Right away, Harrison Wenson made it known that he was going to bring power to the middle of the Michigan baseball team’s lineup. He hit four out of Michigan’s first six home runs to start the season and is maintaining a .606 slugging percentage.
But as for the rest of the team, home runs have been hard to come by. Heading into conference play last weekend, junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti, the No. 3 hitter for the Wolverines, had only hit one. The only other player on the team with a homer was sophomore first baseman Drew Lugbauer — and his came on a line drive inside-the-parker.
In fact, for a team that has climbed to a 21-6 record and garnered enough attention to earn a spot in all five major top-25 polls this week, the power numbers were shockingly low. The Wolverines were tied for 254th out of 300 teams in the country in home runs and 11th in the Big Ten.
But last Friday, the Wolverines began to show signs of big-swing potential. That day, fifth-year senior outfielder Matt Ramsay belted three dingers in one game. Michael Brdar added to that trend with a long bomb on a large field at Notre Dame.
The Wolverines have been racking up runs — they have scored five runs or more in each of their last 10 games — but only recently has the team started to put a few over the fence.
“We trust that if our power guys are doing a good job with their approach and only swinging at pitches that they can drive … then the power numbers will take care of themselves,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich.
One of those “power guys” to whom Bakich is referring is Lugbauer, who is in the midst of a breakout campaign.
Lugbauer, who stands at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, has been hitting balls hard since his freshman season. But unfortunately for him, many would-be doubles and triples went right at opposing fielders, which resulted in a disappointing .211 batting average in 2015.
In the last week, however, it has looked as if Lugbauer can be a guy to step up and supply some muscle for the Wolverines.
Tuesday against the Irish, he hit a two-run triple that Bakich said would’ve cleared the fence at Ray Fisher Stadium. When the Wolverines returned home the following day, Lugbauer seized the opportunity and hit two home runs — both well over the right-field fence. A third ball he hit, this time to right-center, had a shot to clear as well, but a leaping catch at the wall denied him the chance to match Ramsay’s three-homer performance from a week ago.
But neither Bakich nor Lugbauer seemed to be at all surprised by the lefty’s big day against Bowling Green.
“It’s kind of awesome … I guess I’ll take it,” Lugbauer said with a shrug about his performance on Wednesday.
Lugbauer is not the only one who has been heating up. Benedetti, a preseason All-American, has batted at a consistent .344 average and gotten on base in 50 percent of his plate appearances. Despite hitting only one home run so far this season, Benedetti is a big hitter with a capability to change a game with one swing.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, because it’s working,” Lugbauer said. “Home runs come, and if we keep swinging the bats and hitting the ball hard, good things will happen.”
Though Michigan has won 10 of its last 11 games, the wins all came against teams with losing records. In the last two weeks, the Wolverines have swept UIC (11-16) and Northwestern (7-22), and rattled off single-game wins against Central Michigan (5-23) and Bowling Green (11-18).
Michigan asserted its dominance and looked impressive in each of these contests, but against a 15-11 Notre Dame team, the Wolverines had a chance to get a quality win against a legitimate Atlantic Coast Conference contender. Instead, they fell, 9-5.
Their upcoming schedule won’t be as forgiving. This weekend, Michigan plays Minnesota (16-10) — which has won six of its last eight and won its first Big Ten series of the year against Iowa.
With conference play starting to heat up, the Wolverines could use an extra boost. If the hard swings continue, Michigan believes that eventually, the balls will carry, and a surging offense could provide just that.