They call them the “Three Amigos.”
But the talented trio of Michigan hurlers bear little resemblance to Lucky Day, Ned Nederlander and Dusty Bottoms.
“I’m not sure if I love that nickname,” senior captain Jim Brauer said. “But they call us that for a reason.”
Like it or not, these amigos should give Wolverine fans something to “olé” about heading into today’s home-opener against Oakland at Ray Fisher Stadium.
Brauer, along with senior Michael Penn and junior Derek Feldkamp, looks to guide a Michigan (11-3) team — ranked 22nd by Collegiate Baseball — that is seeking its first Big Ten title since 1997. With early wins over Georgia and North Carolina, who were ranked eighth and 10th at the time, it’s certainly within the ballpark.
“Of all the years I’ve been here, this is by far the most complete team we’ve had,” Brauer said. “I’ve seen many other Big Ten teams, and I don’t think anybody has near the pitching staff that we have. I think (not winning the Big Ten Championship) would be a huge disappointment.”
In his fifth season, Brauer has gone through three head coaches, four pitching coaches and over 100 teammates.
“I’ve seen it all,” Brauer said. “This year is like none other.”
Penn and Feldkamp, who could be No. 1 pitchers on most Big Ten staffs, round out the “Three Amigos.”
“It doesn’t matter who’s pitching on what day because it’s really like we have three No. 1 (pitchers),” first-year pitching coach Bob Keller said.
“Since we have such a deep, consistent staff, we feel that, the majority of the time, we can carry the load,” Brauer said. “If one guy goes out and throws a good game, the next guy wants to go out and beat that performance. As much as we all respect each other, we’re all trying to elevate each other’s games, and that’s why we’re doing so well.”
Starting out this season 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA, Brauer has been rock solid on the mound. With his improved control — just nine three-ball counts in 95 batters faced — and a nasty slider, the 2004 all-conference pitcher is primed for another stellar year.
Last spring, the Montreal Expos — now the Washington Nationals — selected Brauer in the 42nd round of the Major League Baseball draft. The right-hander flirted with idea of going pro, but ultimately decided against it.
“I wasn’t getting offered that much at the time, so I just figured I had a lot more to prove (at Michigan),” Brauer said. “If you asked me a year ago (if I would be back), I would have most likely said no. I just figured I would get a decent-round pick and just go. But I started realizing more and more how many guys are coming back. It ended up being a pretty easy decision.”
Feldkamp, who was selected in the 41st round by the Toronto Blue Jays in the same draft, opted to return as well. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander boasts a 3-0 record and a team-best 1.23 ERA entering this weekend’s series against Oakland. Feldkamp can top out in the mid-90s, but he relies on his changeup later in the count.
“Right now, my changeup has been by far my best pitch,” Feldkamp said. “It really helped me out last weekend at Ohio — it got me out of some real jams.”
Penn, who transferred from Ball State three years ago, completes the trio. The lanky right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA on the year but has walked just three of the 86 batters he has faced.
“I force contact a lot, so I think that’s why (the staff) calls me the control guy,” Penn said. “I like to shove the ball into the zone and challenge the batter. I might not get many strikeouts, but I get a lot of guys to ground out.”
With regard to the NCAA tournament, the boys of summer are wary of looking too far ahead. But the captain says going deep into June is very possible — citing reasons off the field as well.
“This team really has no seniority bias — it’s really a team atmosphere,” Brauer said. “In the past, we’ve had a lot of divisions in the team, but it’s really been a different feel than in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me to go to regionals, and, if that goes our way, then to Omaha (for the college world series). In the past, I’d be laughed at for saying that, but that’s how good I think this team is.”