Six numbers representing six jerseys were being painted on the grass in front of the dugout in Ray Fisher Stadium yesterday.
The Michigan baseball team (7-14 Big Ten, 21-32 overall) heads into its season finale against Nebraska (12-9, 32-20) in an early weekend series. For the program’s six seniors, it’s the end of the road. They will step onto the field for the very last time.
But for right-hander Matt Ogden and the rest of the freshmen, this is just the end of the beginning.
Ogden will step up to the mound today after taking on a new role in last week’s win against Coastal Carolina. He was credited with the win, splitting the series after five scoreless innings and giving up only one hit.
In his rookie campaign, Ogden has made 19 game appearances, but this will be the first start of his career.
“I’m real curious to see Ogden start a game and see what happens,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “I have a lot of confidence in him, but this will be his first … so you really don’t know.”
Tomorrow, senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery will make his usual Friday-night start against the Cornhuskers.
Sinnery has been a consistent ace throughout the year, recording 54 strikeouts, a 3.80 ERA and two shutouts against Michigan State and Iowa.
“We expect Brandon to go out there and do what he’s done all year for us,” redshirt junior right-hander Chad Jasman said. “Most of the bullpen doesn’t even put their cleats on when Brandon’s pitching.”
Junior right-hander Ben Ballantine will hurl the final game of season on Saturday. Though he’s had his ups and downs throughout the Big Ten schedule, he delivered a much-needed win against Purdue last weekend.
The problems aren’t in the Wolverines pitching, but in Nebraska’s power hitting. The Cornhuskers stack up similarly to the Boilermakers at the plate, but nearly every player in their starting lineup bats well above .300.
Purdue and Nebraska take the top two spots in almost every offensive category. But the Cornhuskers carry mound woes that Michigan may be able to take advantage of.
Nebraska posts the second highest opposing batters’ average at .292 and its probable pitchers are somewhat surprising decisions. Left-hander Kyle Kubat and right-hander Ryan Hander will start today and tomorrow, respectively, while Sunday remains undetermined.
With an average of 3.67 hurlers per Big Ten contest and an inconsistent bullpen, the Cornhuskers appear to be pitching by committee. Though he carries a 2.35 ERA, Hander has only seen 23 innings this season and very few came from conference work.
“I’m sure they’ve got some really good arms there, but … maybe haven’t been able to get the results they wanted yet,” Maloney said. “Maybe that’s what they’re going through — I don’t know.”
Though the Wolverines have nothing to lose and remain out of the hunt for the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska is tied for the fourth seed and its spot is still up for grabs.
Both teams are coming off painful losses in lopsided decisions. On Tuesday, Michigan and Nebraska gave up 13 runs apiece to a nonconference opponent — the Wolverines tried to bounce back — tallying six of their own — but Nebraska only logged two runs.
Against the Cornhuskers’ questionable pitching staff, Michigan will have to find some sort of harmonious hitting, which has been its demise all year.
Looking back on an injury-plagued season, Maloney recognizes the talent he has to work with in years to come. But for some, this is the grand finale.
“There will be a lot of emotion out on that field this weekend,” Maloney said. “For the seniors, this will be the end of a chapter. … I think it’s all part of the walk of life.”