- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Liz Nagle, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 25, 2012
It cannot be ignored — it’s been repeated for the past two years — that the injuries have been the demise of the Michigan baseball team.
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As the Wolverines (4-8 Big Ten, 17-24 overall) sit last in the conference, they wait, just like they have all season, for recovery.
Michigan’s lineup has been looking rather slim with freshman left fielder Will Drake and sophomore right fielder Michael O’Neill among those in questionable conditions.
Without the duo, the Wolverines have seen many changes in the lineup. They carried the team in almost all offensive efforts, so Michigan has been trying many options to replace their production.
It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Wolverines — right in the heat of conference action.
O’Neill has missed the last 12 games and Drake the last seven, which is when Michigan coach Rich Maloney started improvising.
Without the two, Maloney has called on just about everyone in the dugout with a healthy swing. He doesn’t feel that the young players are completely ready, but there are no other options.
“We’re just trying to hold the fort down,” Maloney said. “When those guys get back, hopefully, they can give the team a surge.”
There’s a handful of other players unavailable due to injuries — redshirt junior left-hander Bobby Brosnahan, junior shortstop Derek Dennis and redshirt senior right-handers Kolby Wood and Travis Smith.
Brosnahan was more than a reliable hurler for the Wolverines at the start of the season. He rarely walked batters and gave up just eight earned runs in 34.1 innings.
But in his last outing against Minnesota on March 31, Brosnahan allowed ten hits and eight earned runs in just 1.1 innings before being yanked from the game and feeling discomfort in his shoulder.
If Brosnahan had continued his nonconference production into the Big Ten schedule, Michigan wouldn’t have to second-guess itself on starting pitchers in the weekend series. As of late, Maloney has had an issue with the pitching staff and its ups and downs.
Senior right-hander Brandon Sinnery, junior right-hander Ben Ballantine and Brosnahan began as the triple threat on the mound. But injury and inconsistency has taken its toll, oftentimes leaving Maloney uncertain.
Wood and Smith were hopeful relievers for this season, but neither has seen much action. Due to a bicep tendon injury and Tommy Johns surgery, the two has recorded a combined 3.2 innings of play this year.
Last season was no different — Wood and Smith contributed just 8.1 innings, but both pitchers are practicing on the mound, ready to make a comeback.
“Kolby’s arm has been fine, he just hasn’t been able to throw strikes,” Maloney said. “We’re just trying to have him face hitters, keep him alive, try to keep him moving forward in hopes that at some point, he’ll get back to being a factor for us — we’re not giving up on him.”
Though there is no set timetable for the two hurlers, Smith has been trying to make the transition to knuckleball pitching.
“That’s rare in the game,” Maloney said. “He’s been working diligently. … That’s a work in progress.”
VETERANS WEIGH IN: There was a concern midway through the season that the veterans weren’t stepping up to the plate. But if last weekend’s performance is any indication for the remainder of conference play, then the Wolverines may be able to climb the conference ladder.
Senior third baseman John Lorenz has impressed Maloney with his defensive efforts all season. But his batting average dropped to a measly .237 — he went 5-for-42 in the 11 outings before the Northwestern series.
But Lorenz made the necessary adjustments, shortening his swing. He batted .500 in 12 at-bats against the Wildcats and notched two RBIs in the doubleheader on Saturday.
“Everyone’s trying to stay positive,” Lorenz said. “It’s tough with all the injuries, but we’re not going to use it as an excuse.”
Sophomore first baseman Brett Winger has been emerging from a slump, and he’s logged solid numbers in the last two weeks.
Winger has struck out just twice in his last 23 plate appearances and went 8-for-14 with a three-run bomb over left field on Sunday to give Michigan the lead, and the eventual win.
“It was great to see Brett Winger on fire,” Maloney said. “We moved his hands back a little bit, and he really freed himself. … I think we’re on the right track there.”
Senior catcher Coley Crank has been “cranking it up” as of late.