Friday, May 1, 2009

ESPN: Meaningful Matchup

Wimmers is 7-1 with a 3.14 ERA on the season.

Photo courtesy The

By Aaron Fitt
Baseball America/ESPN

Meaningful matchup
Michigan's Chris Fetter vs. Ohio State's Alex Wimmers

This season hasn't gone as planned for Michigan, which fancied itself a top contender for the Big Ten title heading into the season, even after losing many of its key players from last year's regional-hosting team. The Wolverines (23-19, 6-9 in the Big Ten) currently cling to a half-game lead over Purdue for the sixth and final spot in the conference tournament field, while rival Ohio State (32-10, 11-4) has replaced the Wolverines as the Big Ten's strongest regional host contender.

But one thing hasn't changed for Michigan: Right-hander Chris Fetter is still the best pitcher in the conference. Fetter, who led the Big Ten in wins, ERA and innings pitched as a junior in 2008, recorded his third complete game of the year in a win against Indiana last Friday, striking out 12 and allowing just two runs over nine innings. That performance lowered his conference-leading ERA to 2.18, and his 82 strikeouts rank second in the league behind only Alex Wimmers (89).

Fetter has come a long way since arriving at Michigan in the fall of 2004 with a 79-81 mph fastball. The Wolverines long expected a velocity jump for the 6-foot-8 230-pounder, and he climbed into the mid-80s in the Cape Cod League in 2007. This year, according to Michigan pitching coach Bob Keller, Fetter is sitting at 90-91 mph. Keller said Fetter touched 94 mph eight to 10 times against Indiana, which should help his draft stock significantly. He also drops his arm slot down to throw an average slider, and he has improved his feel for his changeup.

"I think it's the culmination of a lot of things," Keller said of Fetter's increase in velocity. "We've done a lot of work with weighted balls, we've got him throwing from a higher slot and we've worked on a lot of long toss."

Wimmers, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the Big Ten's top starters as a sophomore after working exclusively in relief as a freshman. He really made a name for himself last summer in the Valley League, ranking as the circuit's No. 2 prospect, and he carried his momentum over to the spring. Wimmers settled into Ohio State's Friday starter job from opening day and never let go. Through 11 outings, he is 7-1, 3.14 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 72 innings.

Wimmers worked in the 90-93 mph range for much of last summer, but Ohio State pitching coach Eric Parker said he's worked at 88-90 most of this spring, touching 91 occasionally. But when he's been on -- like he was in a win against Miami on March 24 -- Wimmers is able to command his curveball and changeup as well as his heater.

"For the most part, he's been able to command three pitches," Parker said. "The thing that's really come along has been his changeup. Last year he was more of a reliever for us, a late-innings setup guy who would get after them and attack them. As a starter, he has been able to really work on that changeup."

Even with Michigan struggling, there should be an excellent crowd at Bill Davis Stadium to see two of the league's best pitchers going head-to-head.

"Michigan and Ohio State could play checkers and draw a big crowd," Keller said

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