Michigan baseball’s pitching performance during its season-opening series against California was lackluster, and that’s putting it nicely. A multitude of starters and relievers gave up 28 hits and 11 runs in the first two games of the weekend.
To some extent, this showing was expected. With a new coaching staff, an incredibly young team and an unsolidified bullpen, nobody was expecting perfection.
But after losing the first two games, 5-4 and then 6-5, a surprising performance came on Sunday morning when Michigan coach Erik Bakich chose to start freshman pitcher Evan Hill.
“I was a little nervous, this was my first time,” Hill said. “I’m a freshman and I needed to make a good performance so that the coaches know they can trust me and my ability to pitch.”
In his first collegiate start, Hill struck out three and allowed just five hits and one earned run in seven innings. While Michigan couldn’t pull out the win, the performance by Hill definitely sent a positive wave through the dugout.
“He pitched terrific – he did not look like a freshman,” Bakich said. “Evan did everything we needed him to do to put us in a position to win that game.”
While only a freshman, Hill has been pegged as a player to keep an eye on since his high-school days. He earned three consecutive varsity letters and went 8-3 on the mound in his senior season at Mount Pleasant (Mich.) High School.
Hill will tell you himself that his biggest strength right now is being able to spot his fastball, but he also catches batters off guard with his curveball and changeup, which he’s constantly working to improve.
“I’m doing the same things over and over to create consistency in my pitching area and pitching mechanics,” Hill said.
Hill stands at 6-foot-5, and with his large athletic frame, he holds a strong presence on the mound. He was an important recruit for Michigan, and has adjusted well to the new setting.
“(College baseball) is a huge transition in the fact that it’s so much more time consuming and it takes a lot more work and dedication,” Hill said. “But I think it’s a huge factor in maturity and becoming more of a man on the field – taking more responsibility for the things going on around you.”
Hill’s pitching on Sunday came as a warranted relief during a weekend clouded with discontent. But Bakich is confident that in the next few weeks, performances like the one Hill had will become much more common.
“We’re still ironing out all the roles of the bullpen and the pitching staff, and making sure we put our players in the right spot to have success,” Bakich said.
The weekend might not have ended exactly the way the team was hoping, but for Hill, it was a positive learning experience for growth on the mound.
“Even though we got the loss … I think it helps me in my confidence knowing that I can give the team a really good performance like that,” Hill said. “Hopefully we can score some runs and get some victories.”