In the midst of his three-error game against Michigan earlier this season, Gophers freshman Matt Scanlon let loose a low, explosive blur of a throw from third base that drilled the leg of senior first baseman Ben Griffin.
Two weeks later Griffin was still heckling Scanlon about the errant rocket — and complaining about the lingering pain it caused.
“He said I threw that one 90 miles an hour off his shin,” Scanlon said, recalling Griffin’s reaction. “You don’t like to do that to Griff. He doesn’t like that stuff.”
The play illustrated what often happens with freshmen: they can show their potential, but they’re also capable of doing damage, not only to teammates’ bodies, but also to their teams’ chances of winning.
Since the Michigan series, though, Scanlon has settled down in the field, and most of his damage has come at the plate. Coming into this weekend’s series with Illinois at Siebert Field, the Richfield native is hitting .471. He started every game against Ohio State last weekend, and went 7 for 15.
He and shortstop Mark Devore form an unlikely freshman tandem on the left side of the infield for Minnesota. Devore is hitting just .261 but has played excellent defense at short, committing just two errors in 20 starts.
Together, the two have been a big reason why Minnesota is in third place in the Big Ten. Since the two front-runners, Michigan and Ohio State, are off this weekend, the Gophers can jump in the standings with a series win.
Scanlon was sidelined early in the year because of a broken finger, but when a broken toe and back spasms knocked new third baseman Bob Keeney out of the lineup, Scanlon got his chance. And after his frightening day against Michigan, he has been solid.
Although Scanlon expected his improvement in the field, even he’s taken aback by his hot bat.
“That’s what’s been surprising,” he said of his hitting. “I thought it would be the other way around, but the hitting’s been clicking. I’d never really been taught how to hit, but I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here. I’m more patient, and I can hit the ball the other way, which I never used to do.”
Gophers coach John Anderson thought the Michigan game was a turning point for Scanlon, and he has since become even more convinced of his ability.
“He’s really shown me something,” Anderson said. “He rebounded and didn’t lose confidence. At Ohio State he played very well and hit the ball. He’s got great, quick hands. He’s going to be an outstanding hitter.”
Devore went through similar struggles defensively when he took over as the starting shortstop near the start of the Big Ten season. He made an error in the first Big Ten series against Purdue but was still improving.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Devore said. “But I just needed a few games under my belt. I got more comfortable, and in the Purdue series it came together for me. It was just a matter of getting out the jitters. Once I learned to play aggressively, I started to come around.”
Devore, a redshirt freshman from Bloomington, has hit well enough to stay in the lineup, but it’s his defense that’s helped the Gophers so far.
“Ever since he’s been in there, he’s made a big difference,” Anderson said.