Maryland baseball right-hander Mike Shawaryn needed help.
After serving as the Terps’ ace the past two seasons, Shawaryn has struggled for most of this season, holding the worst ERA (3.26) of the Terps’ weekend rotation.
The junior worked with coach John Szefc and associate head coach Jim Belanger to improve his mindset. But his conversations with catcher Nick Cieri, his best friend, also helped him break out of his slump.
Cieri and Shawaryn have lived together throughout their three years at the University of Maryland, so they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. With Cieri behind the plate in his previous two outings, Shawaryn returned to the form he has displayed through the majority of his career as he combined to allow one run in 17 innings.
“He’s probably my best friend,” Shawaryn said. “It’s nice to have him behind the plate so I can talk to him more in-depth when we’re just hanging out. Like, ‘Hey, what do you think about this or that?’ He’ll say if I’m doing something odd because he’s probably seen me the most of anyone here besides Belanger.”
Shawaryn and Cieri knew each other in high school as they lived in New Jersey towns about 45 minutes apart. They also worked out at the same training center — Sportz Central in Bellmawr, New Jersey — with different teams. But it wasn’t until the summer entering their freshman year of college that they became friends while playing for Brooklawn American Legion.
The two were then placed to live together at this university, and they’ve developed their relationship since.
“Knowing Mike really well, we trust each other,” Cieri said. “I feel like I can go out there and talk to him, and he won’t just ignore me. We’re on the same page a lot. That goes a long way to get things done.”
Cieri has caught for Shawaryn during bullpens all three years, so the six-foot-three, 211-pound hurler feels comfortable throwing to Cieri behind the plate in games.
In Shawaryn’s first two seasons, catcher Kevin Martir mainly caught for him in games, but after the Houston Astros selected Martir in the MLB draft last summer, Cieri had the most experience seeing Shawaryn pitch of all the returning catchers.
While sophomore catcher Justin Morris has earned the most time behind the plate this season, Cieri has started as catcher in four of the past seven contests and has helped Shawaryn, who lost focus in his starts earlier this year, recover by keeping his confidence up and helping him throw the pitches Shawaryn had success with in the past.
Though Szefc and Belanger helped Shawaryn during his slump by giving him readings to improve his confidence, Belanger said there’s a better level of comfort between two friends since they’re always talking and know each other well.
“They’re there with them everyday,” Belanger said. “They catch them everyday in the bullpen. There’s a trust factor between the catcher and the pitcher. When the catcher comes out and talks to you through things, it means a little bit more than a first baseman coming out in the middle of an inning because they’re with you grinding it out everyday.”
When they’re hanging out, Shawaryn and Cieri critique each other’s games, but they also take their mind off of baseball by competing in video games such as Call of Duty and MLB: The Show in their South Campus Commons apartment.
While Shawaryn feels comfortable with either Cieri or Morris catching for him — Shawaryn’s locker sits between theirs — he has a personal connection with Cieri that’s helped him improve his performance on game day.
Down the stretch, Belanger said Maryland needs Shawaryn to play well so that the Terps can make a deep postseason run. By talking with Cieri about his problems, though, Shawaryn will look to build on his recent dominance.
“It’s really nice to have him behind the plate and kind of live with him at the same time,” Shawaryn said. “We have a pretty good feel of what each other can do. He’s like my brother.”