After Nick Dunn hit .333 last year in the Cape Cod Baseball League — his second consecutive summer with a batting average above .300 — Maryland baseball coach Rob Vaughn asked the second baseman what was different about his plate approach.
"Well," Dunn told Vaughn, "I felt like I owned my strike zone a little bit more."
Despite starting all 118 games the past two seasons in College Park, the junior saw his batting average dip from .300 to .261 last spring as a result of chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone.
But following his summer league surge, Dunn showed off increased power and plate discipline during Maryland's season-opening series against Tennessee. He hit .400 with three home runs, four RBIs and four walks against the Volunteers, a level of production Vaughn hopes he can continue entering the Terps' Wednesday matchup against William & Mary.
"He's playing at the top of his game right now. And it's just a carryover from what happened in [the summer league]," said left fielder Marty Costes, who played on the Brewster Whitecaps with Dunn. "He's just making solid contact with the ball, you know, it's nothing like a change of game plan or anything for him. He's just staying patient and taking walks, too. Getting on base. I love it."
In 2016, Dunn's standout hitting earned him a place on the Big Ten All-Freshman team. He was awarded playoff co-MVP with the Brewster Whitecaps this past summer en route to a league title as he hit .306 with seven RBIs in the postseason.
Dunn received preseason third-team All-American recognition from Baseball America prior to this season with the expectation he would sustain his progress from his time with the Whitecaps.
So far, he's responded by nearly matching his long ball output from last year in one weekend and displaying an improved command of the strike zone that's led to better contact than he made last year.
While Vaughn commended Dunn's success in the series win over Tennessee, he warned against overconfidence.
"There's two types of people: Those who are humble, and those who are about to be," Vaughn said. "So I will remind Dunn that, while you started off great this weekend, the second you kind of start feeling yourself and believing too much, then you're going to get humbled quickly."
Vaughn said Dunn has worked with hitting coach Matt Swope to improve his strike zone discipline, and spent a lot of time in the weight room during the fall.
Generally, Vaughn said, power comes with age, so he wasn't surprised to see Dunn's two blasts in Maryland's season opener and a two-run shot to plate center fielder Zach Jancarski in the series finale.
"He's been reliable for us since the day he stepped on campus," Jancarski said. "He's just trying to do what Nick Dunn does, just barrel up the baseball. And this weekend, he barreled them up, for sure."