It’s spring training all over again for the Michigan baseball team.

At least that’s how coach Rich Maloney is approaching the last games before the Big Ten season starts on April 1. And who can blame him?

When the Wolverines play in the Oestrike Classic at Eastern Michigan this weekend, they will be starting over after a rough 15-game trip south in which the team went 3-12. The road tour, which sent Michigan to Florida, Texas and South Carolina, was characterized by inconsistent hitting, disappointing pitching and shaky defense.

As Michigan shifts its focus to the Midwest for the rest of the regular season, it’s time to look at what the Wolverines have to be pleased — and not so pleased — about.

Best Surprise

There’s no question that freshman right fielder Michael O’Neill has been one of the brightest spots so far.

O’Neill batted ninth in the first two games of the season and hit .500 in his first six at-bats. He impressed Maloney enough to move the freshman to the No. 3 hole. It was just the second time Maloney remembered putting a freshman in that spot. Recently, he’s been hitting clean-up. O’Neill has responded by recording a hit in each game this year. He is batting .356 and leads the team in hits, runs, slugging percentage, stolen bases and even outfield assists.

If O’Neill is able to keep his hot bat aglow, the Wolverines will have a tough lineup to get through once a few guys join him.

Worst Surprise

Coming into the season, Michigan knew starting pitching was going to be one of its biggest question marks. Redshirt sophomore Bobby Brosnahan was supposed to be the only sure thing as the anchor of the staff. Last year, the left hander started 11 games and threw two combined shutouts en route to being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and the All-Big Ten Tournament Team.

This season has been a different story. In his four starts, Brosnahan collected four losses and led to the instability of the whole pitching rotation. He has a 10.19 ERA and opponents have hit .432 against him. But in his most recent outing, Brosnahan allowed only one run and three hits over four innings in a 3-1 loss to Stony Brook on March 13. If he is able to keep that momentum moving into the conference season, Michigan will be much closer to solving its biggest problem.

Best Game

Down 8-3 in the top of the seventh against Winthrop on March 12 at the Bojangles Baseball Classic in Rock Hill S.C., Michigan was heading for its fourth-straight loss — all to teams from non-power conferences.

But a two-run single by redshirt freshman John DiLaura spurred Michigan to a five-run seventh inning and evened the game, giving a shot in the arm to the deflated Wolverines. And with one out in the ninth, fifth-year senior Anthony Toth doubled in the game-winning run, helping Michigan to a much-needed 9-8 victory.

Sophomore Ben Ballantine turned in the best pitching performance of the year to pick up the win. With eight runs already across, he relieved freshman Alex Lakatos in the third inning and held the Eagles scoreless for the remainder of the game. Ballantine recorded six strikeouts in 6.1 innings as he paved the way for the Wolverines’ bats to get them back into the game.

Worst Game

After Michigan dropped its first six games — all to Big East teams — it was looking for a middling opponent to get its first win against. Florida Gulf Coast was a pretty good candidate. The Eagles were 3-4 at that point in the season and had yet to beat a quality team.

Though the Wolverines should have had a strong sense of urgency to get a victory over a beatable opponent, they came out listless on March 2 in Fort Myers, Fla. Florida Gulf Coast jumped out to a 3-1 lead before Michigan’s bats came alive to tie the game, 4-4, in the top of the sixth inning. But the Eagles were persistent and got the best of the Wolverines with runs in the sixth and seventh innings. Michigan left men on base in its last three innings and lost the game 6-4.

The loss left the Wolverines 0-for-Florida. They would have to go to Texas to find their first win.

Best News

With an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament out of the question, Michigan knows the team’s success will be determined by the Big Ten season. In the mind of the Wolverines, they are 0-0 and have time to turn things around.

Michigan will get tune-ups for the conference season this weekend and against Michigan State next weekend before the first official conference series at home against Indiana on April 1.

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