When Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney looks at freshman shortstop Dylan Delany at the plate, he doesn’t see a player who’s struggling to find his footing in the batter’s box. He sees a hitter that is continually improving and one whose hitting woes won’t last long.
“I think in the big scheme of Dylan Delaney’s career, he’s going to be a really good hitter,” Maloney said.
Delaney, who has started all but one game for the Wolverines (0-3 Big Ten, 13-16 overall), has had a rocky start to his freshman campaign. Of all of Michigan’s regular starters, Delaney’s .176 batting average ranks him at the bottom, but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing to the offense — he has 10 RBIs and 11 runs.
Though Delaney has been at the bottom of the order for the majority of the season, Maloney has experimented with him in the two-hole on occasion to try to mix up the lineup and find different sources of production.
Slotted behind the leadoff hitter, junior center fielder Patrick Biondi, Delaney wen hitless in Michigan’s 7-3 victory against Central Michigan on Wednesday. But he did walk once, and he scored a run. Whether he’s hitting at the top or the bottom of the lineup, Delaney approaches his at-bats the same way.
“I have no preference, really,” Delaney said. “My job is the same either way. I’m just trying to move runners, get on base and help the team win.”
Delaney attributes his troubles at the plate to a slow adjustment to the pitching style in collegiate baseball.
“I’ve seen a lot more off-speed (pitches) since I’ve been in college, so mostly I’ve just been working on adjusting to that and putting the ball in play.”
His inability to adapt quickly might be the biggest reason for his high strikeout total. Though Delaney is tied for most strikeouts on the team with 32, his improvement at the plate has been visible over the past three weeks.
In the first 19 games of the season, he struck out 21 times, including an eight-game stretch in the middle of March when he was fanned 15 times. But in his last 11 contests, he has struck out just nine times, an encouraging sign for him.
“Early in the season, (off-speed pitches) gave me a little bit of trouble, but I’ve been working really hard, the coaches have been helping me out a lot, and I’ve been doing a lot better lately.”
CLIMBING UP THE LADDER: This weekend’s series against Michigan State might end up being an eventful one for two of Michigan’s upperclassmen, as Biondi and senior catcher Coley Crank are making their way up in the record books.
When Biondi swiped second base in the fourth inning of the Wolverines’ victory against the Chippewas, he collected his 18th stolen base of the year.
With that, he tied Jim Durham for the second-most stolen bases (74) in the program’s history.
Biondi, who has converted 18 of his 24 stolen-base attempts, needs just 17 more stolen bases to pass all-time leader Eric Rose, who set the record in 2007.
“It’s not something I’m thinking during the game,” Biondi said. “It’s kind of cool to think of overall, but when I’m out there, I’m just playing the game, trying to help our team win.”
During the same game, Crank smacked his sixth home run of the season. Not only did it tie him for the team lead, but it also placed him ninth all-time, with 29 career home runs.
Though he is batting just .200, he has provided the Michigan lineup with some much-needed power and ranks third on the team with 21 RBIs. Crank’s next home run will move him into a four-way tie with Chris Sabo, Mike Cervenak and Bryan Besco. Casey Close has the all-time record with 46 career home runs, which he set in 1986.
STEALING WINS: Trends don’t lie.
If the Wolverines are looking for the facet of the game that might be most telling, they don’t need to look further than baserunning.
In Michigan’s last four wins, the team has nine stolen bases. But in their last seven losses, the Wolverines have tallied just four steals, including a three-game series against Minnesota in which they swiped only one base.
“Especially because we haven’t scored as many runs as we want to lately, we know that we’ve got to try and make something happen on the bases,” Biondi said. “It’s definitely a big part of our game.”
Led by Biondi, sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill and freshman left fielder Will Drake, Michigan ranks second in the Big Ten with 45 steals.