With four days until the Terrapins open the 2018 season at Tennessee, Maryland Baseball Network continues to preview Maryland’s roster. Today, we look at the bullpen.
After a strong 2017 season, Maryland’s relief corps has a whole new look this spring. Gone are Ryan Selmer and Jamal Wade, two of former Head Coach John Szefc’s favorite arms last season who are now playing pro ball. In fact, of the eight pitchers with double-digit relief appearances a year ago, only John Murphy and Ryan Hill return this season.
Closer – John Murphy
After struggling early in his collegiate career, right-hander John Murphy solidified his role out of the Terps bullpen with a terrific stretch last spring. The then-sophomore led Maryland with a sparkling 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings of work, striking out 27 and holding opponents to a .183 average. In 42.2 collegiate innings, he has surrendered just two homers – both his freshman year in 2016 – and owns a 1.10 career WHIP.
Murphy was especially impressive in the postseason, whiffing 12 hitters in nine innings. Twice, he struck out the side with the bases loaded – once in the Big Ten Tournament against Purdue, and once in the NCAA Regionals against West Virginia.
Now, with Selmer’s departure to the New York Mets’ organization, Murphy inherits the closer role for the Terps this year. After his dazzling spring and a strong summer with the Cal Ripken League’s Bethesda Big Train (24 IP, 29 K, 3.38 ERA), the Merchantville, New Jersey, native is primed to succeed in the role, despite just one prior save in his career.
How bout a little magic from Murph! Strikes out the side to leave them loaded.#DirtyTerps https://t.co/vBwH6ql159
— Maryland Baseball (@TerpsBaseball) May 26, 2017
With Murphy taking over as closer, senior right-hander Ryan Hill remains the only veteran in a group of young middle relievers. A Frisco, Texas, native, Hill pitched two seasons at Grayson College before transferring to Maryland a year ago. In 2017, his first season as a Terp, he made a team-high 29 appearances, including 27 in relief. His 46.2 innings pitched were the most of any Terps pitcher outside of the three weekend starters, and his 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second on the team behind only Jamal Wade.
Last season, Hill quickly evolved into a jack of all trades on the Maryland pitching staff, serving as a long man and spot starter at various points, as well as joining Selmer and Murphy as a go-to guy that could get crucial outs in tight spots. One of his finest moments of the 2017 season came April 8 at Nebraska, in an 8-5 Terps’ win over the Cornhuskers. With Maryland down 3-0 early, Hill came on in relief of starter Taylor Bloom in just the second inning. He dominated, tossing 4.2 innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts, allowing the Terps to get back in the game and bridging the gap to the back end of the bullpen. Hill had other similar shutdown performances last year, so look for him to be a crucial part of the Maryland pen this season that can be inserted in any situation.
The only other veteran in the Terps bullpen is redshirt senior Alec Tuohy, who transferred to Maryland from Buffalo after the Bulls cut their baseball program last summer. Tuohy served as a starter for the last two seasons, but will likely join Hill as a key component out of the pen. The Gahanna, Ohio, native owns a 4.57 ERA in 191 innings across parts of four seasons, and struggled in 2017, with an 8.76 ERA in seven starts. He will look to return to his 2016 form, when he served as Buffalo’s ace, pitching to a 2.98 ERA in 14 starts (93.2 innings) with 69 strikeouts and a 1.24 WHIP.
“The guy was an impact guy at Buffalo,” Head Coach Rob Vaughn said of Tuohy. “What I love about this team is there are a lot of guys who have played on big stages – a lot of college at-bats, a lot of college innings under their belt, and that’s stuff that’s hard to replace. That’s something a guy like Tuohy can bring in and is gonna be huge for us.”
Alongside Hill and Tuohy are a handful of young arms that will factor into the bullpen’s workload, including redshirt freshman Mike Vasturia. The right-hander was rated as the No. 8 pitcher in New Jersey coming out of high school in 2016, but missed all of the 2017 season. Vasturia had inconsistent summer in the Ripken League with the Baltimore Redbirds (18.1 innings, 19 K, 5.40 ERA) but followed that up with a strong performance in Maryland’s Fall World Series. In Game 1, he came in with the bases loaded and nobody out and turned in a Murphy-esque performance, striking out the side in order to end the game. Like Vasturia, right-hander Elliot Zoellner saw limited action as a freshman in 2017 (one appearance, 3 ER vs. LSU), but could play a role out of the bullpen this season after seeing action in the Fall World Series.
A pair of freshmen from Salisbury, Maryland’s Parkside High School – Sean Fisher and Grant Burleson – will also see time out of the bullpen this spring, according to Vaughn. The two southpaws join fellow Parkside grad Hunter Parsons on staff, and will look to duplicate the success that he had as a freshman two years ago.
At the spring sports media day, Vaughn also mentioned left-hander Billy Phillips, who returns to the Maryland pitching staff after winning his battle with cancer. “[Phillips] is gonna be a guy that’s not just a feel good story, but a guy that’s gonna throw some innings for us that matter, and hopefully develop into a good guy out of the ‘pen for us,” Vaughn said.
Billy Phillips beat Leukemia. He beat the setbacks. He beat the odds.
Today, he threw his first pitches as a Terp. #BP15pic.twitter.com/O7XxtlW4wk
— Maryland Baseball (@TerpsBaseball) November 17, 2017
Another arm to throw into the mix – perhaps surprisingly – is veteran infielder Kevin Biondic. The senior, who has played first and third base throughout his Maryland career, enjoyed a successful summer as a two-way player in the Northwoods League. He hit .254 with five homers while posting a 1.62 ERA in 16.2 innings, pitching for the first time since he started college. The Oak Lawn, Illinois, native pitched in the Fall World Series as well, and while he figures to be the primary first baseman this spring, expect the right-hander to see some action out of the bullpen as well.