DURHAM, N.C. – Daniel Pinero’s lone day off this season was on April 10 during the third game of the Boston College series. Apparently the day off did wonders.
At that time he was hitting .299 with an on base percentage of .411 and slugging at a .383 clip. His Hoos were marred in a slump, having lost eight of their last 11 games with a 21-14 (7-8 ACC) record, a mark that placed the Virginia baseball team eighth in the ACC Tournament pecking order.
Since then he has raised his average to .335, his OBP is up 26 percentage points and with his two home runs and double in the ACC Tournament, his slugging percentage has risen almost 100 points to .477. The Cavaliers, despite a pair of one-run losses in the ACC Tournament, have won 15 of 20 games and finished the regular season with the league’s third best record at 19-11.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “It seems like down the stretch run every year, Danny Pinero is at his best, he really is, and he is playing fantastic.”
After garnering All-Conference honors in 2014 and 2015, Pinero was left off the list this season and may be taking his frustration out on opposing pitchers.
In Thursday’s 5-4 loss to Clemson, Pinero blasted a solo home run that hit the Durham Bull in left field and added another RBI on a sacrifice fly. Pinero says he wasn’t sure the exactly where the ball hit the bull but says the experience was “cool.”
“I kind of really didn’t watch it all the way until it hit the bull,” explained the junior shortstop. “I guess you guys can talk about the reaction, I don’t really know. I just put my head down and started running around the bases.”
Friday he sent another pitch 381 feet over the left field wall as he went 2 for 5 with two RBI and two extra base hits on the day. As for the all-conference snub, he doesn’t really seem to care.
“I don’t really pay attention too much about that. I just try to go out and win ball games, anyway, anyhow,” he said.
Virginia’s losses in these ACC Tournament games – a 5-4 setback in the ninth inning against Clemson on Thursday and a 10-9 defeat to Wake Forest on Friday – haven’t been because of Pinero. In the 2016 tourney, he’s hitting .500 (4 for 8), has scored three runs, knocked in four RBI, and connected on three extra base hits. He also hasn’t committed an error in seven chances.
“He’s played fantastic in these two ball games and has been over the last four or five weeks,” O’Connor added.
Hitting from the five hole all season, Pinero has been a catalyst in several key stretches for the Hoos since his day off. The week of April 18, the junior went 7 for 17 (.412) in a five-game week that included a 2-1 series win over then top-ranked Miami. Pinero plated six runs and added three RBI during the week. In the season’s final series against the Hokies, the Canadian native banged out seven hits in 12 chances, including four hits in Virginia’s game two win.
O’Connor said that hitting fifth in the lineup gives Pinero a chance to produce surrounded by three other outstanding hitters.
“Look where the guy is hitting between,” O’Connor said. “He’s hitting between [Adam Haseley] and Pavin Smith with [Matt] Thaiss in front of him. So Danny is swinging a great bat.”
As O’Connor noted, there’s something about this time of year for Pinero in general.
Over his last six ACC Tournament games dating back to last season, Pinero has been hot in Durham. He has a .450 average while recording nine hits, eight runs, eight RBI, and three home runs in those games. He’s been just as impressive in the NCAA Tournament. In 2014, Pinero only batted .250 (13 for 52) in the NCAA Tournament overall but was 6 for 12 with a team-high six runs scored in the Super Regional win against Maryland. Last summer, Pinero tore up College World Series pitching by going 9 for 23 (.391) and scored four runs with a .462 OBP in Omaha (all team highs).
As a draft eligible junior, O’Connor realizes this ACC tourney may be the first of many lasts in Pinero’s career. He took the liberty of talking a glimpse back on the stellar tenure of the first UVA freshman to start a season opener at shortstop since Mark Reynolds in 2002.
“You step back and think what the kid has done in his career,” O’Connor said. “He’s played shortstop for basically every game for three years on three very special teams.”
As Virginia likely prepares to host its ninth NCAA Regional and begin its quest for another NCAA title, O’Connor says having Pinero is big for his club right now.
“I think the guy is one heck of a player,” he said. “He’s showing the caliber of player he is and it makes a huge difference for us. I love him and whenever his time is done here, we’re going to certainly miss him.”