Scanning the roster of a Maryland team that won 14 of its past 17 contests, it’s hard to find more than a handful of players who aren’t on a tear right now.
Pitchers Brian Shaffer and Tyler Blohm have both been hot in March, but while Blohm faltered Sunday, Shaffer’s run of dominance continued against Michigan.
Both will look to match the levels they reached in March, with Shaffer leading off the series against Rutgers (10-14) Saturday.
The junior right-hander has won each of his last three starts, devouring 23 innings and striking out 28, while granting just three runs. He established and then tied his single-game strikeout mark his last two times out, fanning 10 against Princeton and Michigan.
Last year, Shaffer salvaged the series finale against Rutgers, which took the first two games in College Park. He said it was hard to recall everything that happened when he was on the mound, but he remembered the final outcome: eight strikeouts in eight shutout innings.
The junior from Pylesville, Maryland, has thrown strikes on at least 70 percent of his pitches in each of the last three starts, topping out at 78.6 percent against Bryant. Shaffer expects some hard at-bats against the Scarlet Knights.
“They’re all scrappy guys, they’re tough,” he said. “You just have to do what you do every weekend.”
The two biggest threats in the Rutgers lineup so far have been outfielders Mike Carter and multi-sport athlete Jawuan Harris, who also led Big Ten freshman in receiving on the gridiron this fall. Carter leads the Big Ten in hits and is second with a .396 average. Harris is a dual threat ranking third in the conference in home runs (7) and stolen bases (13).
While Rutgers won’t see Shaffer after the first game, Carter and Harris will challenge Maryland pitchers all weekend. Saturday starter Taylor Bloom has experience against the Scarlet Knights, pitching seven innings against them last year in a loss where he gave up six earned runs. Tyler Blohm, the Terps’ freshman Sunday starter, just pitched in his first career conference game last weekend.
Blohm has been thrown in the fire at times, but he’s adapted to the pressure quickly. He confessed he got “first day jitters” and didn’t eat much at the team breakfast before debuting against Alabama State, but he won that game. National powerhouse LSU knocked out Blohm early in his second start, but the freshman responded by allowing one earned run in his next 18 innings.
“To be honest with you, he came out, he was a lot more composed than I thought he would be,” Shaffer said. “It seems like the high school he went to, he had a lot of success. He was a draft guy. I think … he’s had a lot of [media] pressure put on him.”
The Baltimore Orioles chose Blohm out of Archbishop Spalding High School in the 17th round of the MLB draft this summer, but the left-hander chose Maryland instead.
“For me, I came out of a high school in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t get all of this when I was in high school,” Shaffer continued. “His recent success in high school has a lot to do with [his composure]. [Bloom and I] would give him pointers and stuff, but he kind of took the reins and did it himself.”
Now Blohm will try to make corrections and rebound from his start against then-No. 18 Michigan. The lefty was pulled with no outs in the fourth inning and would be credited with giving up four earned runs.
“I think I prepared well, and just going out for the fourth inning, the wheels kind of fell off, but that’s just something to learn,” Blohm said of the start. “I think for the first three innings my mechanics were there, and I was feeling good, and then the fourth inning, I just kind of wasn’t myself. That’s something I gotta work on in the bullpens on the off days, work on repeating my delivery.”
The 6-2 loss ended Blohm’s three-game winning streak, the final two victories earning him consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards. The loss against Michigan may have hurt Sunday but will ultimately be good for Blohm, coach John Szefc said.
“He’s faced two upper-level teams in LSU and Michigan and you like to think having him out there, having him go through some struggles, that he’s going to figure some stuff out,” Szefc said. “I mean that’s how you do it. You don’t do it by watching the game, you do it when you’re right in the middle of it.”
Maryland will find out if Blohm has made adjustments Sunday when he opposes senior right-hander Gaby Rosa, owner of a 3-1 record and 3.88 ERA.
Rutgers’ team ERA of 6.78 is second-worst in the Big Ten and its pitchers have allowed a .296 batting average to its opponents. The Scarlet Knights have also struggled nabbing base stealers, who have been successful on 30 of 32 tries. Maryland is sixth in the country with 2.09 stolen bases per game.
Shaffer gets the ball first in Saturday’s doubleheader facing sophomore righty Serafino Brito (1-5 with a 5.19 ERA). Shortly after that game ends, Bloom will square up against junior righty John O’Reilly (1-4 with a 6.55 ERA).