Spartans to test hot bats against Wolverines
Michigan State's offense has been on a roll. And now the Spartans are set to play their next two games at cavernous Comerica Park.
"Obviously, we want to play at Comerica Park," said senior Blaise Salter, Michigan State's cleanup hitter. "And we've got some guys that can hit the ball out of the park.
"Not that we'll be trying to hit the ball out of the park ..."
Michigan State had 48 hits in its three-game weekend series against Northwestern, has at least 10 hits in 11 of its last 13 games and has bumped its batting average up to .281, fourth-best in the Big Ten.
And to keep it going, Michigan State will have to do it against Michigan — the only scheduled meeting between the rivals this season — tonight.
And, it's not a conference game.
"It's kind of luck of the draw," Michigan State coach Jake Boss Jr. said. "It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. I don't quite understand it. People a whole lot smarter than me make those decisions."
When the Big Ten schedule was announced, and Michigan State and Michigan weren't scheduled to play each other, Boss and Michigan coach Erik Bakich got their heads together to decide on when they would play a nonconference game — and where.
Comerica Park was the first choice, and the timing worked out. The Tigers are on the road this week before returning Friday.
So, the teams play tonight, the first meeting since 2013. Michigan State, playing at Comerica Park the fifth season in a row, also plays Wednesday at the park, against Central Michigan.
"To play at a major league park like Comerica, it's always an honor," said Salter, a catcher and first baseman whose grandfather is legendary Tigers catcher Bill Freehan. "That it's Michigan makes it even more meaningful. Much more meaningful."
Michigan enters the game 21-14, while Michigan State is 18-15. Michigan State, however, has won seven of their last 10, including one over No. 11 Illinois, a three-game road sweep of Oregon, and two wins over Northwestern.
The Spartans offense is led by senior outfielder Anthony Cheky (.327), redshirt senior infielder Mark Weist (.326), senior first baseman Ryan Krill (.321), Blaise Salter (.463 slugging), and junior outfielder Cam Gibson (.326), son of former Tigers outfielder Kirk Gibson.
Salter has the school mark for doubles and Gibson is their spark with 14 multi-hit games and his speed on the bases.
"He plays a lot like his Dad," Boss said. "He makes things happen."
While it's still early in the conference season — Michigan State is 4-5 — things pick up quickly. After this week's games, Michigan State faces three-game series against Big Ten newcomer Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State.
And the hopes are high for this team, even if the overall results aren't there yet.
"We've got a very high ceiling," Salter said.
"We've got to continue to play our baseball."
Michigan State at Comerica Park
Michigan State vs. Michigan
First pitch: 6:35 Tuesday
Records: Michigan State 18-15, Michigan 21-14
Probables: Michigan State LHP Alex Troop (2-2, 4.85) vs. Michigan LHP Evan Hill (0-0, 1.69)
Michigan State vs. Central Michigan
First pitch: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday
Records: Michigan State 18-15, Central Michigan 24-12
Probables: Michigan State LHP Keegan Baar (0-0, 6.75) vs. Central Michigan RHP Blake Hibbitts (0-2, 6.23)
Tickets: msuspartans.com or Comerica Park box office