Battered, beaten and bruised, the Michigan baseball team will match up against Penn State in a three-game series this weekend, with its roster that has been depleted by injuries.
With a growing list of casualties — including junior shortstop Derek Dennis, sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill, fifth-year senior right-hander Travis Smith, fifth-year senior right-hander Kolby Wood and redshirt junior left-hander Bobby Brosnahan — the Wolverines (2-4 Big Ten, 15-19 overall) will need to see production from unexpected sources if they want to leave State College with a series win.
“Somebody’s going to have to step up,” said Michigan coach Rich Maloney. “Some guys are going to have to take advantage of the opportunity — an opportunity that they usually don’t get.”
And after Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to Toledo, you can now add freshman left fielder Will Drake to the list of infirmed. Just three days after O’Neill went to the bench with a bruised left hand, Drake came up limping after grounding out to second base. Though Drake hasn’t been officially ruled out for any of the three games against the Nittany Lions (2-4, 13-19), Maloney isn’t too optimistic.
“I don’t know the extent of it because I haven’t talked to the trainer, but he was hurting pretty bad when he was coming off,” Maloney said. “I have a feeling that he will be out for a while. I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s just my guess.”
Adding insult to injury, Michigan enters the weekend on a three-game slide, having scored just three runs in its last two games. Though the injuries to O’Neill and Drake have had a significant impact on the lineup, the Wolverines’ offensive woes have been a problem all season. In the past 10 games, they have scored more than four runs just twice.
“We’re going to have to pitch really well, play good defense and scrap at the plate,” Maloney said. “We’re going to have to scrap at the plate and make the most of our opportunities.”
Michigan will lean on its pitching staff to get it through the weekend. Fifth-year senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery will be handed the ball on Friday, tasked with snapping the skid. In his last start, a 4-0 victory against Michigan State, the right-hander allowed nine hits but didn’t give up a run in 8.1 innings of work. Freshman left-hander Trent Szkutnik is scheduled to start on Saturday, and the Sunday starter has yet to be determined.
Penn State will also be looking to bounce back from a nonconference loss this weekend. The Nittany Lions fell to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, 5-3, which snapped their six-game winning streak. But since losing 14 of their first 17 contests, Penn State has turned around its season and is now 8-2 at home.
The Wolverines will look to limit the production of first baseman Jordan Steranka. Steranka is the only Nittany Lion batting above .300, and he leads the team in batting average (.358), RBIs (22) and home runs (4). Besides Steranka, the batting order is barren. As a team, Penn State ranks near the bottom in the Big Ten in almost every major offensive category.
On the mound, Penn State will likely throw out Joe Kurrasch, Steven Hill and John Walter. Kurrasch’s 2.49 ERA and .217 opposing batting average rank in the top five in the conference, and Walter’s 44 strikeouts place him third.
Though the roadtrip will conclude a stretch of eight games in 10 days, redshirt sophomore second baseman John DiLaura doesn’t think weariness will be a problem for the Wolverines.
“(Fatigue) is a little bit of a factor,” DiLaura said. “I think more so for the pitchers because they’ve been throwing a lot, but I think once we get out there on Friday night, the adrenaline will kick in and we’ll be fine.”