Pinch-hitting is one of the trickiest parts of baseball.
Starters have the luxury of knowing exactly when they’re asked to hit and can prepare as such. The bench bats don’t get the same luxury. They must stay on their toes all game, ready to be thrust into the fire at any moment.
It’s no secret that the Michigan baseball team’s bats have been as hot as any in the country. Coming into the Keith LeClair Classic this past weekend, they’ve averaged over 10 runs a game with only one game below six. Still, there’s always room for improvement.
Graduate shortstop Alex Fedge-Johnson, for one, has not kept up with the rest of the lineup. He came into the weekend with a .167 batting average and only one extra-base hit through eight games. Fedge-Johnson went 0-3 to start against Maryland and didn’t see the plate after the sixth inning.
In the eighth inning, with the game tied and two men on, junior outfielder Joey Velazquez pinch hit for Fedge-Johnson in his first at-bat of the season. With a 3-1 count, Velazquez swung on an outside fastball. The wind shoved the ball towards the foul line, but it banged into the pole for a three-run homer and the lead, which held until the end of the game.
“Feels pretty good,” Velazquez said. “Yeah, I mean, (coming) in here, (you) just dream of playing baseball and hitting home runs for Michigan. So it’s pretty great to get my first one.”
The Wolverines came into the second game of the weekend against East Carolina missing their leadoff hitter, junior outfielder Clark Elliott, to a day-to-day hamstring injury. He didn’t play until the top of the ninth after a grand slam by junior infielder Tito Flores.
Despite embarking on a five-run rally, Michigan was still down two with one out. His hitting unhindered by his injury, Elliott smacked a double into right center. Once he reached base a pinch runner took his place, but he did his job.
“Clark is really just day-to-day, and if he can DH, that would be the next progression and then you know, getting back out there in the outfield,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “But obviously we missed his bat tonight.”
After a three-pitch strikeout, sophomore infielder Brandon Lawrence stepped up to pinch-hit for just his second plate appearance of the season. He worked the pitcher to a full count, but swung and missed to end the game.
But, pinch-hitting is fickle. In the third game of the weekend in a one-run loss to Indiana State, the Wolverines’ bench bats had no hits through four at bats.
Complications are bound to happen down the stretch. Injuries and individual slumps are a certainty. A deep lineup past the starters with plenty of bench options can make the difference in late-season success.
And that’s why Michigan’s players are sure to stay ready.
Because you never know when you need a three-run homer from Joey Velazquez.