Ray Fisher Stadium was reminiscent of this past spring in last night’s exhibition game against the Ontario Blue Jays, an under-18 travel team from Canada. The Michigan baseball team had many months of training ahead of it, but it seemed as though the Wolverines were ready for the season to start tomorrow.
Would the win over the Blue Jays signify a successful season or were they destined to finish last in the Big Ten like they did last season? Michigan had witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly in the past few years from a 2008 conference title to last year’s severe decline.
Monday, there was plenty for Michigan coach Rich Maloney to be pleased with in his team’s 6-3 win in a game planned to last 14 innings. He tried to play nearly every one of his players — some did well, others did not. Winning by just three runs may have been a disappointment.
So maybe the Wolverines’ future isn’t so cut and dry.
Senior starting pitcher Brandon Sinnery gave Maloney a ho-hum three scoreless innings to start the game. He struck out five batters and allowed just one hit, building off his strong junior campaign in which he posted a 2.91 ERA.
“I feel great right now,” Sinnery said. “I feel like all of us are on the same cylinder and we’re really coming together.”
Ontario jumped on the board in the fourth, as Michigan’s bats fell silent until the sixth inning. And even then, the Wolverines didn’t need to swing to score — senior catcher Coley Crank hit a two-out single and rounded the bases to score after an error moved him to second. Then the Blue Jays threw two-consecutive wild pitches. Ontario gave the Wolverines another run via a passed ball in the inning, essentially handing Michigan a 2-1 lead.
Maloney could’ve been scratching his head by then, but he could’ve waited until junior pitcher Ben Ballentine entered the game in the seventh and immediately gave up two runs and the lead.
His saving grace was sophomore catcher Cole Martin, who threw out a baserunner to end the threat.
“I thought Cole Martin was outstanding,” Maloney said. “He threw out three runners and that was impressive. That’s a place we need to be strong at. … So for me, that was my MVP right there.”
Giving Maloney the opportunity to play Crank at designated hitter at times, Martin did all he could to impress Monday. He was one of several young players that a veteran Michigan team may want to groom to contribute now and star later.
Freshman catcher Kevin White singled, stole second and came around to tie the game again in the seventh. Then in the 11th, White and fellow freshman Dylan Delaney both scored on a Kevin Krantz double.
The outcome was resolved by then, but one last Wolverine needed to impress. After a shaky freshman year, posting a near-7.00 ERA, sophomore reliever Alex Lakatos hit between 92 and 94 mph on his fastball Monday and allowed just one run in three innings, striking out six batters.
Fifteen position players and six pitchers combined for the 6-3 win. But just three of the Wolverines’ six runs were batted in, and a case could be made that the 18-and-under Blue Jays outplayed the Wolverines at times.
But what does this all mean to Maloney after an exhibition game in October?
“In essence, it really doesn’t (matter),” Maloney said. “Other than that (we had) a chance to go out there and see where we’re at.”