The Michigan baseball team (1-3 Big Ten, 10-12 overall) is approaching midseason form, but isn”t there yet.
“We obviously haven”t won as many games as we”d like to,” senior tri-captain Scott Tousa said. “But we”re getting great pitching right now.
“We”re playing solid defense. We”re just not hitting quite like we need to. That”ll come, we just need to wait it out.”
The lineup is a bit depleted after losing four players the most notable being catcher David Parrish, the New York Yankee”s first-round pick in last year”s draft. With some uncertainty surrounding the offense, Michigan”s expectations for success rely on pitching and defense.
“Coming into this season we felt we had very good pitching,” coach Geoff Zahn said. “We knew we had pretty good defense in the infield and I think that”s proved true. Our pitching at times has shown brilliance. At other times, we”re not always brilliant.”
The Wolverines have plenty of experience on the pitching staff with 11 returning from last year”s roster, including Bryce Ralston, the ace of 1999, who is attempting to come back from Tommy John surgery. With a team earned-run average a bit over 4.00, the hurlers have kept Michigan in plenty of games.
In Michigan”s 12 losses, the hitters have asked a lot of the pitching staff, scoring an average of 2.5 runs in those games. Right now, the batting order is very top heavy as four of the first five are batting over .300, but the bottom three are hovering around the dreaded Mendoza line.
“The hitting we knew is going to be inexperienced,” Zahn said. “We”re depending on guys in the first part of the order to do it for us. Some of the guys are struggling at the plate. I think we just need that experience.”
Outfielder Jordan Cantalamessa, thirdbaseman Brock Koman and secondbaseman Tousa were looked to all along by Zahn as the sparks of the offense. But a couple others have emerged with sweet strokes in the young season to ease the pain of the hitting woes.
“I”m very happy the way Nate Wright and Gino Lollio have come through for us,” Zahn said. “They”ve been a good surprise for us.”
Wright, who was a medical redshirt as a sophomore last year, came in with just five at-bats in his college career. Now he”s leading the team with four homeruns. Lollio had much more experience in his freshman campaign last year, but little to show for it, batting just .183. This year, he”s second to Wright in homers with three and leads the team with a .447 batting average.
The key is to let that success trickle down to the bottom of the order. Hitting “coach (Chris) Harrison has been working with us,” Tousa said. “I think we”re just trying to do a little bit too much right now. Just trying to make things happen instead of just letting them happen.”
Even with the top of the order hitting the ball hard, Michigan is in midst of a scoring funk. Over the past five games, the Wolverines have not scored more than three runs in any outing. The emphasis on improving their hitting is therefore paramount.
“I keep thinking we”re on the brink of turning it on and putting something together here,” Zahn said.
The fight in the Big Ten looks to be wide open, Zahn said. In his five years as a coach, five different teams have won the Big Ten season and the Big Ten Tournament, including the 1999 Wolverines. He expects the parity of the conference to give Michigan, picked sixth preseason by Baseball America, a fighting chance.
“If you don”t feel you have a chance for the championship, you shouldn”t take part,” Zahn said. “We know anything can happen. We set out this year as one of our goals to win the Big Ten.”
After taking the first Big Ten game against Iowa, Michigan”s conference play took a nose dive against Penn State with three losses to the Nittany Lions.
“The season”s still very young,” Zahn said. “We have guys with talent, they just need to relax, hit the way they can and play the way they can.”