SURPRISE, Ariz. – Following the Michigan baseball team’s 8-4 loss to No. 1 Arizona State Saturday, Michigan coach Rich Maloney just chuckled and smiled.
He said in all his years of coaching, he’s never experienced something quite like this.
In seven games, the Michigan pitching staff has an abysmal 6.97 ERA. That’s a frightening figure, considering No. 18 Michigan lost just one pitcher of significance from last year’s squad.
Last season’s team ERA was 4.38.
“I don’t want to critique them,” fifth-year senior Leif Mahler said. “They’re definitely doing a great job. But we definitely need to throw strikes if we’re going to get these guys out, and we got to go after these hitters.”
Control has been the biggest issue for the Wolverines, and it doomed them in their tilt with the Sun Devils Saturday.
Michigan (4-3) held a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh. Then redshirt junior Mike Powers – who had been pitching solidly through six frames – walked the first two batters.
Sophomore Mike Dufek relieved Powers, and, following a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, walked in the game-tying run.
The next batter, Mike Newman, followed up with a two-run single into left field. After another walk, this time from junior Adam Abraham, Arizona State’s Raoul Torres and Brett Wallace each hit RBI singles to close up the Sun Devils’ scoring for the frame: five runs off five walks (one intentional) and just three base hits.
“It’s not a mystery why they score runs like that,” Mahler said. “You can’t be giving up free bases like that. The pitchers know that, and they’re going to make an adjustment.”
Maloney was calm following the game, saying his staff’s 52 walks in 62 innings is the result of early-season rust. When pitchers finally get into a regular rhythm, Maloney said, the Wolverines will be difficult to beat.
For now, Michigan’s offense must continue its pace to keep the team competitive.
The Wolverines are averaging nearly seven runs per game and have a team batting average of .331.
Against Arizona State, the bats were hot. But to beat the top-ranked team a little luck helps, and was nowhere to be found Saturday night.
In the third and fourth innings, four straight batters were robbed of hits by jumping or diving catches. Sun Devils’ first baseman Ike Davis made the most impressive play when he made a feet-first sliding catch in foul territory just in front of Arizona State’s dugout.
The batter, junior Zach Putnam, could do nothing more than throw his hands up in disbelief.
“They played so well tonight,” Mahler said. “There’s nothing you can do about hitting line drives and balls to the wall that they’re making outstanding plays.”
Michigan finished the trip to Arizona with a 1-3 record. The Wolverines lost to the Sun Devils, 14-5, Thursday and followed that up with a tough, 4-3 loss in 10 innings to Portland Friday.
The lone win came Saturday afternoon against Hawaii (11-5).
But despite the less-than-stellar record, Maloney isn’t worried. He believes his team played solid baseball all weekend and that once the pitching problems sort themselves out, the Wolverines will be a force again.
Then, maybe he’ll chuckle and smile for an entirely different reason.