MSU seeks diamond jump-start in rivalry clash with UM

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It’s a midweek game, and it won’t count in the conference standings.

Coach Jake Boss Jr. has seen his team lose  seven of its last 12 games.

But Michigan State baseball will be trying to make a statement when it visits nationally ranked Michigan for a Tuesday night game at the Wilpon Complex.

“It’s still a rivalry for us,” Michigan State coach Jake Boss said. “It doesn’t count in the Big Ten standings, but it’s certainly important to our kids. I can’t speak for them, but it’s something that’s extremely important for us as a program.”

It’s especially important, given how Michigan State has struggled lately — and how this is the first of four consecutive road games.

Michigan State (20-12, 5-4) plays at Michigan (29-7, 6-3) at 6 Tuesday, then goes to Maryland (24-11, 9-3) for a significant three-game conference series. Maryland is second in the Big Ten, and Michigan is third. Michigan State has slipped to sixth.

The Spartans have lost seven of their last 12 games, since crushing Illinois in a three-game sweep in late March.

“There’s a long way to go,” said Boss, “but this is a big stretch, for sure — the meat of our schedule.”

Michigan State has been battling key injuries, most notably to freshman outfielder Danny Gleaves and junior outfielder Brandon Hughes. Those are two of the top three hitters in Boss’ lineup.

Spartans second baseman Dan Durkin leading by example

Gleaves missed 15 games before returning to the lineup Friday, when he suffered a hamstring injury. He won’t play against Michigan and might not against Maryland, the same prognosis for Hughes, who suffered a hamstring game last Tuesday.

“They kind of make our offense go,” Boss said. “That hurts you.”

Things are looking a whole lot rosier for Michigan, which just swept nationally ranked Oklahoma and remains No. 13 in the NCAA baseball rankings, and moved up to No. 18 in the Baseball America rankings. Michigan is the only Big Ten ranked in either set.

Tuesday’s game also will be the 15th game in a scheduled 18-game home stand for Michigan; the home stand, which was cut to 17 by a nonconference rainout, began in late March. The Wolverines have won 12 of 13 during this stretch, and are 16-2 at home on the season.

While offense is more the story at Michigan State, it’s pitching at Michigan, which has a 3.02 team ERA and a .220 opponents’ batting average — spectacular in the college game, with metal bats.

“It’s gonna be important to go out and play well on the road,” said Boss, who will start freshman right-hander Mike Mokma against Michigan.

Michigan State and Michigan will play three conference games to close the regular season, May 18 in East Lansing, May 19 in Ann Arbor and May 20 in East Lansing. Tickets for Tuesday’s game are $6 to $8.

Meanwhile, for the softball rivalry game — Michigan State (21-16, 5-8) and No. 18 Michigan (31-9-1, 11-2), with the same start time, in Ann Arbor — tickets are $6 to $10.

There’s another intriguing local baseball game Tuesday night: Central Michigan (19-16) and Notre Dame (15-20) will play at Comerica Park at 7:05. The Chippewas played the Spartans in their last six annual games at the Tigers’ home ballpark.