Good start to the season for the FIU baseball team by sweeping Maryland over the weekend -- capped off by a grand slam by Pablo Bermudez (left, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo). Although it's just three games, the Panthers looked solid in all three aspects of the game: pitching, defense and hitting.
But a better measure of how much FIU has improved from last season awaits this coming weekend when Oral Roberts comes to Miami for a 3-game series. The Golden Eagles have won their conference 12 straight years.
Still, there was plenty to be encouraged about from the first 3 games of the season.
First a look at the pitching, because everything in baseball begins with pitching. Friday's starter Scott Rembisz had one bad inning in an otherwise good outing. Starters Corey Polizzano and Aaron Arboleya pitched well too. CP moves up in the rotation this season with the Red Sox loss of Tom Ebert. Arboleya goes from mid-week starter last season to the Sunday guy this year.
While the starters gave up just 2 earned runs in 16 innings against the Terrapins, they weren't really challenged. UM batters seemed to be swinging like they just got out from under the snow in Maryland -- which they might have. Look for a more challenging test from the Oral Roberts lineup next weekend. Those Eagles can swing the bats.
The Panthers bullpen started out the season in dominant fashion. In 11 relief innings in the series, FIU relievers gave up 1 run. When Friday's game was still hanging in the balance, reliever Eric Berkowitz made quick work of the Terps in his 3 innings until FIU put the game away late.
On Sunday, R.J. Fondon -- who for now will pitch out of the bullpen, because he's the only lefty FIU has in the pen -- prevented the series finale from becoming interesting. R.J. (right, thanks Sam Lewis photo) allowed just one run on a wild pitch when he had to work out of a bases loaded, no out jam in the sixth inning.
FIU's defense looked better this past weekend than it did most of last season. The Panthers are certainly going to need better D this season, especially with the lack of a strikeout pitcher in their rotation. There are going to be a lot more balls in play from opponents' bats this season.
Among the defensive highlights from the opening series: Garrett Wittels (left, thanks AJH photo) acting like Brooks Robinson and diving on the 3rd base foul line to snare a grounder and throw out the runner at 1st. And freshman left fielder Jabari Henry showing off his cannon from left field to throw out a Terp at the plate in the 2nd inning of Saturday's game.
At the plate, FIU has always been able to hit and that's no exception this season. Although in Sunday's game, the Panthers gave away some at-bats that if they had been more patient would have had better swings and possibly put up double digits in runs again.
Wittels (7 for 12) and Bermudez (6 for 11) led the Panthers in hitting against UM. Wittels woke up the FIU lineup with a bunt base hit on Friday that sparked a 4-run rally. Of course, it also helped that after 4 innings of trying to pull everything UM starter Brett Harman was throwing, the Panthers started going opposite field and got their bats going.
In that 4-run rally, Bermudez had a 2-run single to bring home FIU's first two runs of the season and on Sunday the sophomore from the Miami Springs-to-FIU pipeline hit the granny to provide the Panthers runs.
Bermudez was named the Sun Belt Baseball Player of the Week on Monday.
Newcomer Yoandy Barroso had a good series going 4 for 8 in his FIU debut. Tim Jobe hit 1 of FIU's 2 home runs in Saturday's win. The other came from Jabari Henry, whose moonshot in his first college at-bat landed around mid-field of the FIU soccer field.
Henry (right, thanks Victoria Lynch photo) has played just 2 college games, but he looks like he will be a very special player. Yes, his throw from left field and his 3-run bomba were impressive for the freshman's first game, but what stood out just as much was his 2nd college at-bat after the dinger.
In his 2nd at-bat, Henry fell behind 1-2 and had the discipline to lay off two consecutive borderline strikes [pitchers' pitches] that were called balls and worked a walk. I think 98% of freshmen would have swung and missed at one of those two pitches. That's one reason Henry was drafted by the Texas Rangers out of high school and I'm not talking about the Chuck Norris Walker Texas Rangers.
Will have a LIVE HOOPS BLOG from Thursday's FIU/Middle Tennessee game. It's the second to last game of the regular season before the Sun Belt tourney begins on Saturday, March 6 in Hot Springs, Ark. Will be live blogging from there too.
PETE: I have another very important question for you: DO YOU THINK FOOTBALL WILL DO SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR THE OPENER AGAINST RUTGERS? SOFTBALL TEAM WORE JERSEYS THAT THEY AUCTION AFTER THE GAME. FOOTBALL CAN MAKE A KILLING DOING THAT!!
PP: FIU softball will get in the colleges column in this coming Saturday's paper. I've heard there are ideas being kicked around for the home opener against Rutgers on 9/11. How about FIU football wears khaki-colored camouflage jerseys similar to what the San Diego Padres (right, two photos) wear to honor the military during their Sunday home games throughout the regular season?