Redshirt junior left-hander Ben Dragani looked at the runner on second before turning his attention to the next pitch. He tried to throw a fastball down and away, but the pitch caught too much of the plate, and Maryland slugger Chris Alleyne crushed it for a three-run home run.
The homer turned out to be the lone blemish in an otherwise spotless pitching performance by sophomore right-hander Cameron Weston and Dragani, who limited the Terrapins to three runs on six hits in the No. 23 Michigan baseball team’s 14-3 win.
Despite dealing with a head cold, Weston had good command of his fastball, slider and forkball and threw 5.1 shutout innings with six strikeouts. As usual, he kept the ball low and induced six ground ball outs, including a double play.
Although he routinely got ahead of batters and forced them into two-strike counts, the talented and patient Maryland offense refused to quit. Against Weston, the Terrapins worked deep into counts, drew three walks and reached base at least once in four of the first five innings. Weston’s pitch count rose faster than usual as a result, but that was the extent of the damage: he held them a combined 0-for-12 with runners on and with two outs.
“Every day in training we do runners in scoring position, we do two outs,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “It’s something that we’re constantly preparing for, because those opportunities are such big momentum swingers, and can be so impactful to the outcome of the game.”
When Weston’s pitch count reached 100 with one on and one out in the top of the sixth, Bakich went to the bullpen. Four of the Wolverines’ most effective and frequently-used relievers appeared in the 11-inning game the night before and were therefore unavailable, but Michigan remained positive about the options it had.
“I think whoever’s in there is going to get the job done,” sophomore second baseman Ted Burton said. “That’s what everyone’s prepared for, mentally and physically. No matter who’s out there, I fully trust that they’re going to do their job.”
Dragani made good on those expectations. He kept the ball almost exclusively in the infield and needed just 43 pitches to throw 3.2 innings and finish the game.
After Alleyne’s seventh-inning homer, with the heart of the order due up and nobody out, Dragani avoided any further trouble by inducing three straight ground ball outs. In the ninth, when Maryland sent three straight pinch-hitters to bat, Dragani retired the side with a strikeout and a double play.
Like Weston, Dragani was extremely effective with runners on and with two outs, holding the Terrapins to a combined 1-for-9 in those situations.
Dragani not only secured today’s win; he set Michigan up for success in tomorrow’s series-deciding game. Some of the Wolverines’ best relievers, like junior right-hander Willie Weiss, graduate right-hander Joe Pace and senior right-hander Blake Beers, didn’t have to pitch tonight and will be available tomorrow, along with the many relievers from Friday night’s game.
Bullpen depth has been one of Michigan’s strong suits all season, and must continue to be for the Wolverines to finish the regular season strong and make a deep postseason push.
“We do have some quality starters for sure,” Bakich said. “But we’re going to need our bullpen in order to be the best team we can be.”