by John Vittas
Maryland lost just its second weekend series of the season, dropping two of three to a ranked Iowa Hawkeyes team. The Hawkeyes continue to lead the conference standings and used a lethal pitching attack to win the final two games of the series in College Park.
Here are this weekend’s takeaways:
1. The injuries are finally starting to catch up with the Maryland lineup.
Every lineup goes through peaks and valleys over the course of a season, but the Terps have hit an alarming valley. They were held to one run in three of their last four games. While the Hawkeyes’ pitching is certainly a big part of the recent slump, Maryland’s offense was once hitting everyone – particularly relievers. But the past two days, the Iowa bullpen was perfect. They allowed just three Terrapin hits in six-and-one third shutout innings, vehemently ending any comeback hopes.
“I think their pitching is really good and we really weren’t able to execute much of a plan offensively,” head coach John Szefc said. “We had way too many strikeouts.”
The bottom half of the Maryland batting order went 2-for-27 Saturday and Sunday combined. Many of the players who comprised that part of the lineup were not expected to fill everyday roles this year, but have had to step in because of a rash of injuries.
Andrew Bechtold (thumb) was lost for the season during Week 3, LaMonte Wade (hand) just returned after missing over a month and Nick Cieri (thumb) is out for about four more weeks. Bechtold, Wade and Cieri were all key ingredients to the Terps’ 2015 success. Now it’s a matter of whether freshman fill-ins Justin Morris and Jamal Wade are able to step up.
2. Rotation manhunt: One down, one to go.
Tayler Stiles seems to have locked down one of the two weekend starters spots that have been very much available this season. He followed up a seven inning gem against Nebraska with a six inning, two run outing against Iowa. Stiles only allowed three hits and has proven he can get ahead on hitters and pitch deep into games.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that no one has even shown glimpses of pitching effectively on Sunday.
“We’re going to have thoughts on a lot of guys throwing on Sunday, until somebody proves they can do it,” head coach John Szefc said.
So what are the options?
To me, it comes down to two groups of candidates. The coaching staff can continue the carousel of swingmen by plugging Bobby Ruse, Willie Rios, Brian Shaffer or Jake Drossner back into the Sunday spot – all of whom have pitched better after returning to the bullpen.
Or, they can try someone new. Zach Morris, Rob Galligan and Ryan Selmer have been dominant out of the bullpen all year, and all of them have experience pitching multiple innings at a time.
Not only that, pitching coach Jim Belanger’s number one criteria for starting pitchers is whether he can trust you to throw strikes. Morris, Galligan and Selmer have all proven they can do that. Morris has filled an important role in the bullpen, but being a guy with big-time stuff and weekend starting experience, it might be time for the staff to give him a chance.
3. Mike Shawaryn and Brandon Lowe are on another level.
With all due respect to Kevin Martir, Anthony Papio and company, Brandon Lowe and Mike Shawaryn are keeping this team afloat right now. Without them, 2015 would be a major disappointment.
Shawaryn is 8-0 and on the verge of breaking the school record in wins as a sophomore.
Lowe is atop the Big Ten in several offensive categories and provided almost all of the Terps’ offense on Sunday, including a solo home run against Iowa starter Calvin Mathews.
“He’s clearly our most valuable offensive player, by far,” Szefc said. “He’s able to operate against really good arms and he shows you that day after day.”
“I might be a little biased, but I think he’s the best hitter in the country,” Lowe’s teammate Rob Galligan said. “He’s unbelievable. He doesn’t swing at balls. He’s one of the most disciplined hitters I’ve ever seen.”
Listen to Sunday’s John Szefc press conference:
Rob Galligan also addressed the media: