When junior pitcher Brandon Sinnery was pulled from the starting rotation after just one start this season, no one would’ve predicted he would be one of the Big Ten’s most dominant pitchers.
Sinnery locked down yet another conference foe — Penn State (12-12 Big Ten, 32-20 overall) — on Thursday, despite earning the loss in a 1-0 contest.
The righty went eight innings, surrendering four hits and striking out seven. He gave up just one run, but got no run support — something he’s grown familiar with because of the struggles Michigan (7-16, 17-37) has faced at the plate.
Sinnery’s 2.91 ERA is good for fourth in the Big Ten and he has held hitters to a .238 average, second best in the conference.
His ERA in conference play is even better (2.22), but his record is just 2-3 in those games, thanks to a sluggish offense that’s given him a run support of under three runs per game.
“I’m excited about having Sinnery back and the development that he made,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “Brandon proved that he can be (the Friday night guy).”
O’NEILL MAKES HISTORY: Freshman right fielder Michael O’Neill stole two bases in Friday’s 5-4 win over Penn State, breaking Michigan’s single-season record for stolen bases by a freshman. His third-inning steal of third base — the 29th of his season — tied the record that current sophomore center fielder Patrick Biondi set last year.
O’Neill’s steal allowed him to score on an ensuing single, one of the three runs the leadoff man scored in the game.
In the fifth inning, O’Neill stole second to break the record. His 30 steals led the Big Ten this year, which was three steals ahead of Biondi. The mark was also good for fourth all-time in a Michigan season.
O’Neill was one of the few pleasant surprises for the Wolverines this year. The right fielder proved durable — starting in every game — and showed potential that should make him a mainstay in future All-Big Ten lineups.
He flashed five-tool ability, leading the team in average (.307) and steals, and second on the team in homers (2). He also displayed impressive range and posted 10 assists from the outfield, a limited number given that Big Ten teams stopped testing his arm.
“I’m excited about the years that Michael O’Neill is going to have here,” Maloney said. “Boy, what a nice freshman year he had.”
LAST GAME IN BLUE? While Saturday’s 11-8 loss was definitely the last game in the Michigan careers of two fifth-year seniors — pitcher Matt Gerbe and second baseman Anthony Toth — the future of two others are up in the air.
Redshirt sophomore hurler Tyler Mills and sophomore Derek Dennis are both expected to be drafted in the upcoming MLB Draft and could forgo their final two seasons in Ann Arbor by signing professional contracts.
BaseballAmerica.com — a reliable prospect-ranking service — tabbed Dennis as the No. 6 shortstop coming out of high school and the No. 9 shortstop overall entering the 2009 MLB Draft.
But Dennis has struggled this year since returning from a broken foot that kept him out of the beginning of conference play. The shortstop plays professional-caliber defense, but has struggled at the plate, hitting just .216 with just five extra-base hits — all doubles.
Dennis went 0-for-10 this weekend, though he walked three times.
After playing scarcely as an outfielder last season, Mills moved into the rotation early this season. Maloney raved about Mills in the preseason, calling him “electric,” but the righty has been erratic on the mound. At times he’s looked dominant, but he has often struggled with command.
Mills was pulled from the rotation midway through conference play and has since made several relief appearances.
He’s 2-4 in 19 appearances — including eight starts — with a 5.02 ERA. His 48 strikeouts lead the team, but so do his 30 walks.
Mills pitched 2.0 innings on Friday, striking out three and walking three while giving up no runs. He also pitched the ninth inning of Thursday’s game in relief of Sinnery, walking two but eventually striking out the side.
The MLB Draft is June 6-8.