Four games into his return from an unspecified athletic department suspension, Jawuan Harris admits that he’s still shaking some rust off.
Although the freshman centerfielder went 1-for-4 with two RBI in Rutgers’ 12-3 win over St. Peter’s on Tuesday, he says hasn’t been satisfied with his overall recent results.
“I feel like my timing is off right now, swinging at some bad pitches right now,” Harris said after his first home game since the suspension. “So I’m just working on that in the cages, working on timing, trying to put the ball oppo and work my way through the middle of the field like (Tuesday).
“I’m getting there. Hopefully, (with) faster pitches and Northwestern this weekend, I’ll be able to do something a little better than I have.”
Despite a four-game hitting streak to highlight his return to the baseball diamond, Harris’s six strikeouts provide reasoning for his frustrations at the plate. He leads the team in that category with 50 punch-outs on the season.
But while it’s made Harris harder on himself, it hasn’t taken anything away from his body of work this spring in the eyes of his teammates and coaches.
“Jay (Harris), he’s a pretty dynamic player,” Suseck said. “He really impacts the game in so many ways, which is unique about him.”
Outside of his .279 batting average and 43 hits, each of which rank fourth on the team, Harris leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh nationally with 32 steals. His pair of consecutive swipes Sunday at Maryland sets a team record for Rutgers with 108 stolen bases and counting this year.
Putting his first baseball season on the Banks into perspective, Harris still thinks he could have done better.
“I feel like it was still average,” he said of his personal results this season. “I feel like I could do better next year. I had way too many strikeouts this year as a freshman. But still, as a freshman, I’ve got a lot of years to go. … I gave away a lot of at bats this year in midweek games, as (Tuesday), so just coming out and making a better year as I progress.”
Litterio said that there’s room for improvement with Harris, who expects to report back to the football team when summer workouts start on June 1, but his assessment of the two-sport athlete’s production on the baseball field was more upbeat.
“As a freshman, outstanding season,” Litterio said. “There’s much room for him to grow. … But as you look as a freshman, what he has done, it’s incredible for him to be able to play at this level — at a high level. … Mike (Carter) got hurt early in the season and gave Jay (Harris) a chance to show us what he can do because we don’t have him in the fall. So that was kind of his fall … he proved to be out there and he’s been a mainstay ever since.”
As the rain intensified at the end of the fifth inning, home plate umpire Tom Scartozzi had seen enough. The result – another win chalked up for Rutgers baseball, mounting more momentum for the Scarlet Knights.
“It’s important for us to get some momentum in the midweeks,” said senior first baseman Chris Suseck, who went 1-for-3 with a run. “That’s something (coach Joe Litterio) really stresses. We tried to just get out early and we got a few base runners the first inning.”
Suseck and Rutgers (26-26, 8-13) did just that on their way to pounding St. Peter’s, 12-3, in Tuesday's five-inning matchup at Bainton Field.
Junior right-hander Kevin Baxter (3-1) went the shortened distance for the Knights, fanning three and walking three. The Peacocks (9-41) managed just three runs on Nick Ciocco’s leftfield blast in the fourth inning, an effort that was too little and far too late.
Rutgers set the tone from the jump, storming out of the gates for seven runs in the first inning.
The early explosion on offense started with a two-run double from junior rightfielder Tommy Marcinczyk and culminated with another two-run base knock by fellow centerfielder Jawuan Harris when the freshman sliced a single up the middle to solidify Baxter’s early cushion.
“You never want to leave any doubt to whether it’s a tight game or a close game,” Litterio said. “We kind of put up that seven spot in the first inning and it made everybody sit back and relax. And when the rains came in, we at least had a big enough lead in the fifth inning to get a win there.”
As the final series of the spring approaches with Northwestern entering for a three-game home stand starting Thursday, the Knights need some help. Beyond sweeping the Wildcats (13-38, 5-16), Rutgers needs to conjure up some magic if it wants to sneak into the Big Ten Tournament.
Currently No. 12 in the conference, the Knights have a steep climb with Maryland (26-24, 11-10) and Penn State (27-25, 11-10) sitting in the last two of the eight total tournament spots.
While the odds are stacked against his team, Litterio keeps Rutgers’ approach simple.
“By the end of Saturday, we’ll find out if we’re in or not,” he said. “But we have to take care of business no matter what. If we can’t do our job, then it doesn’t even matter looking at the other standings. So that’s the biggest thing is come out, just focus on Thursday and win Thursday.”