It’s been a long time since senior left-hander Eric Katzman has toed the rubber in a starting role for the Michigan baseball team.
Just over 10 and a half months to be exact — he started the Wolverines’ second-to-last game of the season, on May 16 against Northwestern.
Back then, Michigan (12-9) was 30-23, and Katzman’s loss helped seal the team’s postseason-less fate. The circumstances will be slightly different when the Harrington Park, N.J. native makes his first start since offseason hernia surgery against Eastern Michigan Tuesday afternoon at Ray Fisher Stadium.
The Wolverines have won six straight games and finally have some momentum after an inconsistent start to the season. The Eagles (10-14), like Michigan’s last two opponents, Fordham and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, are a beatable.
Of course, that was also the case in 2009, when Eastern came into Ann Arbor and left with a 3-1 upset victory.That result is still in the players’ minds, despite the opening of Big Ten play and a trip to Indiana scheduled for this weekend.
“We’re going to go out there and try and take that game, obviously,” Senior catcher and co-captain Chris Berset said after Saturday’s 12-3 victory over the Mastodons. “We haven’t forgot last year, so it’s probably a little motivation right there. We can’t look past anybody and … last year we lost to them so we can’t really look past them this year.”
The coaches have brought Katzman along slowly this season, as he continues to recover from his operation. Katzman has appeared in relief four times this season, most recently with his performance in Friday’s victory.
He threw one inning and allowed one walk, but he also struck out two and appeared to be close to normal form.
“I felt much, much improvement,” Katzman said. “Each week it’s gotten extremely better and today was a day where I felt I could help the team out. (Sitting out has) been tough, but I’ve been trying to help out in other ways. It feels real good to finally be out there and putting up zeros.”
The Eagles average seven runs a game and are hitting just .289 as a team. The matchup against EMU should serve as a great opportunity for Katzman to ease back onto the mound.
To compare, both squads have played Jacksonville State this season. Michigan scored 33 runs in two blowout wins over the Gamecocks, while Eastern managed just 23 in three games.
But after last year’s result and the way the early part of this season went, don’t expect an overconfident effort out of the gate. The team will be looking to back it’s senior starter in his return.
“We’re going to keep trying to build him up,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said of the injury. “When he gets back to 100 percent we’ll be a lot better team because he was our best returning pitcher and he hasn’t pitched much yet. I feel like there’s just been a lack of strength since his hernia operation. Hopefully we can get him back to form.”
Injury Notes: When junior outfielder Ryan LaMarre originally went out with a broken thumb, the prognosis had him out for six weeks — putting him back in the lineup this weekend against the Hoosiers.
But his status is still unclear. Though he has been rehabilitating as swiftly as possible, Maloney said he might not be ready to play in Bloomington (though he would definitely be back by next weekend’s series against Purdue).
“Day by day,” Maloney said. “If he can end up playing, certainly we would love to have him out there. But we need to make sure he is feeling really good before we do that.”
Meanwhile, the team’s bad luck with thumbs continued this weekend. Redshirt freshman Kevin Krantz, who was one of a host of players attempting to replace LaMarre in the lineup, fractured his thumb in the fourth inning.
Krantz will see a hand specialist to determine whether he needs surgery. It is unknown how long he will be out until he receives that evaluation.