The Michigan baseball team lost some firepower from its pitching staff to the MLB draft and graduation last season, but that hasn’t seemed to be a problem in the 2016 preseason.
The Wolverines, who are ranked as the No. 15 team in the nation according to Baseball America, are looking to improve on the mound after finishing 79th in Division I with a 3.81 team-earned run average last season.
To lead this charge, Michigan will rely especially on senior left-hander Evan Hill, who missed the first two months of last season recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. In the 38 innings he was able to pitch last season, he managed to fan 37 batters. His most remarkable performance came in the NCAA Tournament against Bradley, allowing only one run and striking out six in 6.2 innings.
After finishing strong last season, but missing out on the MLB draft, Hill pitched in the Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer and finished with a 5-0 record and a 1.80 ERA. Hill is anxious to get on the mound and be at full strength for his final season.
“The rehab was frustrating, not being able to get out there and help out in the ball games,” Hill said. “I feel comfortable now. I’m healthy and I couldn’t be happier.”
Hill credits pitching coach Sean Kenny for helping all of the pitchers improve their mechanics and watching game film with them.
“(Kenny) is there to make sure we are all on the same page,” Hill said. “We take the same approach going into every season: Stay relaxed, throw a lot of strikes and put the pressure on (the batters).”
The Wolverines also return their ace in junior left-hander Brett Adcock, who finished last season 10-4 with a 3.10 ERA in 17 starts. In 90 innings pitched, Adcock struck out an impressive 95 batters. In the Big Ten, Adcock ranked second in strikeouts, tied for third in wins and fifth in opponent’s batting average.
Though the prospects of Adcock and Hill are promising for Michigan, it will be difficult to replace closer Jacob Cronenworth, second on the Wolverines’ career saves list, who was selected in the 7th round in the 2015 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Junior left-hander Carmen Benedetti, who gave up just four hits in 18 relief appearances last season, hopes to help fill those shoes. Michigan coach Erik Bakich believes he could be used a lot more out of the bullpen this year.
“(Benedetti’s) growth is impressive in a lot of ways,” Bakich said. “He was a hard-throwing left-hander whose command and secondary pitches were not as polished. Now, not only is Carmen throwing two pitches, but he’s throwing three pitches. He has a breaking ball and a changeup to go along with fastball that’s improved in velocity.
“He’ll be counted on heavily at the end of the game in high-leverage spots. If he’s in there, it’s because it’s an important part of the game.”
Benedetti, who also led the Wolverines last season with a team-high 71 runs batted in, focused a lot on pitching this offseason. He, like Hill, played summer ball in the Cape Cod Baseball League and worked with retired Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Bill Bray to improve his pitching repertoire.
“Getting (Bray’s) knowledge about the game, what he has experienced, and with some pitching tips that he gave me definitely helped me and gave me more confidence towards the season.”
Alongside Adcock and Hill, sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof is also returning to the rotation as the third starter. With so many returning arms and promise in the bullpen, the Wolverines have a reason to feel confident heading into the 2016 season.