Weekend Takeaways: Defensive Woes, Freshman Phenom, Awesome A-Rob

by John Vittas

The Terps (8-4) lost their first series of the season, dropping two of three to UNC Wilmington in their first true road series of the year. While the pitching staff struggled, the offense thrived. Here’s what we learned from this weekend’s series:

1. The defense has a lot of work to do.

Committing 10 errors in three games makes it very difficult to win. From dropped fly balls to poor bunt defense to errant throwsDSC00779back to the pitcher, the Terps did everything they could to give the Seahawks extra outs. It was ugly.

The most surprising thing about the defensive nightmare this weekend was that the Terps came into Saturday’s doubleheader as the No. 1 defensive team in the nation, with a fielding percentage above 99 percent. The inability to practice outside could’ve been a factor, but there’s no excuses for some of the wild throws Jose Cuas and Nick Cieri made down the stretch in Saturday’s nightcap. Expect this week’s practices to be dedicated to PFPs, popups and bunt defense.

2. Alex Robinson has developed into one of the nation’s top relievers.

Robinson came into a tight spot in the eighth inning on Sunday and got the two best UNCW hitters out to preserve the Terps’ slim one run lead. He finished off the 5-out save with a perfect ninth.

“Alex has come a long way. That’s a money save right there,” head coach John Szefc said. “On the road, coming in to face two left handed hitters. He’s been as good as advertised.”

Robinson came into College Park throwing hard (his fastball touched 97 mph this weekend), but he’s finally reaching his potential as a junior. The New York native began his college career in the rotation, but has taken well to his transition to the bullpen over the past two years.

So far this year: 6.2 IP, 11 Ks, 2 BBs, 0 ER. The biggest difference for Robinson in 2015 has been his command, and his ability to get ahead on hitters has done wonders for his results. Those numbers might be the final confirmation that scouts need to consider taking Robinson in the first few rounds this June.

3. The Weekend Rotation is vulnerable.

The revolving door that is the weekend rotation might continue to revolve. Terps’ starting pitchers this weekend: 12 IP, 20 H, 14 ER. Even Mike Shawaryn gave up six runs. While the Wilmington lineup is as good as any, a 10.50 ERA from the three top pitchers on the staff doesn’t bode well for the overall long-term success of the team.

Willie Rios looked good in his first college start and Brian Shaffer has had a couple excellent outings, but the consistency of the weekend rotation has been extremely suspect. Of course, the defense didn’t help this weekend either, but Maryland needs to straighten out the rotation if they want to go anywhere in 2015.

4. Kevin Smith is the real deal.

The freshman continues to rake. When was the last time you heard a player record three walks and five RBIs in the same game? That’s what Smith did yesterday, but it wasn’t even his most notable accomplishment. His sixth inning grand slam put the Terps over the top, giving them a 10-8 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

DSC00828“I’ve never had a grand slam so that was pretty exciting,” Smith said. “I just wanted to get a big hit for my team. We had been down for a while and we needed some energy. I was excited.”

“It’s the first time he’s hit two in the lineup,” Szefc said. “Clearly, he responded pretty well. He’s one of those rare freshman who is good enough and is mentally mature enough to be a major contributor right out of the gate.”

Smith is hitting .359 through his first 12 games and has been the best defender on the team. His short swing seemingly has no holes. He’s shown the ability to hit any pitch to all fields and rarely strikes out. He leads the Terps in RBIs and is slugging at .564 – two stats the Terps’ coaches couldn’t have expected heading into the season.

5. Either the new baseballs are making a big difference or this Terps’ team has some serious power. DSC00895

Maryland crushed another five home runs this weekend, bringing their season total to ten. They hit 19 all of last year. While veterans Kevin Martir, Jose Cuas, Anthony Papio and Nick Cieri provide legitimate pop, even line drive hitters like Brandon Lowe, Kevin Smith and LaMonte Wade are slugging at a sky-high clip.

While the improved power of the Terps is clearly evident, the new baseballs could be a reason as well, a notion that pitching coach Jim Belanger admitted is a factor. The NCAA reduced the protrusion of the seams, making the ball more compact and aerodynamic. That could be part of the power surge, too. Either way, that trend will be tested as the Terps return home to the pitching-friendly confines of Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium on Wednesday.

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