Jeff McGarry may be stepping off the mound, but he is sure stepping up for Penn baseball.
The junior Mount Laurel, N.J. native, who was one of Penn’s feature arms last season, has emerged as one of the Red and Blue’s biggest offensive weapons this year.
McGarry has proven to be productive in the number three spot thus far, as he leads the Quakers with 12 RBI and a .385 OBP.
The Red and Blue are welcoming McGarry’s production at that spot in the lineup, which was vacated by Ryan Dietrich at the end of last year when he transferred to Duke.
“We were hoping that if we moved Jeff in there he’d be able to pick up some of that slack,” coach John Yurkow said. “He’s done a great job with it. It’s worked out well.”
A number of factors have led McGarry to his current role as predominantly a position player.
Primarily, his athleticism, work ethic and experience playing both ways have made him “a very good candidate” to handle a new, more diverse role, as he explained himself.
“He’s probably the best athlete on our team,” Yurkow said. “There’s not much he can’t do.
“When I recruited him, I thought he’d have a good chance to hit and pitch here. It takes a special kid to be able to excel at both.”
There was a time McGarry wasn’t able to do either.
The righty injured his elbow the January of his freshman year, a season-ending setback.
Utilizing his unique work ethic to get healthy and focus solely on pitching, McGarry was named the opening day starter for the Quakers last season.
In his sophomore campaign, he won four games as a starter and pitched a total of 52 innings.
However, he developed elbow pain after the season, which would prove to be a harbinger of less time on the mound in the future.
When he began summer league play in Atwater, Calif., instead of both pitching and hitting as originally planned, he strictly focused on his bat and glove (he played right field).
McGarry’s performance spoke for itself, and continued production at the plate in fall ball secured the junior a spot in the lineup.
“It was important that we gave him an opportunity this fall, and he really did well with it,” Yurkow said.
“I was able to stroke the ball a little bit,” McGarry added. “I think I made a strong argument to play a position instead of pitch.”
Although he had never played the position before this season, McGarry has made himself comfortable at first base.
It wouldn’t be fair to let his impressive defensive prowess go unmentioned.
“What’s been surprising is how good a defender he’s been at first base,” Yurkow said. “He’s made a couple of great diving plays, and he can really throw for a first baseman.”
McGarry, who patrolled the hot corner at Lenape High School, has flashed his range and skill at the opposite end of the diamond for the Red and Blue, as he boasts a team-best .992 fielding percentage among regulars.
“It’s great to get out there and be involved in every single play, to be able to catch every out at first base,” he said.
McGarry thrives off heightened involvement — he’s already eager to get back on the mound more often.
“I’m definitely looking to pitch more,” he said. “I think it’ll be difficult for me to be a starter, but if it comes to that, I’d love to take that up again.”
It would be unwise to doubt McGarry’s ambitions, but the first baseman is more than content with where he is currently.
“Playing every day is the best,” he said. “I’m having a blast, and I just hope everything keeps working out.”
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