A lack of pitching depth doomed Maryland baseball a season ago in the first College Park regional when the Terps surrendered 11 runs to UConn in the deciding game and failed to advance.
Maryland allowed nearly seven runs per contest in last year’s NCAA tournament. It played five games in a four-day stretch, putting significant stress on a pitching staff that was unprepared to handle it.
Coach Rob Vaughn sought to improve the team’s depth entering the 2023 season. He added four pitchers that looked like they would make an instant impact and complement what appeared to be a strong group of returning arms.
But more than halfway through the season, the Terps’ pitching staff remains a unit whose lack of depth and success is becoming evident. Maryland’s 5.80 team ERA ranks 147th in the country. Its 1.57 WHIP is 136th.
Maryland has lost three midweek games — contests that often feature pitchers who see minimal time on weekends — after only dropping one such game in all of 2022. Those struggles, coupled with a rotation that has occasionally struggled going deep into games, have tested the Terps’ pitching staff.
“We haven’t gotten quite as deep of starts,” Vaughn said. “We’re taxing the bullpen a tick more than we would love to be taxing them.”
Like last season, that scarcity of pitching options could keep Maryland from advancing out of a regional for the third consecutive year.
Ryan Ramsey, Sean Heine and Will Glock all departed after the 2022 season, leaving a rotation spot and two high-leverage bullpen roles open.
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Transfers Nate Haberthier, Kenny Lippman and Tommy Kane were supposed to alleviate those losses. But instead, the trio of pitchers has struggled to perform in their first seasons as Terps.
Haberthier was removed from the weekend rotation after three starts in favor of Kyle McCoy. The righthander sports a 7.27 ERA in nine appearances and has allowed 21 earned runs. He’s become a midweek starter and bulk reliever, roles far removed from the aspirations Maryland had for the Ohio State transfer.
Lippman and Kane have formed a right and left-handed duo, which Vaughn turns to often in middle innings. They lead all full-time relievers in innings pitched but both have earned run averages nearing six.
Midweek games are when depth is tested most. The Terps, on average, have given up more than 10 runs per game in their three losses — all of which featured starts from pitchers Vaughn is looking to give more experience.
Ryan Van Buren started in the Terps’ first two midweek defeats. He went a total of 4 1/3 innings and allowed seven earned runs. Logan Ott threw after him both times and gave up four runs in 5 2/3 total frames. In the most recent midweek loss, Haberthier, Lippman and Kane combined to surrender eight earned runs in the game’s first 6 1/3 innings.
“We can’t go out and lose on a Tuesday at home,” Vaughn said after his team’s third midweek defeat. “If we’re gonna be good enough, we’ve got to go out and take care of business at home.”
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The Terps’ season-long stats look even worse when removing the trio of Jason Savacool, Nick Dean and Kyle McCoy. All other pitchers have combined to an ERA of 6.84. No relief pitcher has an earned run average below five. Four pitchers who’ve thrown at least 10 innings have averages greater than seven.
“I think that four-headed monster at the end of the game is really, really good,” Vaughn said, referring to Nigel Belgrave, David Falco Jr., Lippman and Kane. “I think it’s probably deeper than what we had last year … I don’t really have any concern with them moving forward.”
Starters have provided better length as of late, a key reason Maryland has won 17 of its last 24 games. Savacool and Dean have both gone at least five innings in their last three starts, handing games over to a rested bullpen rather than an overused one.
Maryland’s staff begins to crumble when starters don’t go deep. That’s an issue in a strenuous postseason format, where it’s unreasonable to expect the rotation trio to string together multiple long outings.
One or more members of the Terps’ rotation will likely falter and leave it to the rest of the staff to cover for them. Others, like Haberthier, Van Buren and Ott, will also be called on in must-win games. So far, they haven’t shown they’ll be able to deliver.
Vaughn put considerable focus into bolstering the Terps’ pitching to prevent losing in the postseason in a similar fashion to last season. Despite those efforts, Maryland’s staff has proved no deeper than it was when it cost them a year ago.