In between weekend starts, Maryland baseball right-handers Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom attempt to improve their tempo. It's challenging to replicate game situations during a bullpen session, Shaffer said, but the Terps emphasize not taking more than 10 or 15 seconds between pitches.
It helps the starting pitching and defense generate a rhythm, shortstop Kevin Smith said. After the Terps first few weekend series, including being swept by LSU, coach John Szefc's squad discussed tempo on the mound during a players-only meeting. It seemed some pitchers were a bit slower delivering to the plate than others, Smith said.
But the meeting has had an impact, with each of Maryland's weekend starters tossing at least six innings against Bryant last weekend. Shaffer's pace stood out again Friday. The Terps (10-6) topped Princeton (2-7), 4-0, in the first game of a three-game weekend series in College Park.
Shaffer followed his seven-inning performance against the Bulldogs by tossing eight shutout innings against the Tigers, the longest start a Maryland pitcher has made through 16 games this season. And he helped the Terps secure the win in about two hours and 17 minutes, one of Maryland's shortest games this season.
"Basically catch the ball and get right back on the mound," Shaffer said. "Try to keep a steady pace and try to keep them off balance. It takes away time for you to think about things. It's nice to stay in a rhythm instead of taking 30 seconds to throw another pitch."
Princeton catcher Alex Dickinson was one of several Tigers hitters Shaffer dominated. He looked toward the ground, glanced into the Tigers dugout and shook his head after Shaffer struck him out in the top of the sixth inning, the second time in as many at-bats he whiffed.
It was Shaffer's eighth of 10 strikeouts. In eight frames, Shaffer allowed three hits and fanned 10, the most strikeouts for a Terps pitcher since right-hander Mike Shawaryn tallied 16 against Indiana last May.
"The tempo was really good," Smith said. "[It's about] getting the ball back on the rubber. Not resetting too much and getting everyone on that page."
While Shaffer made quick work of Princeton, the Terps offense struggled to capitalize on early opportunities. Though the Terps had base runners in every frame until the seventh, Princeton right-hander Chris Giglio matched Shaffer's success through five innings. Maryland had runners in scoring position in the second, third and fourth innings but didn't convert. Giglio also worked around a leadoff walk in the fifth.
But then, the Terps rallied to support Shaffer in the sixth. Designated hitter Will Watson's soft line drive to right-center field scored first baseman Brandon Gum, and after Giglio departed, shortstop Kevin Smith crushed a fastball over the left field wall to give the Terps a four-run advantage.
"We were hitting balls hard right at guys," Smith said. "We're going to hit pitches early in the count and it's either going to blow up into a big inning or quick innings like we had. This season, it's been more big innings than not."
The four-run frame and Shaffer's tempo on the mound lifted the Terps late. When Bloom takes the mound in the second game Saturday afternoon, the expectation will remain the same.
"In the beginning of the year, guys were a little slow on the tempo side," Smith said. "The tempo has been good, hitters are off balance and they're throwing a lot of strikes."