Maryland designated hitter Maxwell Costes’ visit to second base was short-lived in the first inning Sunday against Maine.
Just one pitch after the freshman’s two-run, bases-loaded double, Costes leisurely jogged home as the ball flew off first baseman Michael Pineiro’s bat and over the right-field fence. In consecutive swings, a tie game turned into a 5-0 Terps lead.
Neither Costes nor Pineiro touched the field last season — the latter watching the entirety of his first year in College Park from the dugout and the former still at The Gilman School in Baltimore.
But the young duo drove in seven of the team’s nine runs in the series finale against Maine, each breaking out in the Terps’ three-game sweep over the Black Bears.
“All we want is quality at-bats,” Costes said. “Get up there, do your job and do whatever you can to get on base.”
And so far this season, with the Terps now on a four-game winning streak following an 0-2 start, the pair of first-year starters are doing just that.
About a quarter of the way through last season, though, head coach Rob Vaughn met with Pineiro, who hadn’t played in a game yet. That wasn’t going to change anytime soon. The coaching staff didn’t envision Pineiro receiving significant playing time in 2018, so he took a redshirt year to save eligibility as he further developed his skills.
After that conservation, Vaughn said, the rest of Pineiro’s year could’ve gone one of two ways.
“You [could] see a guy that kind of shuts it down for the rest of the year, and that guy usually doesn’t get any better and doesn’t turn into a player,” Vaughn said. “Or, you see what Mike did.”
The California native closely studied former Terrapin first baseman Kevin Biondic, who occupied Pineiro’s position in the infield. But when Biondic graduated and signed a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox after last season, that spot opened up.
Pineiro took what he learned in his season off and applied it to 37 games with the Kelowna Falcons in the West Coast League. When he returned to College Park in the fall he continued to improve, and thus earned an opportunity to start when the 2019 season began two weeks ago.
But he struggled to start strong during the Brittain Resorts Invitational, going 1-for-10 with four strikeouts in the opening weekend. Against Maine, however, he showed a dramatic turnaround with five hits, four RBIs and his first-career home run.
As much as Pineiro would’ve liked to play as a true freshman, his redshirt season prepared him for the large role he’s seeing in the middle of Maryland’s lineup.
“You can’t look back and look at it as a negative thing,” he said. “I look at it as a learning experience for me as a baseball player and as a person. I thought it was really good for me.”
While a year watching Maryland baseball from the bench preceded Pineiro’s first year as a starter, Costes spent three seasons watching from the stands before he got his chance. He cheered on the Terps while his older brother Marty was one of the team’s stars for the last three years.
Marty was drafted by the Houston Astros last June and forwent his senior year, which added to the lofty expectations for his younger brother — regardless of whether or not Maxwell has felt the weight of his brother’s achievements.
But when Maxwell rocketed a two-run single in the bottom of the eighth on Sunday, he accomplished a Maryland feat last completed by Marty — recording four RBIs in a game as a freshman.
“Maxwell doesn’t get phased by a lot. That’s what I like about him,” Vaughn said. “You talk to all of our pitchers in the fall and those guys consistently said he’s the guy they least liked to face.”
Costes went 4-for-9 with six RBIs against Maine last weekend, earning Big Ten Player and Freshman of the week honors. He now has hits in five of Maryland’s six games this season, and in the game he didn’t get one, he still reached base three times.
Coming off a illustrious high school career, it can be difficult for young players to avoid getting caught up in statistics and individual results. For Costes, though, he’s much more concerned with playing his role, which he credits to his work with hitting coach Matt Swope.
“Being a freshman, hitting fifth, I’m stepping into a big spot,” Costes said. “My plan at the plate is to just have quality at-bats and find ways to get on base.”
That large role hasn’t been too lofty for a freshman like Costes, who leads the team in batting average (.350), doubles (3) and RBIs (7) six games into his college career. And while Pineiro has been asked to split time between the outfield and infielder, that role hasn’t been too much for him, either.
“When you start making it a science project, you’re not too good,” Vaughn said. “But when you go out and trust yourself and go compete, you got a chance to be pretty good.”