It’s impossible to have too much pitching. Hurlers have always been the backbone of a good baseball team, and that’s no different for the 2020 iteration of Michigan.
Coming off of their best season in over 20 years, capped by an incredible run to the College World Series (they lost 2 games to 1), the Wolverines are looking to extend that momentum into a season where they won’t be sneaking up on anyone.
Michigan has already had a dream start to the year, with impressive victories in its first three games: a 4-3 victory over No. 2 Vanderbilt in a rematch of last year’s CWS, followed by an 8-5 win over Cal Poly, before taking down No. 9 Arizona State in Tempe.
A Game 4 loss against Connecticut has done little to dampen the mood behind a 3-1 start and a first ever national No. 1 ranking via Baseball America.
The pitching staff keyed the CWS run last year, and it once again looks to be a strength for the Big Ten frontrunners, despite a couple of lingering questions.
“Figuring out the rotation to begin the season was a big question mark for us,” said Michigan assistant/pitching coach Chris Fetter on ‘Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath earlier this week.’ “There are a lot of guys with a bunch of talent, but outside of [junior] Jeff Criswell they haven’t gone out there and really done it.
"Blake Beers is now a junior and his first couple of years, he didn’t throw a ton of innings [22 2/3 innings]. We always knew that he had the stuff and the ability, it’s just that he had to go out there and do it with the lights on.
"Our guy throughout the spring who’d been our No. 3 starter was [freshman] Cameron Weston and with [sophomore closer] Willie Weiss out until Big Ten play we had to make a decision to fortify the back end of our bullpen, so we made him our closer. That left an opening for Beers, who took it and ran with it and had an unbelievable start.”
Beers was strong against Cal Poly in his first outing of the year, going 5 2/3 innings while only allowing two unearned runs against four hits with five strikeouts and no walks to push the Wolverines to 2-0.
Redshirt freshman Steven Hajjar then ended up making a spot start against the Sun Devils that same day in Tempe. The left-hander was, arguably, more impressive than Beers, tossing six shoutout innings of three-hit ball with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Couple that with Criswell, who gave U-M 6 1/3 innings allowing three earned runs on just two hits against the Commodores, and Michigan has reason to feel good so early in the year.
“Hajjar’s start against Arizona State, that’s one of the best offenses in the country,” Fetter said. “For a redshirt freshman, in his first collegiate start, to go out there and do what he did was very very impressive as well.
"It was good to see from the starting side of things that our starting pitching got us into the seventh or close to it.”
As Michigan heads into this weekend's series with Connecticut down in Port St. Lucie, Fla., it’s worth monitoring how the rotation shakes out with Beers and Hajjar now in the mix. Redshirt sophomore starting pitcher Ben Dragani, currently out with an injury, was projected to be the No. 2 starter.
“You kind of have to ride the hot hand,” Fetter said. “All three of Criswell, Beers and Hajjar did nothing to make us question throwing them right back out there.
“If we could solidify our rotation early, that would be outstanding.”