Chris Rusin knows all about his counterpart at Michigan, Zach Putnam.
Rusin, a junior left-hander for Kentucky, will oppose the Wolverines junior right-hander in the opening round of Friday's NCAA Regional Baseball Tournament at Ann Arbor, Mich.
From nearby Canton, Mich. — about a 15-minute drive — this is a homecoming for Rusin.
He and Putnam played on the same travel team for six seasons, coached by Putnam's dad, Steve.
They also squared off against each other in Michigan's state high school all-star game.
Asked to give a scouting report on Putnam, Rusin feigns ignorance, saying ”I'm bad with scouting reports.“ While not willing to give away his hand, Rusin later admits that he's ”trying to give (teammates) everything I know.“
Know this: Putnam, who also plays outfield, first base and DH, is 8-0 with a 2.64 ERA. He has struck out 74 and walked 21. A 6-foot-2, 215-pounder from Ann Arbor, he's also hitting .309 with nine homers and 47 RBI.
Baseball America rates him No. 50 among draft-eligible players.
Having missed last week's Southeastern Conference Tournament because of a sore bicep, Rusin (6-2,2.84) says he's ready for Friday's challenge.
”I'll have a lot of adrenaline, and that tends to help me,“ said Rusin, a 6-2, 190-pounder. ”I feed off of that. I'm going to enjoy it.“
Rusin says there's no chance that he'll be so hyped that he will overthrow. He says high-adrenaline outings help him to concentrate and stay in control.
Coach John Cohen has the same belief.
”Chris is the type of kid that can handle that,“ Cohen said. ”Sometimes you worry that kids going back to their home state try to do too much, but Chris is not wired like that. Chris is a very mature young man and I think he can deal with that the right way.“
Michigan (45-12) is the Big Ten regular-season and tournament champion, seeded No. 2 in the region.
No. 3 UK (42-17) will face the Wolverines at 7 p.m.
The victor will advance to a Saturday, 7 p.m., contest against the winner of the game between No. 1 Arizona and No. 4 Eastern Michigan. Friday's losers will meet in an elimination game, Saturday at 2 p.m.
Rusin's arsenal includes a cutter, curveball, fastball and change-up.
”The things that make Chris Rusin successful are the ability to throw two or three pitches for a strike,“ said Gary Henderson, UK's pitching coach. ”Over the last couple of games he's been able to throw four pitches for a strike. ... Chris' strengths are fastball movement, sink, second pitch for a strike, maintains his poise extremely well, pitches very well with base runners on. For the most part, does a very good job of getting ahead in the count. Fields his position well. ... I've just described an all-league pitcher.“
Rusin did indeed earn all-SEC honors, along with outfielders Collin Cowgill and Sawyer Carroll.
Rusin might have wound up as Putnam's collegiate teammate, as Michigan wanted him.
”They just wanted to wait until the late signing period, and I chose to go in the early signing period because I didn't want to wait,“ Rusin said. ”And I like Kentucky a lot more, too.“
No need to wait any longer to show Michigan what it missed.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
(Batting orders TBA)
Brian Spear 1B
Ryan Wilkes 2B
Chris Wade SS
Chris McClendon 3B
Collin Cowgill LF
Keenan Wiley CF
Sawyer Carroll RF
Marcus Nidiffer C
Chris Rusin P
Nate Recknagel 1B
Leif Mahler 2B
Jason Christian SS
Adam Abraham 3B
Derek VanBuskirk LB
Kevin Cislo CF
Ryan LaMarre RF
Chris Berset C
Zach Putnam P