LINCOLN — When Aaron Bummer’s at his best, the Nebraska left-hander is trying to throw chest-high fastballs right down the middle of the plate.
He lets the baseball do the rest of the work.
Bummer’s fastball, just a shade off 90 mph, has so much late movement — mostly a sinking action — that he doesn’t need to overthink it. His goal is simply to remain confident in the pitch.
And he looked as comfortable as ever Friday, leading Nebraska to a critical 9-6 win against Michigan (28-25, 13-10 Big Ten) at Haymarket Park.
Bummer, occasionally mixing in a slider, gave up two runs during seven innings to move the Huskers into a tie for second place in the conference with one regular-season game remaining.
“You just have to trust that (the fastball) is going to run, trust that it’s going to sink,” Bummer said. “Once (I) did that, everything became a lot (easier).”
And as Bummer found his groove Friday, Nebraska’s offense took care of the rest. The Huskers had 16 hits for the third time in four games.
Back-to-back run-scoring bunt singles tied the contest at 2-2 in the bottom of the second before sophomore Pat Kelly launched a three-run homer to left field to put NU up 5-2.
“It was a slider up,” Kelly said of his first home run this year. “Just a reaction. Our approach is to hit the fastball and react to anything else.”
Nebraska (25-27, 15-8) scored twice in the fourth and sixth innings to take control.
Michigan did make a late charge — getting a grand slam from junior Michael O’Neill in the eighth inning — but the Wolverines couldn’t do much else against reliever Josh Roeder after that.
The win guarantees that the Huskers will be no worse than a No. 3 seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament in Minneapolis.
Indiana’s comeback victory against Ohio State (34-20, 15-8) Friday clinched at least a share of the regular-season crown for the Hoosiers, their first since 1949.
Nebraska, if it can beat Michigan on Saturday, needs an OSU win to earn a share of its first conference championship since 2005. But to get a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament, the Huskers need Indiana (39-13, 16-7) to win Saturday and earn an outright title.
The NU players weren’t concerned with the possible scenarios Friday, though. Their approach: It’s must-win from here on out, no matter what.
Bummer had no problem stepping up Friday.
He ran into some trouble in the second inning, allowing the first two batters to reach even though he was ahead 0-2 in the count. Michigan took a 2-0 lead in that frame, but its lineup managed one hit off Bummer after that.
Bummer, a sophomore out of Peoria, Ariz., threw a career-high 94 pitches, building off a breakthrough outing against Minnesota last Saturday when he allowed three hits during seven shutout innings. His win against the Wolverines came in his sixth weekend start.
This is the role NU’s coaches had envisioned for Bummer, though. They said he just needed time.
Before entering the weekend rotation, Bummer had lasted longer than two innings in five of his 29 career appearances, walking 18 batters and hitting eight others in 28 2⁄3 innings.
He’s walked 11 and hit three during 34 innings as a starter, with an ERA of 2.12. Five of those free passes came in a four-inning outing against Indiana, when he admittedly began aiming his pitches a little too much.
But Bummer’s settling in now, content to let the natural movement of his fastball frustrate opposing hitters.
“(It’s) understanding a lot more that you’re trying to pitch to contact and not trying to strike everybody out,” Bummer said. “It’s trusting yourself and trusting your pitches to get people out.”
Nebraska and Michigan play the series rubber match at 12:05 p.m. Saturday. NU seniors will be honored before the game, which will be televised on BTN.
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