Pitching isn’t rocket science. It’s just about throwing strikes.
Michigan pitcher Drew Taylor would know the difference. He’s a graduate student working on a masters in cellular, molecular and developmental biology.
Using change-ups and curveballs with pinpoint control, Taylor struck out three batters and went the distance during the Wolverines’ 4-0 win yesterday over conference foe Penn State.
Michigan (19-9 Big Ten, 33-18 overall) bounced back from a mediocre weekend against Illinois two weeks ago by taking three of four games from the Nittany Lions this past weekend. All three wins were shutouts. Starters Chris Fetter, Paul Hammond and Taylor combined for a total of 23 1/3 scoreless innings.
“All three of them did a great job,” catcher Jeff Kunkel said. “They mixed up their pitches really well and basically kept their hitters off balance all weekend.”
Hammond started the weekend off with his fifth consecutive win of the season and his team-leading sixth overall. Fetter improved his record to 4-1 and now leads the team in ERA (2.21).
But the crown jewel of the three pitching performances was Taylor’s complete-game shutout on Sunday.
He has won three-straight decisions and improved his overall record to 5-4. During this winning streak, the Toronto, Ontario native has dropped his ERA from 7.11 to 4.96.
“(For me) to be able to have a really good performance and last the entire game was really important, not only to the team, but for me personally – for (my) confidence level going into the final series,” Taylor said.
Taylor stifled Penn State’s hitters all day. The closest he came to giving up a run came in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Nittany Lions (12-16, 19-32) had runners on first and third with nobody out. But Taylor stopped the potential rally by inducing a popout to the second baseman and picking off the runner at first soon after. He faced just two more batters before finishing the inning.
“(The pickoff) really changed the momentum of the game,” Kunkel said. “And he remained calm throughout the whole game. The defense was making plays behind him and he was working fast and doing everything we needed him to do to win today.”
Taylor’s improvement over the season has been similar to the improvement of the entire pitching staff over the year. Just before the Big Ten season, the team’s ERA was 5.77, but following this weekend’s series, it has dropped to 4.43. Michigan has held a Big Ten opponent to two runs or less in 15 out of 28 conference contests, including six shutouts. That kind of pitching has taken some pressure off of the hitters.
“It gives you a little bit of confidence as a team to know that you don’t have to go out there and score 11 runs,” Kunkel said. “You know if you don’t get something done, your pitcher will be there to pick you up and hold the (other) team down for you a little bit.”
The pitching staff is hitting its stride, and it comes at the perfect time for the Wolverines. With one weekend left in the season, Michigan is in a tight race for the regular-season conference championship with Northwestern, who goes into its contest today against Michigan State trailing the Wolverines by half a game. The winner of the regular season conference championship will host the conference tournament from May 24-27.
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