The smallest Michigan baseball player is making a big splash for the Wolverines. Sophomore Matt Butler, listed at 5-foot-6 and 153 pounds, got called upon in all four games this past weekend and did not disappoint.
In Friday’s game, with Michigan trailing by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, coach Rich Maloney had Butler pinch hit against Illinois’ accomplished closer, Dave Mazurek. Posing as the Troy Percival of the Big Ten, Mazurek has only surrendered nine hits in 18 innings this season.
With the game on the line, Butler smacked a single over the head of the Illini second baseman, T.F. Meagher, to bring the tying run to the plate. Unfortunately, Butler was left stranded.
“He threw a fastball, and I just got my bat on it,” Butler said. “He’s a good pitcher, but nothing our team can’t handle.”
In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Butler was called upon to pinch hit again. He dragged a bunt past the pitcher towards second base, but Meagher’s throw beat Butler by a half-step.
“Usually I try to work the count and get on base,” Butler said. “If I see a whole in the defense, I go for it.”
Butler’s play on Friday and Saturday earned him a start in the series finale. The sophomore contributed to the 4-3 victory by knocking in a run and making numerous putouts in center field.
“He’s a little sparkplug,” Maloney said. “He’s a hustler and a great kid.”
The more close games the Wolverines play, the more likely it is that Butler will get more opportunities.
“Most of the time if I getted called on to pinch hit, it’s a tie game or we’re down one or two runs,” Butler said. “I don’t try to do too much, just get to first.”
Hakuna Matata: When Michigan ballplayers come up to bat, they have the loudspeaker play “pump-up” music to get them fired up to hit. Most Wolverines choose a rap number, such as Eminem or Outkast. Freshman A.J. Scheidt, though, uses the pre-at-bat music for a little comic relief – he comes out to ‘Circle of Life’ from the Lion King.
“It’s something I used to goof around with in high school,” Scheidt said. “I told some of the other guys, and they thought it was hilarious so I decided to use it.”
Scheidt proved the value of the unorthodox music when he belted his first homerun as a Wolverine on Saturday.
“I was just looking to put the ball in play,” Scheidt said. “I got a good piece of wood on it, and it went. It was pretty exciting, I really enjoyed it.”
After the homer on Saturday, Scheidt got his first collegiate start yesterday.
“He’s been swinging well in practice so why not give the rookie a chance,” Maloney said. “He’s going to be a big part of our future.”
“With the way these guys hit, it’s a tough lineup to crack,” Scheidt said. “I’m hoping to do my part whenever I can.”
Everythng Not Wright: Scheidt’s spot in the lineup was available because of an unfortunate incident over the weekend. Fifth-year senior Nate Wright’s wrist was broken when he was hit by a pitch in the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday. Wright is supposed to be out of commision for a number of games.
“Hopefully it will be four weeks,” Wright said. “I’m expecting to be back for the playoffs.”
With the injury, Wright will try to change his leadership style.
“Normally I try to lead by example, but with the injury I’m trying to be more vocal,” Wright said. “I’m trying to keep everyone else positive, it’s all I can really do.”
Knowing that this is his last season makes the injury especially hard to take.
“These guys are awesome, they’re trying to help me through it, and they really care.”