After Maryland baseball shortstop Kevin Smith recorded one hit and struck out seven times in the Terps’ first three games of the season, coach John Szefc pulled him aside to discuss his offensive approach.
Smith, a preseason All-American whom three outlets deemed the best prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer, opened the season in the fifth lineup spot but was as far down as seventh during Maryland’s ensuing series against LSU on Feb. 24 to 26.
Though he hit seventh in Maryland’s win over Notre Dame on Friday and was slotted eighth against NC State on Saturday, Smith took Szefc’s advice about focusing on hitting toward right field and had success during the USA Baseball-Irish Classic.
After going 0-for-4 against the Fighting Irish, Smith combined for five hits Saturday and Sunday and wants to continue his surge in Tuesday’s home opener against William & Mary.
“He was very pull-oriented in batting practice, and I think he was taking that into the game,” Szefc said of Smith’s early struggles. “The better hitters have an approach up the middle or the other way. He was kind of one-dimensional at the beginning of the season. He was living on the inner half.”
Though Smith didn’t make a plate appearance during Maryland’s early rally against then-No. 6 NC State, he opened the eighth inning with the single and scored the Terps’ ninth and final run.
Smith’s adjustments were perhaps most evident in the Terps’ 11-2 finale win over Dayton. He doubled in the fifth and seventh frames and finished with three RBIs. In what Szefc called a “trap game” for the Terps given the club’s lack of familiarity with the Flyers, Smith produced from the bottom of the lineup.
“I’ve been feeling great the whole year,” Smith said. “Coach Szefc talks about having the confidence day in and day out. It doesn’t matter if you’re 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, there’s going to be an at-bat where you come up and you have to do something big … I’m just trying not to do too much. I’m feeding off what other guys are doing at the plate and taking it from there.”
During the first two weekends, Szefc said, Smith’s struggles were likely the result of him swinging out of the strike zone. From right fielder Marty Costes’ perspective, Smith swung often at pitches in the dirt.
Smith’s improved plate discipline provided a spark for Maryland’s offense, Costes said. The Terps scored 24 runs over the weekend, four times as many as they earned against LSU and the most they’ve scored in a weekend series this season.
“He was very aggressive,” Costes said. “When he gets to hitting the ball to all fields, he becomes a really good player. As long as he keeps that up, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
As the Terps prepare for the Tribe, Szefc wants to see his junior shortstop continue to adhere to their early-season meeting and adjust to pitches regardless of his lineup spot.
“When you have all these accolades, pitchers aren’t going to give you cookies to hit,” Szefc said. “They’re going to stay away from you and try to get you to chase their pitches, and that’s kind of what was happening. Gradually, he was making adjustments. That’s what good players do.”