Nick Dean’s fourth start of the season Saturday was a blend of the ups and downs the senior’s showed this season. At times, his highly touted fastball and changeup combination had hitters struggling to time either as he stranded several runners in scoring position.
Other moments showed how teams have found success attacking Dean. Maine tagged the pitcher for four extra-base hits to keep the game tied into the late innings and chased Dean off the mound before he could record an out in the sixth.
He exited with the score even at four, leaving it up to Maryland’s offense to find the winning run and its relievers to hold onto it.
Ian Petrutz slugged five homers in the Terps’ first eight games during their early season power surge but had gone cold since. And the bullpen blew a one-run lead exactly one week ago.
Petrutz’s sixth homer of the season — and first in nearly two weeks — to lead off the eighth broke a long-standing tie to put Maryland up a run. Nigel Belgrave, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the inning, got out of another such pinch in the ninth.
Together, they sealed a 5-4 win over the Black Bears (3-8) that gave the Terps (7-7) their first series victory in nearly a month.
“With Nigel, his biggest thing is confidence and just knowing that in key spots, he’s our guy,” Petrutz said. “He’s our closer. He’s got the stuff to do it, he’s got that power stuff.”
Belgrave first entered with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth. Needing an out to maintain a tie, he collected a strikeout looking. And after beginning the final inning with two walks and a single, he sent down the next three batters in order, the first two whiffing on his fastball and slider before the final one stared at strike three.
“His slider is really good,” Rob Vaughn said. “But the thing is, you go up and sit slider, he’s got 96 in his back pocket. So I think as an opposing hitter, you’ve got to pick one and stay really committed to it. He does a good job … of mixing pitches.”
Dean was in need of a rebound start Saturday, his first start since his six run, five inning outing against Vanderbilt a week ago. That effort came on the heels of a four run, five inning start at Ole Miss the week prior.
Vaughn credited Dean’s poor appearance against the Commodores to their approach against the pitcher’s changeup and curveball. By focusing on those pitches and holding off on the others, they jumped out to a 5-1 lead in two innings.
Maine started similarly as the issues that have plagued Dean in recent weeks appeared again. It got to Dean in the second inning with three extra-base hits that plated three runs.
The Black Bears threatened again in the third and fourth by getting runners into scoring position as they pounced on Dean’s secondary pitches that didn’t have the break or command they sometimes can.
“[Dean] was much better with his right on right changeup today,” Vaughn said. “That was something he needed to get back. … He was kind of 50-50 on the breaking balls, wasn’t landing his curveball as much, the slider was kind of popping out of his hand and they took some good swings. They punished some balls that got left over the plate.”
The effort resulted in a no decision for Dean, but marked an improvement over his previous outings.
The success of Maryland’s pitching staff hinges heavily on Dean and Jason Savacool’s ability to start a series with strong performances. Although not near his best possible effort, the senior did enough Saturday to put others in positions to push the Terps to a win. Petrutz and Belgrave’s late inning heroics did that.
“[Dean] goes six innings and gives you three runs, four runs, whatever it is, you should go win that game,” Vaughn said. “His last three have been, what he would probably say were fine performances out of him. But if that’s his fine performance, we’re going to be in good shape.”