Middle relief pitchers don’t usually get much attention.
After all, it is the starter who picks up the win or loss and the
closer who gets the save.
But, while it’s easy to recognize starters for their heavy
workloads and endurance or closers for their ability to keep a team
alive in the waning moments, the middle reliever — the
pitcher who bridges the gap between the two — is just as
instrumental to a team’s success.
“Having somebody in the middle to hold down the fort is
huge,” Maloney said. “We’ve got some outstanding
Michigan’s middle relief is all the more critical because
of its ability to help the team come from behind. After falling
behind 5-0 to Minnesota in the first inning on Sunday, the
Wolverines cobbled together 11 runs in the middle three innings,
taking the lead in the sixth inning of their 12-10 victory. Strong
pitching in the intermediate innings was essential. Michigan
batters needed the comfort of knowing that the deficit would not
balloon to an insurmountable level.
Enter Phil Tognetti, who leads Michigan in game appearances with
11. The junior, who owns the team’s fifth-best ERA at 4.82,
has been reliable out of the bullpen.
“Phil’s the kind of guy who doesn’t say a
whole lot,” Maloney said. “He just gets the job done.
He works extremely hard and is very focused on what his duty
Tognetti’s philosophy is simple: He leads by example.
“You can’t really say a whole lot unless you do a
whole lot,” Tognetti said. “It’s not about
talking. It’s about showing what you’ve got.”
Tognetti was not always a reliever. The Newhall, Ca., native
— who made 10 starts last season and had a rotation-low 3.76
ERA — has selflessly welcomed his change in responsibility
“(Maloney) puts me in a role,” he said. “I
just try and get us back in the dugout so we can hit. I try and do
whatever coach asks me to do. I’ve adapted really well to
(the move). As long as we keep winning, I’m completely
After two years of coaching Tognetti, Maloney knows exactly what
to expect when he calls on No. 21 to begin warming up.
“He’s going to throw strikes,” Maloney said.
“He throws three or four pitches for strikes. He
doesn’t throw very hard, but he’s very
Tognetti acknowledges he has room for improvement. Specifically,
he hopes to decrease his walks and improve his ability to paint the
corners of the strike zone with his fastball and his off-speed
“That’s how I’m going to be effective,”
In the meantime, Maloney appreciates the intangible benefits a
seasoned veteran like Tognetti brings to the team. The coach values
the “calming influence” the reliever has on his younger
teammates, and Tognetti knows it is important to set a precedent
for the more inexperienced players.
“I think we’ve got a great group of younger
guys,” Tognetti said. “We just have to show them how
it’s done the Michigan way. It’s blue-collar, like
coach (Maloney) says all the time. We just have to go out there and
If Tognetti’s peers follow his lead, putting in the work
will not be a problem.