Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The Michigan baseball team has been plagued with sporadic injuries throughout the season. The aches and pains have been piling up as of late, and it’s becoming a burden almost too great to bear.
There’s no predicting what’s next. The Wolverines (3-6 Big Ten, 16-21 overall) have found themselves in a sticky situation right in the middle of conference play with little time to regain their footing.
Michigan coach Rich Maloney is searching for redemption and recovery — anything to keep the Wolverines from the Big Ten bottom.
In another midweek game against Eastern Michigan (8-4 MAC, 16-19) today, Maloney will have to use his resources wisely.
The salt-on-the-wounds feeling started with sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill and has since trickled down the lineup.
With a left-hand handicap, the Powell, Ohio native has not seen any action since the win over Central Michigan on April 4. Freshman Zach Zott has played in his stead, but his production has yet to compare to that of O’Neill.
The team has felt the void of reliable hitters in O’Neill’s absence. Zott is batting a .208, and while O’Neill sits in the dugout, his .322 average remains dormant. Maloney sees both “growing pains” and special “moments” when Zott performs.
“Zott is at the higher end of the talent pool,” Maloney said. “We believe that Zach has the potential to be a special player for us and he’s just being thrust into the situation earlier than we would’ve liked.”
Junior center fielder Patrick Biondi has seen new faces on both sides of him in the outfield due to freshman left fielder Will Drake’s a lower-body injury.
This left Maloney with gaping holes in the batting order because the team usually relied on O’Neill and Drake to carry the team with their offensive performances. Freshman Kevin White and redshirt junior Kevin Krantz were filed into the lineup as substitutes in left field, but neither has shown much promise.
Confronted with unforeseen injury woes, the Wolverines have operated with little energy. Maloney is running out of reasonable options — he’s used nearly every healthy player on the roster, often times in unexpected conditions.
On Sunday, Maloney gave the inexperienced players opportunities to step up, but not by choice. Because of the many injuries, he used everyone with a clean physical record.
In the seventh inning of the rubber match against Penn State, Maloney called on freshman Kyle Jusick to pinch hit in his first plate appearance. Jusick walked and advanced to second on a bunt single, which gave Maloney a brief feeling of relief.
“We’re in a situation where we’re trying to look for a spark,” Maloney said. “We’re using everyone that’s available to us. … We’re just going to try to maximize the roster.”
In another unexpected decision, Maloney sent senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery to run the bases.
After pitching a gem on Friday, completing 9 innings with just two earned runs, Sinnery’s previously unnoted speed put him in an offensive position. In the bottom of the ninth, the Wolverines faced a two-run deficit when Sinnery pinch ran for sophomore catcher Cole Martin on first base.
“He’s pretty fast,” Maloney said. “Every ounce of talent that’s on that roster is going to be used to create a positive.”
Maloney will have to continue working within limited boundaries in the midweek game against Eastern Michigan. And if the Wolverines play like they did against the Eagles in their last matchup, they will fall.
Michigan suffered a 12-2 loss against Eastern Michigan on March 28 with healthy hitters, but has since lost eight additional contests and a handful of eligible players.
If the Wolverines can find contact, they may be able to take advantage of the Eagles pitching staff and its combined 6.68 ERA — starting with left-hander Collin Taylor.
In the last nonconference outing between Michigan and Eastern Michigan, Taylor struck out four Wolverine batters and gave up only one hit in 2.1 innings of relief.
After a less-than-satisfactory start to the season, freshman left-hander Trent Szkutnik started to impress the Wolverine coaching staff. He threw 11 innings in three outings without giving up a single run.
Though he posts a 6.00 ERA and his pitching isn’t consistent, Szkutnik has shown much promise in his rookie campaign, and Maloney holds out hope. But against Penn State last weekend, his performance was near unexplainable — in just two innings, Szkutnik gave up six earned runs, five hits and three walks.
“He just didn’t have command over his fastball,” Maloney said. “Unfortunately, that does happen sometimes, and he’s on a journey to be a special pitcher for us.”