The Michigan baseball team heads down its final stretch of the season and faces an uphill climb. The Wolverines continue to recover from injury as they host Coastal Carolina in back-to-back midweek games today and tomorrow.
Michigan (6-12 Big Ten, 19-28 overall) seeks to avenge the two mid March losses to the Chanticleers (14-4 Big South, 32-14) that capped off the early-spring road travel. The Wolverines fell 7-3 and 6-2, respectively — even with a healthy roster.
Senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery started the first matchup on the mound and gave up five earned runs off of seven hits in 5.2 innings. Almost half of his pitches were called balls, resulting in his season-high of four walks.
In the second contest, redshirt senior right-hander Kolby Wood hurled his only start of the season with 21 pitches in the first third of an inning. Hitting two Coastal Carolina batters, he loaded the bases and gave up a pair of runs on a single and a wild pitch before being yanked.
The bullpen came into relief, but freshman left-hander Trent Szkutnik allowed five walks and three earned runs in a single inning to give Coastal Carolina a comfortable lead.
Adding to the woes, the Wolverines’ offense wasn’t performing, as the trio that consistently carried the team early in the season was nearly hitless. Outfielders junior Patrick Biondi, sophomore Michael O’Neill and freshman Will Drake combined for a 1-for-20 effort between the two games.
But if Michigan keeps pulling players off the disabled list and O’Neill continues to spark hit production, the Wolverines may be able to take revenge.
After sitting out of 15-straight games due to injury, O’Neill returned to the batting order and found immediate success, picking up right where he left off.
In his first outing since April 4, O’Neill went 3-for-5 with three runs and an RBI — by the end of the series against Iowa, his average climbed to .338.
“You see the difference, too, in the whole team,” Maloney said. “It was exciting — he did a great job and gave the whole team a lift having him back in the lineup.”
But without O’Neill and Drake in the middle of the conference schedule, unsuspected Michigan players entered the batter’s box. Freshman Kevin White has recently locked a spot in the lineup on an eight-game hitting streak, and a handful of veterans have stepped up as of late.
With awakening bats and O’Neill’s fresh swing, Michigan coach Rich Maloney has options for the first time in a long time. But he’s still missing a key component — Drake is day-to-day, and it’s possible he won’t be able to contribute today or tomorrow.
After an eight-game absence, Drake stepped to the plate seven times without posting a single base hit last weekend.
“Will just wasn’t a hundred percent yet,” Maloney said. “We thought he was ready to go on Friday — we gave it a chance and when he ran a ball out, it didn’t feel quite as great as he hoped.”
Though the Wolverines have emerged from their previous offensive struggles, the mound still carries questions. There are five potential pitchers that will work in an undecided combination against Coastal Carolina.
Maloney is looking to start junior right-hander Kyle Clark today, but a sinus infection may keep him from the field.
Clark records a 6.42 ERA and his numbers have been inconsistent. Though he gave up just two earned runs in 6.1 innings against Connecticut in the middle of March, he has added a few less-than-satisfactory relief innings throughout the season.
At some point, Maloney will call on Szkutnik, redshirt sophomore left-hander Logan McAnallen and possibly sophomore right-hander Alex Lakatos, who may not require extensive rest after just 69 pitches against the Hawkeyes. But there’s no telling when that may be.
With redshirt junior left-hander Bobby Brosnahan’s return after a month of shoulder problems and recuperation, Maloney wants to give him additional practice in preparation for Big Ten play.
In his first contest since March 31, Brosnahan threw for 2.2 scoreless innings against Iowa last weekend, retiring two batters.
“Every time we get one of them back, it’s a breath of fresh air,” Maloney said.
But the team is well aware of the Chanticleer’s pitching power and the threat of their top two hitters — right fielder Daniel Bowman and infielder Rich Witten, batting .397 and .320, respectively, with a totaled 125 hits and 74 RBIs.
Though Coastal Carolina has not selected tomorrow’s mound starter, it still has plenty of viable options after using left-hander Ben Smith today.
“What a wonderful opportunity to compete against some of the best teams around,” Maloney said. “We have a chance to try to knock ‘em off — that’s why you play the game.”