After a stellar performance over spring break in California, the Michigan baseball team could feel confident in its team, especially those on the mound.
Highlights from the trip out west included the Wolverine pitching staff – led by junior right-hander Ryan Nutof – notching 12 strikeouts in the game against Southern California to tie a season high. Even in Michigan’s heartbreaking loss to UCLA, the strong effort from junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie on the mound – where he pitched six scoreless innings, struck out six batters and allowed four walks and just three hits – was a silver lining for the team.
But when the Wolverines returned to Ray Fisher Stadium for their opening weekend at home against Northern Illinois, they didn’t exit the weekend with the same confidence they entered with.
In the first inning of the series Thursday, Jaskie walked one batter in four pitches and gave up two hits and two runs. Fortunately for Michigan, the lefty eventually pulled out the win due to an offensive surge by his teammates.
Nutof was the starter for the second game of the series Saturday and didn’t have any more success than Jaskie. He allowed eight hits and seven runs through 4.2 innings to make him 1-1 on the year.
After a sluggish start to the series, Sunday’s doubleheader returned some of the Wolverines’ optimism in the pitching staff. Twelve pitchers saw the field and gained crucial experience going into Big Ten play this weekend.
“We got a lot of guys some opportunities,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “I thought it was important to give some guys that haven’t pitched in a while, we’ve got some guys who haven’t pitched since California, spring break, that needed some innings, needed to face another jersey.
“And so to get them back out there and see them compete, I thought everyone who went in there did a good job.”
Even those players that were only in the game for an inning were still able to make a difference. Freshman right-hander Karl Kauffman came in as a reliever for 1.1 innings, but only gave up one hit and earned two strikeouts.
“I thought everybody did a good job attacking the strike zone and letting their defense make plays behind them,” Bakich said.
Not every pitcher had to rely on the defense, though. Senior right-hander Mac Lozer came into the game in the seventh inning and stayed in for just 0.2 innings. Of the two batters he faced, he sent both of them back into the dugout while his team just stood by and watched.
While the relievers proved to be mostly successful, many threw only minimal pitches. The experience was good, but most of them entered late in the game when the Wolverines had the lead as a cushion. Entering conference play might test the relievers more and force the starters to come out focused right from the first pitch.