ANN ARBOR, Mich. – There are days in baseball when things just don't go right. It happens, and it happens at every level of the game.
And then, when you throw in some crazy unforeseen circumstances, the day can really blow up on you. That happened to Indiana on Friday in a 10-3 beatdown by Michigan here in Ann Arbor. It was the worst loss of the season and knocked the Hoosiers out of first place in the Big Ten.
The unforeseen circumstance? Well, no one was available to talk after the game on Friday, so I found out Saturday morning that the reason why Indiana yanked standout starter Tommy Sommer in the third inning after throwing just 47 pitches was because he split a fingernail on his throwing hand and couldn't get a good grip on the ball.
If it's not one thing, it's three.
"It was a fluke thing. He split is fingernail,'' Indiana coach Jeff Mercer said by phone Saturday morning. "In the second inning, I saw him shaking his hand. (Indiana pitching coach) Justin (Parker) went out there and saw the right side of his nail split. That's a hard thing for Tommy because he's a 'feel' pitcher. Having that touch and that feel, that's really important to him. We knew this would be a problem for him.
Tommy's a battler and he really wanted to compete and work his way through it, but in that third inning, he just couldn't locate the ball. Tommy, he's a tough dude, but he just couldn't do it. We're always going to err on the side of caution when he comes to a pitcher's health and we thought it was best to make a move.''
Sommer looked good early, allowing only a double in the first and a homer in the second, but the Hoosiers scored twice in the top of the third to give him a 2-1 lead. But in the bottom of the inning, he gave up a single and then two walks, and didn't look comfortable. Once he gave up another single that tied the game, he got the hook.
The Hoosiers decided to go to Braden Scott, but the Wolverines followed with three straight singles to grab a 6-2 lead.
"We were sort of in an in-between spot there. Who's our fireman, you know,'' Mercer said. "We have a lot of young guys with great stuff, but they're all better when they start a clean inning, not coming in with all that traffic on the bases.
"We thought it was best to go with Braden. He's a veteran and he throws strikes. He pitches to contact, but they just kept hitting the ball where we weren't and just like that it was 6-2.''
Indiana's defense let Scott down in the fourth with an error by second baseman Paul Toetz on an easy double play ball. Scott struck out the next two batters, and should have been strolling to the dugout. Instead, Griffin Mazur hit a three-run homer with two outs, and it was 9-2 just like that.
"In the fourth, we botched that double play ball and that really hurt him. He went strikeout, strikeout after that and the inning should have been over. Instead, he gives up that three-run homer with two out and it's basically over at 9-3. We have to be better defensively in our middle infield. It's been a real problem lately.''
The Hoosiers are right back at it on Saturday, with a 2 p.m. ET game with the Wolverines. After that whipping, Mercer isn't sure what to expect.
"It's a great question, because I honestly don't know,'' Mercer said. "That was really the first time we got our butt kicked all year. But we've bounced back before. We lost that first game to Iowa and then played great on Saturday and Sunday. We lost that first game to Nebraska last weekend, kicking the ball around, but then we played great on Sunday.
"We got our butt kicked, but it's not like we didn't have chances. We had 10 hits. We had four walks. But we left the bases loaded twice, we hit into a double with guys on first and third and one out. We didn't much timely hitting, but that can change day-to-day, too''
At least Mercer gets to hand the ball to fireballer McCade Brown, who was perfect through six innings a week ago. He's expecting more from him today. Brown is 4-2 this season with a 3.06 ERA. He'll face Michigan's Cameron Weston (5-2, 2.93 ERA), who is the reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the week after throwing a complete game one-hitter against Michigan State last Saturday.
"You can't ask for a better situation like that, handing the ball to McCade, especially after how great he was last weekend. They made some really nice adjustments with him a couple of weeks ago, and he's been really nasty.''