit before Weston saw a single batter.
When Weston eventually came into the game, he gave up a single to the first batter he faced that scored two more runs for the Terrapins. Following the single, he allowed a two-run opposite-field home run that put the Wolverines in a 7-3 hole before they got out of the second inning.
Michigan did inch back in the third inning behind a two-run home run by grad-transfer third baseman Matt Frey to cut the Maryland lead to two runs.
Nonetheless, an error that enabled another RBI single by the Terrapins scored two more for Maryland and extended its lead back to four. Ultimately, Weston gave up six runs in his four innings of work.
“You pinpoint it to the big three innings that they had,” Bakich said. “It’s a combination of a bunch of home runs, a lot of hard contact and they’re just a very good offensive team. They hit all of our mistakes.”
To make matters worse for the Wolverines, their bullpen could not prevent the bleeding. Graduate left-hander Angelo Smith came into the game with two runners on and one out in the seventh inning. He struggled to find the strike zone, walking the two batters he faced to bring in another run for the Terrapins.
Immediately after, Maryland third baseman Matt Shaw hit his third home run of the game, this time off freshman right-hander Avery Goldensoph’s first pitch with the bases loaded. This grand slam pushed the game way out of reach for Michigan as the Wolverines found themselves down 15-6.
“We’re in a really delicate spot,” Bakich said. “(Michigan pitchers) know what their ERA is. They see the lack of success (on the field). They’re good kids and they’re trying hard. We’re at a point where we just need to find a way to first qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.”
Goldensoph was left in the game for the eighth inning. The Terrapins appeared to take batting practice off of Goldensoph as they singled, doubled, and homered to score another five runs to pad their stats further.
“I just need to coach better,” Bakich said. “There’s no one else to point fingers at and we can’t be repeatedly blaming the pitching staff. It’s time to start blaming the head coach for this. I’ve got to figure it out.”
While Bakich attempted to limit the number of runs Michigan gave up later in the game, his pitching strategy appeared to backfire on Saturday.
With 17 pitchers taking the mound in the last week and continuing struggles by the bullpen, the Wolverines fall once again, losing another game — and another series — to a conference opponent.