The last time Maryland baseball went winless over a three-game weekend series was March 2021, almost two full years ago. The Terps did that again at this weekend’s Cambria College Classic in Minneapolis, with each loss coming in unique ways.
Ole Miss dominated wire-to-wire on Friday, holding Maryland to a season-low one run in a 5-1 win. Vanderbilt won on a walk-off Saturday after the Terps took a lead into the ninth inning. Unranked Hawaii controlled the Sunday contest by jumping on starter Nate Haberthier early and piling on against a struggling bullpen.
Nobody expected the preseason 13th ranked team to start the season 4-7. What Maryland coach Rob Vaughn did anticipate, however, was the level of play it would take to get through a bear of a non-conference schedule.
“It’s a barometer of where your team’s at,” Vaughn said in the preseason. “You can go out and start the year 20-0 and not really challenge yourself and not really know what you have. Then when the bullets start flying in conference play, you’re then trying to figure it out … We’re gonna know real quick what we’re working with, and that’s what you want.”
The schedule has done exactly as the coach intended. It’s shined a light on Maryland’s biggest weaknesses on the roster.
Pitching has been the most glaring of the holes, particularly in the bullpen. Terp relievers have collectively pitched to a 7.66 ERA through 11 games. They’ve allowed 35 runs over 41.1 innings, giving up eight home runs and 34 walks.
When the unit is called on to hold onto leads and ties, it often fails to deliver. Opponents have combined to score 27 runs from the seventh inning on in Maryland’s seven losses.
This weakness showed in defeats to the Rebels last weekend and the Commodores on Saturday. The Terps took a 5-4 lead into the seventh inning at Ole Miss on Feb. 25 and lost, failing to capture a key series victory. Vanderbilt scored two in the ninth inning Saturday to complete a comeback victory in a game Maryland controlled.
“We’re continuing to learn our staff,” Vaughn said after the 12-6 loss in Oxford, a game where Maryland relievers allowed eight runs in four innings. “We’re continuing to learn our bullpen and using guys in the right situations.”
The coach will have to continue tinkering with his bullpen to find the optimal combination — through 11 games, none has solidified a role.
The Jason Savacool and Nick Dean-led rotation is similarly off to an unusual start. They’ve each logged one dominant outing — Savacool’s a seven-inning, two-earned-run performance in a win over Ole Miss and Dean’s a six-frame shutout in his first start of the year.
But in their other two starts the duo has totaled 18 runs in 21 innings.
Beyond them, Logan Ott appears to have settled into the midweek starter role, but Nate Haberthier has yet to adequately fill the third weekend rotation spot opened by Ryan Ramsey’s departure. The Ohio State transfer touts a 8.76 earned run average in three starts.
Vaughn sought out a difficult early slate with the intention of knowing as early as possible where his roster’s strengths and weaknesses are. With them now identified, the coach has ample time to work to fix them.
He also hopes it can provide a lesson to his players before it gets too late. The margin between winning and losing against top teams is slim, the coach said after Saturday’s loss. The hope remains that these early struggles pave the way for the Terps to achieve their goals.
“I’d love to start this thing 9-0 … or whether we have some ups and downs, this group’s mature enough and understands the process,” Vaughn said. “I think every single one of those dudes would take less wins if it ends up in Omaha. That’s what we’re preparing for.”