The first 16 games of the season didn’t go as planned for junior Zach Putnam.
His batting statistics were down from last year, and he had no home runs.
But his performance in the Michigan baseball team’s sweep of Iowa this weekend was much more to his liking.
Putnam was the star of the series against the Hawkeyes, particularly on Saturday, when he delivered clutch hits for the Wolverines in both games of the doubleheader.
Michigan beat Iowa 4-3 and 5-3 Saturday and 6-3 and 3-2 Sunday.
Not only did Putnam excel in the batter’s box, he also intimidated hitters from the mound.
The senior pitcher started the first game of the series for Michigan (4-0 Big Ten, 14-6 overall) Saturday and simply dominated Iowa (0-4, 7-12). Putnam had a perfect game through six, struck out 12, and had four hits in the two games.
“The nice thing was I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes and I was getting ahead in the count,” Putnam said. “It’s tough when you’re braving the elements and the opposition, but I had everything going for me today.”
But in the seventh inning, the Hawkeyes finally broke through and scored three unearned runs, preventing Putnam from recording the win.
“Zach was outstanding,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “He’s an outstanding player and his star shined today. He pitched a great, great game. It’s too bad he didn’t get a better verdict because he deserved better than that.”
As effective as Putnam was on the mound, he played a more important role from the batter’s box.
The Ann Arbor native hit the game-winning RBI in both of Saturday’s games.
In the first game, with pinch-runner Kenny Fellows on second base in the 10th inning, the Hawkeyes made the mistake of pitching to Putnam.
And it was an error they regretted.
Putnam smashed a double off the left-field wall – a new addition this year to Ray Fisher Stadium – to drive home Fellows and win the game in walk-off fashion.
In the second game, another Putnam hit was just as crucial to a Michigan win.
Iowa started the game off strong, scoring the first three runs, while the Wolverine offense sputtered through four innings.
After finally tying Iowa in the fifth, Putnam put the Wolverines on top. He hit a two-run home run to left-center field, his second of the day, in Michigan’s 5-3 win over Iowa. It was even more impressive considering the strong headwind the batters fought Saturday.
“You’re never thinking home run and you’re never trying for that,” Putnam said. “I’ve been struggling of late, and it was nice to pop a few out of here, but I wasn’t thinking more than just hitting the ball hard and getting the guys in.”
Putnam and the Wolverines hope his impressive day can jumpstart his season. Before this weekend, he had an .313 average this season, which is below a .359 level at the same point last season. Focusing on hitting the long-ball has taken Putnam away from the fundamentals of his game.
“One of my biggest goals this season was to try to improve my power numbers,” Putnam said. “From the get go, I was just trying to hit the ball out of the yard all the time, and you should never do that because good things never happen.”