After the series loss on Sunday, Michigan baseball coach Rich Maloney looked defeated, and his voice trailed off close to a whisper.
“I don’t really know what to say.”
The Wolverines (4-11 Big Ten, 17-27 overall) were swept by Indiana (8-6, 22-23) this weekend, and all hopes for the playoffs are slowly disappearing.
It seemed as though Michigan’s pitching staff was caught off guard whenever the Hoosiers entered the batter’s box. Time and time again Indiana took advantage of the downtrodden Wolverine hurlers, crushing them 8-1, 11-8 and 11-5.
The consistent mound problems overwhelmed all offensive efforts, starting with senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery on Friday and trickling through the bullpen.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the eight pitchers after him were letdowns — they served the Hoosiers three wins on silver platters.
In the first three innings of work on Friday, Sinnery gave up seven earned runs. Though he was plenty capable of finding the strike zone, the Indiana batters worked off the momentum — meanwhile, the Michigan pitching staff continued to fall.
Due to frigid weather on Saturday, the Wolverines faced Indiana in a doubleheader on Sunday. Starting on the mound for Michigan was junior right-hander Ben Ballantine, who only lasted three innings, giving up five hits, six earned runs and four walks. He came in with a 3.44 ERA and walked off the mound with a 4.19 ERA.
“In general, we just didn’t get it done. We didn’t get the job done,” Maloney said. “Too many freebies.”
In all three games, Indiana scored early and often, taking advantage of Michigan’s defensive downfalls. But glimmers of hope appeared on the field throughout the weekend of disappointment.
After the Hoosiers scored first on Sunday with first baseman Sam Travis’ solo home run, the Wolverines retaliated in the second inning. Recovering from Friday night’s poor performance, when he went 0-for-4 on three consecutive strikeouts, sophomore first baseman Brett Winger smacked one over the left field wall.
Following Winger’s solo home run, Michigan put runners in scoring positions, but failed to capitalize.
With two outs, sophomore catcher Cole Martin singled on a near perfect bunt that stayed fair down the third base line, and freshman second baseman Eric Jacobson found the hole in right field for a single.
Martin advanced to third on a fielding error, and with runners on the corners, freshman shortstop Dylan Delaney struck out swinging.
That was the recurring theme throughout the back-to-back stints.
“We would shoot ourselves in the foot,” Maloney said. “Unfortunately, the way it worked was just a dink there, a dink here.”
Though Indiana posts the lowest defensive ranks in the conference, Michigan slipped up and gave the Hoosiers a series win on 13 walks and six errors.
The Wolverines claimed a narrow 3-1 lead over the Hoosiers in the first game on Sunday. But in the fourth inning, Ballantine and junior right-hander Kyle Clark gave them seven runs.
“A big part of them scoring so many runs was giving up a lot of walks,” Lorenz said. “They got some key hits. … That was a big deal.”
It was apparent that Indiana didn’t need the insurance runs and went scoreless in the final three innings. But Michigan tried to make a comeback in its last chance.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Wolverines were down by seven runs, but freshman Kevin White hit his first career bomb, driving in three runs to tighten the gap. With two outs, Maloney called on the semi-healthy freshman left fielder Will Drake.
In his first at-bat since April 11, Drake came in as a pinch hitter, but struck out to finalize the series loss.
“Every little thing is magnified for us,” Maloney said. “We haven’t been able to play over it, pitch over it or make the next play.”
In the final contest, freshman left-hander Trent Szkutnik gave up five earned runs in 2.2 innings. The defensive woes settled in the third inning when sophomore right-hander Alex Lakatos stepped up with a 5-1 deficit to work with.
In his 4.1 innings of action, Lakatos struck out six batters, giving up no earned runs and just two walks. But he couldn’t recover from a few mental mistakes.
“Lakatos was (good) today, for a while,” Maloney said. “Then he kind of hit a blunder. … But outside of that, he was sharp.”
The Wolverines belted what would seem like a successful number of hits — they tallied 35, but stranded 26 base runners. It had a multitude of opportunities to score, but Michigan just couldn’t find the timely hit.
Though the Wolverines struggled in crucial moments, there were a handful of players that encouraged Maloney at the plate.
Senior third baseman John Lorenz extended his six game hitting streak — four of which were multi-hit outings. He manned the hot corner with experienced defensive plays and consistently made contact at the plate.
Lorenz posted solid numbers, going 5-for-11 with four runs on four singles, a double and three walks.
Equally impressive was White, in his rookie campaign, who cleared the bases with two consecutive-game home runs in opposite-field shots.
“We’ve had guys, especially right now, like … Lorenz that are playing really well and it’s nice to finally get in there and contribute to their success,” White said. “It feels good.”
Though a number of players are satisfied with their own efforts, they’re unhappy with the way the team pieces it together. To them, nothing really matters when Michigan sits at the bottom of the Big Ten and gets swept by Indiana.
“I feel okay,” Lorenz said. “It’s good to start helping out the team a little more. … But it just doesn’t feel good losing.”