Sweeney mounts offensive surge following injury-plagued year
It really is rare to see a season as productive as the one that senior shortstop Pat Sweeney is having for the Rutgers baseball team.
What is perhaps even more impressive about Sweeney’s season is the improvement he has had from a season ago, which was enough for assistant coach Tim Reilly to say that Sweeney was eligible for the most improved player in the nation.
While the jury is still out for him to win most improved player in the nation, Sweeney did garner recognition as The Daily Targum’s Senior of the Year.
Sweeney leads the Scarlet Knights with a .354 batting average, is second on the team with a .512 slugging percentage and tops the Knights with a .452 on-base percentage.
Each of those statistics is up from a season ago, where Sweeney hit a dismal .191 batting average, .244 slugging percentage and had a .289 on-base percentage.
But along with the statistics, the biggest change for Sweeney was his health.
“Last year, I was battling an injury and didn’t make it through the season,” Sweeney said. “Coming back healthy this year, rehabbing in the offseason was huge for me. It’s just my senior year, I want to play relaxed and have fun out there.”
The performance from Sweeney has not gone unnoticed by the Knights.
Head coach Joe Litterio said Sweeney is up for consideration in other facets for the team.
“That’s great [that Sweeney won the Senior of the Year Award]. [The coaches] were talking about that, believe it or not, past the halfway point in the season and talking about our MVP,” Litterio said. “He was one of the names that the few of our coaches brought up. He’s been having an outstanding year for us, and hopefully he can continue to do what he is doing and drive in runs for us.”
Senior outfielder Brian O’Grady has also noted a change in Sweeney’s demeanor and offensive approach to the game.
“He’s been awesome this year,” O’Grady said. “He really figured out his swing and what he needs to do at the plate. He’s been more aggressive, and I think that has been the key to his success and that has really helped us out. He’s confident now, so he’s putting good swings on the ball right away.
This season also saw Sweeney remain consistent throughout, even though he has bounced around the batting order throughout the season.
Sweeney started the season towards the bottom of the lineup, oftentimes batting in the eighth spot or the ninth spot in the order. Now, Sweeney has found a home batting in the fifth spot — a part of the lineup reserved for some of the top hitters on the team and good spot to score runs.
Despite the switch in the lineup, Sweeney has remained consistent in his approach and has not altered, or faltered, in his approach.
“He’s been hitting the ball. It started out earlier in the year in the eight-hole and nine-hole and he was hitting the ball back then,” Litterio said. “He had to prove it to me that he could move up in the lineup. He does a good job wherever he hits. He doesn’t take the approach where, ‘I’m a five-hitter now, I got to start hitting home runs.’ He takes the same approach every time and does a good job.”
Sweeney said the movement throughout the lineup has been somewhat difficult, but the approach does not change.
“It’s a little crazy,” Sweeney said, chuckling. “But, it’s the same approach. Still trying to get fastballs to hit, not chase bad pitches and put good swings on the baseball.”
The main focus for Sweeney maintaining success has been his approach to each appearance at the plate.
“The key is just staying consistent. Trying to be aggressive early in the count and get good pitches to hit,” Sweeney said. “When the pitcher makes a mistake, you have to take advantage of it — that’s what I’ve been able to do so far this season.”