“Better” may be an appropriate way to describe Michigan baseball this past weekend.
Michigan found itself struggling as it crawled to a dismal 3-12 record to start the season. The Wolverines occupied the lowest spot in the Big Ten statistics in hitting, pitching and fielding.
But now, Roberts and the Wolverines have righted their ship with three wins against Iowa over the weekend, wins that featured much-improved play in all three phases of the game.
Hitting: The Wolverines struggled considerably from the plate to start the season. The team had a .259 batting average through the first 15 games of the season. Not only was Michigan’s batting average the lowest in the conference, but the Wolverines also held the lowest on-base percentage (.344 ) in the Big Ten.
But this weekend, Michigan turned around its performance at the plate. Spearheading this offensive output were back-to-back home runs by Gino Lollio and Nate Wright. In the fourth inning of the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Lollio cranked a solo shot deep over the leftfield wall. Wright then belted the first pitch he saw into the same spot as Lollio. Michigan finally began to exhibit the offensive prowess it was capable of with the sweep of Iowa on Saturday.
“We felt that what we had been doing offensively, with the bats, wasn’t equivalent to the talent that we have up at the plate,” Lollio said.
Interim head coach Chris Harrison served as the hitting coach for Michigan for the last six seasons, so the lack of offense was especially disappointing. But now the team is performing to its expected standards. The Wolverines’ offense thrived this weekend versus the Hawkeyes, scoring 17 runs.
“We’re starting to show the talent and the potential we have,” Roberts said. “Once a guy gets a hit, the next guy gets a hit, another guy gets a hit, it’s contagious.”
Pitching: The beginning of the season was also a big disappointment for Michigan’s pitching staff. The Wolverines’ early-season struggles translated into poor pitching statistics for the Michigan hurlers, despite good performances.
“Both (senior Bobby) Korecky and (Rich) Hill have been throwing much better than their stats have been showing,” Harrison said.
But this weekend, Michigan’s pitching staff did the job, throwing back-to-back shutouts against Iowa on Saturday. Korecky started the first game of the weekend, and set the tone for the Wolverines with a 65-pitch complete-game shutout in which the right-handed hurler allowed just two Hawkeyes to reach base. The two runners did give Korecky the opportunity to show off his pickoff move, which resulted in two clean pickoffs.
Next up was Hill. The sophomore sensation fanned seven batters and earned his first win of the season. Hill was one of several Michigan pitchers whose stat lines greatly belied his prowess so far this season. With the Big Ten season starting, Hill and the other hurlers have all undergone certain changes.
“I think the attitude has changed a lot. The guys look more intense, and for me it is being more dominate,” Hill said. “I think you step it up a level when the Big Ten starts.”
In Hill’s mind, pitching will continue to stand out as one of Michigan’s strengths.
“That’s the way it is going to be the rest of the year,” Hill said. “I think we go out, Bobby and I, and dominate.”
Fielding: One of the reasons Michigan’s pitchers struggled early this season was the lackluster defense behind them. Throughout the beginning of the campaign, Michigan was plagued by errors.
A large factor in the defensive woes was that several players were forced to make position changes. For example, junior Brock Koman moved from third base to shortstop this year and is still learning the position and the intricacies involved.
“I’m trying to get used to it over there, trying to be a little quicker,” Koman said. “You have to move your feet a little more over there. I’m starting to feel more comfortable, it’s feeling good.”
Harrison had tried several different players at third, including Jake Fox and Brandon Jominy.
Fox struggled and will probably play catcher or designated hitter for the rest of the year while Jominey takes over third base responsibilities.
Harrison was pleased with the defense he saw over the weekend, and has decided to stay with this alignment.
“We’re set, as far as that’s an infield that I like. It took us 15 games to find the right combination, and we like it,” Harrison said.