Maryland junior Brian Shaffer (13) delivers a pitch during the Terps' 7-2 win over Michigan on March 24 in College Park. (Paige Leckie/ The Left Bench)

Top two arms in Big Ten face off in series opener Friday night

Brian Shaffer needed to match outstanding outings from opposing starters in his last two starts, and Friday night will be no different when he shares the mound with Michigan State’s Alex Troop.

The Big Ten ERA leaders highlight the first game of the weekend series, in which the 25-11 Terrapins will take on the 20-13 Spartans at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium in College Park.

“He’ll be tough, but that’s what you normally face on a Friday night,” head coach John Szefc said. “You don’t face easy arms on Fridays, you face their best. They face our best.”

Shaffer matched up against the Big Ten’s best in classic pitchers’ duels with Penn State and Nebraska. He lost a 3-1 clash with the Cornhuskers’ Jake Hohensee and picked up a no decision in a 2-1 walk-off win over Penn State’s Sal Biasi. Each pitcher went at least eight innings in both games.

Troop provides an interesting matchup for the Terps because he’s a left-hander, a rarity among Friday night starters. Like Shaffer, Hohensee and Biasi are both right-handers.

Michigan State’s lefty tops the Big Ten with a 1.50 ERA. Troop’s ability to throw strikes and change speed on his pitches makes him hard to hit. He’s also walked just 15 batters in 54 innings.

“He’s good but so is Shaffer,” Szefc said. “He still has to come in here and do his thing.”

On the other hand, Shaffer is right on Troop’s tail with the second-best ERA in the conference. He’s averaging 1.83 runs allowed per nine innings thus far and leads the Big Ten in innings pitched and strikeouts and comes in at third in batting average against.

The Pylesville, Maryland, native hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any outing this season.

“He’s really just been the mark of consistency for us,” Szefc said after Shaffer’s four-hit, one-run outing during which he struck out a career-high 11 against Penn State last week. “Your Friday night starter is kind of like the face of your program.”

A strong start from the junior to open the series will be crucial as Big Ten play is becoming more important at this point in the season. The Terps currently sit in second place behind Minnesota but could move up to first with a series win over Michigan State.

Tyler Blohm will take the reigns from Shaffer in his second consecutive Saturday straight. The freshman was moved from Sunday last week due to Taylor Bloom’s struggles early in the season.

“Of course it’s a bigger honor to pitch on Saturday but I’m good for whenever,” Blohm said. “I just treat it like any other start.”

Like Shaffer, Blohm also put up a career performance in his outing last week. He tied a career-high with eight strikeouts and seven innings pitched. The lefty holds a 2.76 ERA, good for seventh among qualified pitchers in the Big Ten.

His opposition won’t be as stiff as Shaffer’s, though. Blohm will clash with right-hander Ethan Landon, who owns a 6.03 ERA in 37.1 innings pitched.

Bloom, who bounced back last Sunday with a seven-inning performance where he ceded just two runs, will try to keep himself on track.

“If we’re going to be really good down the stretch, he’s got to be in the middle of it,” Szefc said. “In the past, when we’ve been good, he’s been in the middle of it. He’s one of our guys.”

The junior owns a 4.67 ERA with 56 hits allowed in only 45.1 innings pitched. He’ll challenge Andrew Gonzalez on the mound, who has thrown a 4.64 ERA in 33 innings.

One player who has bounced back is third baseman AJ Lee. His batting average dipped to .200 in early April, but the sophomore brought it up to .333 after reaching base in 11 straight plate appearances. He clubbed two home runs Sunday and stayed hot Wednesday with four hits and a walk.

The third baseman leads a revitalized bottom of the order from the ninth spot. Him and catcher Nick Cieri, hitting in the eight hole, combined for seven hits last Sunday and were a big part of the Terps’ 15-run output.

“We’re just trying to stay within ourselves and be productive in any way that we can, whether it’s with hits or just chipping in here and there,” Cieri said. Not everybody’s going to go 4-for-5 and be on fire. We just have to look to do our job.”

Friday’s first pitch will come at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday’s game is scheduled for 2 p.m. The series finale will be Sunday at 1 p.m.

Austin Kleber

Austin Kleber

Managing Editor at The Left Bench
Austin is the managing editor and he covers the Maryland baseball team for The Left Bench. He will also occasionally venture over to the broadcast side to help out with TLBTV. Austin is a sophomore studying broadcast journalism at University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, graduating class of 2019.
Austin Kleber
About Austin Kleber 56 Articles
Austin is the managing editor and he covers the Maryland baseball team for The Left Bench. He will also occasionally venture over to the broadcast side to help out with TLBTV. Austin is a sophomore studying broadcast journalism at University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, graduating class of 2019.