Cut them some slack. They’re still a group of pretty young guys.
This should be Michigan coach Rich Maloney’s rallying cry when referring to any member of his pitching staff. Not even Maloney himself can tell you what to expect from his inexperienced staff when he gives them the nod. The weekend’s series against Illinois seemed no different.
“Going into this season, we knew we had no experienced starters,” Maloney said. “Fortunately, I was able to bring in (sophomore Drew) Taylor and (sophomore Michael) Penn. In reality they should be third and fourth starters rather than first and second. We don’t have much pitching depth, there’s no doubt about it.”
While Taylor has days that look like those of a fourth starter, yesterday was not one of them.
Yesterday’s game presented perhaps the biggest pitching enigma of the entire series. While the Wolverines had allowed a total of 26 runs in the first three games against Illinois, Taylor broke the cycle, allowing just three.
Taylor’s 6.15 ERA prior to his complete game performance is common among this year’s collection of Wolverine starters. Pitching duels are not something the Wolverine’s expect to win. Yesterday’s 4-3 victory was only the second game all season that the Wolverines had won in which both teams were held under five runs.
Maloney was tempted to dip into his bullpen on a visit to the mound in the top of the ninth after an Eric Eymann single, but he decided to roll the dice again and stick with Taylor.
“I wanted to see where he was, and all I did was stare into his eyes, and I just kept staring and staring,” Maloney said. “I stared into (senior third baseman) Brock Koman’s eyes, and then I looked at my team out there, and I felt there was no way I could take that kid out.”
“When he saw the look in my eyes and how confident I was that I was going to get the job done, I think he came back with the same kind of confidence and let me stay out there and finish the job,” Taylor said.
The erratic weekend began right away on Friday. Trailing 3-1 in the seventh with a runner on second, Maloney made the move to replace freshman Ali Husain with freshman Derek Feldkamp. Until that point, Feldkamp seemed to be one of Michigan’s most dependable pitchers. He was leading the team with a 4.26 ERA and had mustered a 2-1 record in relief.
Friday was obviously not Feldkamp’s day, though, as he surrendered two walks and a single, allowing Illinois to pull away for a 5-1 lead. The Illini went on to win 5-3.
The Wolverines were able to stop the bleeding from that seventh inning when senior Tim Leveque entered the game. Leveque went on to pitch 2.2 scoreless innings with two strikeouts.
When game two of Saturday’s doubleheader rolled around, the situation asked for another stopper one more time.
Freshman Craig Murray had already allowed three runs in the top of the fourth, and the score was starting to get out of hand, with the Illini leading 9-2. Maloney decided to go to Leveque for the third straight day, but Leveque was clearly not on Saturday.
Illinois blasted the man who had effectively shut it down the day before, singling twice and doubling twice to drive in four more runs. Leveque was pulled without recording a single out.
“With Timmy (Leveque), that was his third day in a row pitching so his arm had to be tired,” freshman Jeff Niemiec said. “We’re a pretty young staff, but we’re coming around, and hopefully we can finish up strong.”
Niemiec finally got the out that had alluded Leveque, along with nine more, to close out the Illini onslaught. Niemiec seemed an unlikely candidate for the job. He had appeared in a game only twice prior to Saturday and carried a hefty 13.50 ERA from those appearances.
“The first time I had a lot of jitters and the ball was going all over the place,” Niemiec said. “I’m kind of getting to know what to expect from college hitters now.”