Maryland baseball deployed two dynamic starting pitchers last season with Ryan Ramsey and Jason Savacool headlining a dominant weekend rotation. Nick Dean, the preseason Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, was expected to lead the trio.
But Dean began feeling tightness in his forearm early in the campaign. It started as a minor hindrance and something doctors assured him he could pitch through.
He did so successfully through the first three starts, allowing just two runs in 19.1 innings. But the injury lingered and snowballed into sharper pain. Dean never lived up to the preseason projections with a 4.57 earned run average.
Meanwhile Savacool, who struggled as a freshman, stayed healthy and broke out in his sophomore season and was named First-Team All-Big Ten.
Savacool is back for his third season as a Terp as Dean returns for his fourth. The top two pitchers in Maryland’s rotation both face imposing expectations entering 2023 despite taking wildly different paths to this spring.
Savacool has improved steadily each year while avoiding injury and was named a preseason All-American. Dean was forced to rebuild himself as a pitcher after a litany of ailments and received no preseason recognition for 2023. Their journeys highlight why each could be in line for successful years in what may be their last seasons as Terps.
“Him and [Savacool are] … going to be a bear for opposing offenses every weekend,” coach Rob Vaughn said.
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Dean and Vaughn agreed to give the pitcher one start off after his first three outings of the season in hopes his forearm issues would dissipate.
Looking back, it’s a move Dean regrets.
“I probably wouldn’t have taken that week off honestly,” Dean said. “I wasn’t throwing, and then my arm wasn’t in the best shape coming back.”
He surrendered six runs in four innings to Siena in his return to the mound the following week, an opponent Savacool and Ramsey held scoreless in 13 combined innings. The downward spiral continued from there. In 12 starts after returning, Dean allowed 40 runs and never logged more than six innings in an outing as his forearm issues persisted.
Vaughn watched his veteran pitcher give up runs as the velocity and movement of Dean’s pitches dipped. But what stuck out most to the coach was the pitcher’s mental strength to keep taking the mound weekend after weekend.
“I was probably more proud of Nick Dean than I was anybody on the team last year,” Vaughn said. “Yes, he wasn’t as dominant. But what he did do … [is] go out every single day and give us a chance to win. … He just completely gutted out those last nine weeks of the season for his teammates.”
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Dean used the season’s misfortune to transform himself entering 2023. His offseason focused primarily on adding weight and strength. He plans to take recovery and nutrition more seriously, calling it a component he neglected in previous years but now understands the importance of.
The senior’s velocity has risen into the mid-90s as a result, Vaughn said. Dean’s teammates saw his hard work and are excited to witness the results.
“He’s gonna, I think, come out this year and do a lot of things that he hasn’t done before,” junior Luke Shliger said. “He has a bunch of extra stuff that no one’s seen yet, and they’re going to see it this spring.”
While Dean eyes a rebound, Savacool is shooting to continue his upward trajectory. Despite sporting a rotation-worst 5.97 ERA as a freshman, he flashed his potential in his debut season by displaying an ability to pitch deep into contests, leading the staff in innings.
“My freshman year I kind of faltered down the stretch,” Savacool said. “Just because I wasn’t ready to throw that many innings physically.”
Savacool added 25 pounds ahead of his sophomore year, one where he again led the Terps in innings. But this time he coupled that feat by taking his ERA from the bottom of the rotation to its top, lowering it to 2.93.
The earned runs fell despite a slight increase in hits, walks and home runs allowed from his debut season to last year.
The difference came in the strikeout department, where he more than doubled his punchouts in 2022. Savacool racked up 123 strikeouts, about 29 percent of the batters he faced. That jumped from his freshman season totals of 52, only 15 percent of opponents faced.
Those improvements stem from a practice approach unlike any other Vaughn has seen — both in activity and intensity.
From stretching with resistance bands to perfecting pickoff moves and treating bullpen sessions like live games, there isn’t an aspect of pitching Savacool isn’t obsessed with mastering.
“There’s not one thing he takes lightly,” Vaughn said. “That guy shows up every day with a plan on maximizing his ability.”
Savacool’s father Chris and older brother Josh, who played at Ithaca College from 2014 to 2017, instilled the mentality to dominate practices and workouts into him.
Their father frequently trained the Savacool brothers on his own, harping on focus and getting the most out of every opportunity. Practices were avenues to accomplishing specific goals, Savacool said.
The attention to detail ingrained in Savacool from a young age has created one of college baseball’s best pitchers.
“We’re gonna get the best version of Jason Savacool this spring,” Vaughn said. “I’m just excited to unleash him on college baseball.”