Just two of the Michigan baseball team’s four starting pitchers from last year will be returning to the mound next week when the season begins.
The Wolverines have no reason to worry, though. Junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie will still lead the pitching staff after an impressive sophomore season, and he has plenty of teammates capable of playing alongside him.
Jaskie finished the 2016 season with a 3.19 earned-run average and seven wins in 14 starts. He was second on the team with 69 strikeouts and will enter his junior season with the most experience in Michigan’s pitching rotation.
As a veteran player, he will be able to take advantage of this leadership role to help shape the Wolverines’ new staff.
“Anybody on our pitching staff is going to be able to handle a lot of different types of roles,” Jaskie said. “We are just, top to bottom, filled with guys that throw a lot of strikes and love to compete on the mound, so I’m really excited for what this pitching staff has to bring this year.”
With the departure of former pitchers Evan Hill and Brett Adcock due to graduation and the MLB Draft, respectively, holes were left to fill on the mound.
Fortunately for Michigan, there is no lack of potential candidates to fill these positions.
Junior right-hander Ryan Nutof’s role varied last season. He started 11 games but also contributed to the team as a reliever in 10 other contests. He ended his sophomore season with a 3.67 ERA through 54 innings. He boasts the second-highest strikeout total of the returners with 50.
Nutof will look to capitalize on his versatile abilities and establish himself as a regular starter on this year’s squad.
But, he will have to compete with junior right-hander Alec Rennard – a transfer from Santa Rosa Community College – whose accolades speak for themselves. He concluded his sophomore season with a 1.4 ERA and 90 strikeouts.
After the 2016 season, Rennard was named Big-8 Conference Pitcher of the Year and was a First Team All-American, all after leading his team to a California State Championship title.
“He’s got a winner’s mentality,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “He’s definitely one of our top four starting pitchers and he’ll be in our rotation somewhere. Where he fits on the weekend, we’ll see.”
Nothing is set in stone, though. Junior left-hander Michael Hendrickson was injured last season but is now healthy and ready to take a spot in the starting lineup, yet that likely won’t be an easy task. After pitching just 10.2 innings last year, his experience level lacks in comparison to Jaskie and Rennard.
In addition, senior right-hander Keith Lehmann started two games last year and could make a push to start more this season, while freshman right-hander Karl Kauffman also aims to be in the rotation as well.
If Kauffman doesn’t make an appearance this year, he is definitely one to watch for in the future. He was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Michigan after his senior high school season.
With so many new faces – and a few old ones – Bakich has not yet finalized any decisions. Next weekend’s game will be the first opportunity to see who can handle the pressure on the mound for the Wolverines.