Friday afternoon, a familiar scene unfolded at Ray Fisher Stadium. The Michigan baseball team (3-0 Big Ten, 14-11 overall) poured onto the field to congratulate junior reliever William Tribucher on closing out the Wolverines’ tenth straight victory, 6-2 over Delaware (2-1 CAA, 13-10).
Tribucher, who sports a 1.04 ERA in five appearances during the streak, finished the game with a perfect ninth. But it was sophomore left-hander Tommy Henry who stole the show with just two runs in his eight innings of work.
“He works quick, he throws strikes, he attacks the zone, he executes his pitches,” coach Erik Bakich said. “If I was playing defense behind him, I’d be fired up because he’s in complete command of what he’s doing.”
After giving up a wall-scraping home run to lead off the second, Henry responded by allowing just four baserunners over the next six innings, while his offense provided a six-run cushion.
The eighth inning proved a slight challenge, as two Blue Hen singles scored a run before a two-out walk put the tying run on-deck. Henry had already thrown 92 pitches, but Bakich’s faith in his starter paid off, as the righty induced a lazy fly ball to sophomore right fielder Christian Bullock to finish his day.
“I think it’s that relentless attack on the strike zone (that allowed him to go eight innings),” Bakich said. “He doesn’t walk people, he doesn’t get in many three-ball counts, and he forces contact. … Kept his pitch count low and we were able to run him out there for a career high.”
Added Henry: “We just tried to attack early. Coach Fedder stressed it before the game that we want to get ahead of guys, and they’re gonna swing early in the count, so we tried to give them pitches we want them to hit early in the count, and the defense was masterful.”
Offensively, Michigan only managed four hits — all singles. Instead, it relied on timely hitting and aggressive baserunning to put six runs on the board.
“We won the game because of outstanding starting pitching by Tommy Henry and being aggressive on the bases,” Bakich said.
Three of the Wolverines’ four hits came in their three-run second. A would-be double play was wiped off the board by a catcher’s interference before freshman left fielder Jordan Nwogu’s sacrifice fly tied the game. Senior catcher Brock Keener and freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren followed that up with back-to-back RBI singles.
Three innings later, Michigan put up another three-spot, this time despite no hits in the inning. Three consecutive walks loaded the bases before two sac flies and a wild pitch scored all three runners.
“It was the little things,” Bakich said. “Like taking second base on an outfield throw to the plate, trail runners tagging up when the defense is attacking the lead runner, all those things to get into scoring position.
“To push the envelope and try to score on two shallow sac flies and a wild pitch that barely kicks out of the circle. Those all contributed to putting up that three spot in the fifth inning, because that could have very easily been a zero.”
One of the bright spots for the Wolverines offensively was junior third baseman Blake Nelson, who went 2-for-4 with a run out of the clean-up spot. The junior college transfer is hitting .295 since being moved into the starting lineup twelve games ago and .318 in six games batting clean-up.
“We feel good about (junior second basman) Ako (Thomas) and Bullock and (junior centerfielder Jonathan) Engelmann at the top,” Bakich said, “and wanted a guy that was going to make contact and knock some guys over when those opprtunities presented themselves.
“He’s a guy that’s gonna give you quality at-bats, he’s a tough out, he can hit and run, he can bunt, he can steal, he can handle the bat.”
While Nelson’s performance was another in a solid string of outings, Bakich wants to see more out of the rest of his lineup this weekend.
“For whatever reason,” Bakich said, “we had a lot of weak contact in hitters counts and we’re gonna have to make that adjustment tomorrow.”
That’s tomorrow. Today, Michigan is celebrating its tenth straight win.