Facing a full count and a runner on second, Blake Beers’s next pitch would decide whether he allowed more damage or controlled a dangerous situation. The pitch would also end up being the senior right-hander’s last of the game.
It induced an infield pop-up to finish his strongest start of the season.
Amid a meek offensive performance, Beers’s five and two-thirds innings of two-run ball marked the high point of the No. 19 Michigan baseball team’s (9-3 Big Ten) 3-0 loss to Michigan State (6-6 Big Ten).
For the most part, Beers got ahead in counts, overpowered hitters with his mid-90s fastballs and threw strikes on the inside and outside corners.
“He’s a hard worker,” sixth-year right-hander Joe Pace said of Beers. “He’s a dude, and he earns all the success that comes his way. So seeing him go a little deeper, do a little better today than he has in his first few starts is great to see, and hopefully he can build on that because in order for us to be the best team that we possibly can — we need Blake to be the best pitcher he possibly can.”
Like his teammates, though, Beers showed some flaws during the loss.
There were stretches, like most of the third inning, when Beers struggled to find the strike zone. The Spartans took advantage of his occasional difficulties with control, letting his pitch count balloon and scoring two runs on two walks, two sacrifices and a throwing error in the third.
Michigan’s predominantly right-handed lineup couldn’t capitalize on Michigan State’s left-handed starter, Nick Powers, who was particularly effective on the outer half against lefties. Powers isn’t a pitcher that overpowers batters — he finished with only three strikeouts and his fastball barely touched 90 — but he limited hard contact, preventing Michigan hitters from stringing together quality at-bats.
“Sometimes you face a left-hander that’s got three pitches, throwing that changeup anytime and throwing those breaking balls, and it just gets you off-balance,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “You’re kind of caught on a yo-yo; you’re early on the offspeed, you’re late on the fastball.”
The usual suspects — fifth-year catcher Griffin Mazur, fifth-year third baseman Christian Molfetta and fifth-year shortstop Benjamin Sems — were responsible for most of Michigan’s little offensive counterplay. In the fourth inning, Molfetta singled, stole second and tried to score on a shallow single by Sems, but was thrown out at the plate. In the sixth, Mazur singled off the left-field wall and sophomore right fielder Clark Elliott was hit by a pitch, but Molfetta grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Pace relieved Beers in the sixth, and although he had some command issues of his own, he threw 2.1 scoreless innings. Michigan State’s bullpen proved equally effective. Setup man Wyatt Rush threw a 1-2-3 eighth against the top of the order and even managed to strike out Mazur, a rare occurrence.
Junior right-hander Willie Weiss, Michigan’s closer, pitched the ninth, allowing a long solo home run to left field. Still, the Spartans’ lead was just three, and Michigan had proven it could come back from as many as seven.
Sophomore designated hitter Jimmy Obertop, who began and ended Sunday’s ninth inning, led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. After Molfetta was hit by a pitch, Michigan State went to its bullpen again.
“Guys were fired up,” Bakich said. “First we got a couple of guys on and they were feeling it.
We had the tying run at the plate and everyone’s thinking, ‘Here we go.’ ”
Rush was replaced with third baseman Zach Iverson. Sems represented the tying run, but he grounded into a double play, ending the threat and the game.
“Winding down took a while last night, but when we all woke up today, it was a new day and it was a new opportunity, and we just didn’t capitalize on it,” Bakich said. “There’s really no excuses for it: We just didn’t play well. They played better than we did. And that’s really all there is to it.”
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