There’s no better time to turn around an underwhelming season than in the month of May.
And for the Michigan baseball team, staying present instead of dwelling on the past is key for success.
One of the biggest struggles for the Wolverines this season has been their relief pitching. Going into Friday night’s game against Indiana, the bullpen had an earned run average of 6.28. This has enabled many games to be closer than they should have been, and in some cases, even caused losses for the Wolverines.
Against the Hoosiers, though, the bullpen put the season’s shortcomings behind them and stepped up in a way that the team struggled to do all season. When sophomore left-hander Connor O’Halloran exited the game after giving up four earned runs — including three home runs — graduate right-hander Willie Weiss came in to replace him.
Up until this point, Weiss had underperformed all season, having an 0-2 record with a 6.98 ERA to show for his 14 appearances. On Friday, however, Weiss threw 1.2 scoreless innings, setting up the offense to take the lead.
“It’s really big (for my confidence),” Weiss said. “Knowing that I have nine guys behind me that always have my back, I’m not afraid to put (the ball) over the plate because I know I have the guys behind me. I’m just continuing to trust the process, trust the coaching staff and everything they preach.”
Michigan coach Erik Bakich alluded to Weiss’ struggles this season stemming from the stress of school. He noted that Weiss took 18 credits this past semester, which definitely impacted his performance on the mound.
“He certainly has looked really good,” Bakich said. “I thought he looked really good at Purdue. And he looked really good tonight. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but he put zeros up and gave us a chance to separate offensively. So it’s great to have him back to back to his normal form, and I think he’s confident in his pitches and with a smile on his face.”
After Weiss exited the game, junior right-hander Noah Rennard followed up his performance with a strong outing of his own. He pitched the final two innings, only allowing one hit while striking out four.
“Rennard coming in and having just a super quick inning, 1-2-3, and then we explode for a three-spot big inning, (he helped) shift the momentum in our favor, Bakich said.”
One game is a very small sample size, though.
And with the bullpen’s season-long struggles, it is going to take a lot more scoreless innings to show that the relief pitching has turned itself around.
Regardless of what it means for Michigan long term, it is a positive change from how the bullpen has played up to this point. If Bakich can utilize guys like Weiss who hasn’t seen much action this season due to poor outings, that will take the stress off of the more consistent guys — Rennard and junior left-hander Jacob Denner — who has handled the bulk of the relief pitching recently.