Senior centerfielder Johnny Slater stepped up to the plate in the second inning with two runners on base. Slater had been moved to the ‘2’ spot in the batting order and in his second at-bat of the game, he launched a ball deep into the outfield for a triple, sending leadoff hitter and sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas and sophomore right fielder Jonathan Engelmann home.
The No. 22 Michigan baseball team routed Central Michigan, 13-4. The win comes a day after the Wolverines shut out another MAC team, Toledo, 12-0.
The offensive surge for the team is a new development as over the course of the 24-game season so far, it has recorded 223 hits and 152 runs.
The success of the team over the past weeks raises some questions: What could be the X factor? How is Michigan going into its long home stretch on such a hot streak?
One of the answers is its versatility. In the game against the Chippewas on Wednesday, the Wolverines switched up their batting order to gain a competitive edge over their foe.
Among the notable changes were Slater moving up to hit second and junior third baseman Jake Bivens moving to hit sixth in the order.
And clearly, it worked.
“(I) just wanted to get Slater up, (more at-bats),” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He’s got a lot of confidence and hitting a lot of balls hard.”
Slater produced a multi-RBI triple, and Bivens dropped two singles and picked up a run.
“I try not to change my approach too much, honestly,” Bivens said of moving to sixth. “I know I have good guys in front of me and they’re going to get on base, so I just try to drive them in and do my job.”
One thing that Bakich emphasized throughout the season has been committing to quality at-bats, no matter the outcome.
“We had 30 quality at-bats yesterday and 31 quality at-bats today,” Bakich said. “… Obviously, everyone looks at batting average and slugging and on-base, but we look at quality at-bat percentages.”
This versatility was evident in the latter innings of Wednesday’s game as Bakich made several substitutions. Sophomore first baseman Jimmy Kerr entered the game for Bivens and redshirt freshman designated hitter George Hewitt entered the game, both producing hits.
“If you go in our indoor cages you’ll see a weekly winner for highest quality at-bat percentage guy,” Bakich said. “We just want to look at who has the most productive team plate appearances, who’s hitting the ball hard, who’s having the most competitive ABs.”
This top-down approach to creating a culture in which quality at-bats are king is one of the reasons why the team can switch around the lineup so easily and explains the recent success.
The outlook from the game against Central Michigan is that the Wolverines are a versatile team that have a multitude of players who can hit anywhere in the lineup.
As quality at-bats are the hot commodity in the locker room and on the field, the game against the Chippewas put that on display. Michigan takes an approach to the game that quality at-bat percentage should be another column on the stat sheet.