Crimson Quarry: Mike Shawaryn was the most dominant guy in the Big Ten and was a pitcher that nearly guaranteed Maryland Friday night wins. Has Brian Shaffer been able to fill in that role as seamlessly as some might have expected? And how is the Maryland pitching staff as a whole?
Andrew Kramer: Brian Shaffer has been a model of consistency this season, If Maryland scores 3-4 runs when he’s on the mound it’s basically game over. His win-loss record is deceiving, as his run support has been fairly paltry. But he gives the Terps a good shot to win every time he goes out there.
Maryland’s pitching in B1G play has been very good. It’s not just the starters, but middle innings relievers as well as guys who can close out games: There’s about eight viable bullpen options that can be called upon. It’s a major reason why the Terps are 12-3 in the B1G.
CQ: Kevin Smith was widely considered to be the favorite to win Big Ten Player of the Year this season. But he’s hitting just .252 and has committed six errors. What has been the story of his season?
AK: Smith started off the season feeling that he had to carry the team. As a result he struck out at an alarming rate and his play in the field was not up to his usual standards. Things changed after the first two weeks of the season, when he became more relaxed. His batting average rose and he started belting home runs. While I wouldn’t say he’s the best pure hitter on the team, he’s a dangerous hitter in clutch situations. In terms of his fielding, he makes incredible plays look routine, and he’s good for at least one web gem each weekend. So the six errors statistic is misleading. Not coincidentally, Smith was injured and didn’t play in the series against Nebraska, Maryland’s only B1G series loss this year. I think he’s the one player that Maryland can’t afford to have out with an injury.
CQ: Maryland is the hottest team in the Big Ten right now, and perhaps the country. They have won 16 of their last 20 games. What is fueling this success and do you think that’s something that can be sustained throughout the remainder of the regular season and the conference tournament?
AK: The team just didn’t play well the first few weeks of the season. While it’s easy to blame that on the difficult schedule during those weeks, in plain fact the team’s execution wasn’t sharp. Consequently there were some adjustments made by the coaching staff, and it took some players a bit of time to progress this year. But now the Terps are like a well-oiled machine. It seems that every game a different player steps up with the big hit or big pitching performance. That’s why I can’t point to one or two players and state that they were responsible for the turn around. Because of that it’s something that I believe can be sustained throughout the remainder of the season.
The sore spot this season has been the starting pitching in midweek games. It’s really inexplicable, because many of the starters pitched great in relief situations, yet couldn’t get out of the second inning in midweek starts. If the Terps want to go deep in the conference tournament and in the NCAA tournament, that’s a problem that needs to be resolved over the next few weeks.
CQ: Fill-in the blanks: For Maryland to take this series, they have to ____________. For Indiana to take this series, they have to _____________.
AK: (1) make sure that when Indiana goes yard, it’s a solo shot; (2) have two performances like Stiever’s start last Friday night.
CQ: What do you see happening this weekend?
AK: Indiana is a good team that is beginning to take off. Maryland is playing extremely well themselves. I expect to see a tough series, but Maryland’s pitching depth will be the deciding factor.
Thanks to Andrew for answering our questions. For the Maryland side of things, follow him and Testudo Times on Twitter this weekend. The series gets underway tonight with first pitch at 6:05 p.m. ET.