We're a little past the midway point of the FIU baseball season and the Panthers are 19-13 and 6-6 in the Sun Belt. About what you expected or not? Vote in the poll question at the end of this post.
FIU has 22 games left and currently sits 6th in the conference out of 11 teams. Top 8 teams earn a trip to Murfreesboro, Tennessee for the Sun Belt Championship Tournament on May 25. The Panthers have 18 conference games left.
As FIU prepares for a Wednesday home game vs. Bethune-Cookman (6 p.m. first pitch; 5:54 p.m. LIVE BLOG begins), let's take a look at the first half of the 2010 season with some thoughts from FIU coach Turtle Thomas.
ON THE HILL
If you follow baseball at any level, then you know it all begins with pitching and FIU's hurlers have had their moments this season, but enough of them.
As of Monday, the Panthers are fifth in the Sun Belt with a (5.70 ERA) which is not anything to write home about. FIU pitchers do have the second most Ks (256) in the conference, but also have issued the fifth most walks with 124.
We knew it would be a challenge this season for FIU to get consistent pitching with the losses of Tom Ebert and Miguel Mejia to the Red Sox and Tigers, respectively. JUCO Pitcher of the Year Logan Dodds being ineligible. But nothing the Panthers can do anything about that.
No. 1 starter Scott Rembisz has pretty much been solid all season with the exception of last week vs. Middle Tennessee when he had to leave early with shoulder and forearm tightness. SR has never had those issues before, but he is expected to be on the hill this Friday vs. New Orleans.
Despite being just 1-2, R.J. Fondon (above, left, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo) has the lowest ERA on the team at 3.99 and probably has been the most consistent pitcher on the team.
You can see the potential sophomore Aaron Arboleya (right, thanks AJH photo) has with each start, but he has yet to put it together in a string of starts. AA has definitely improved from last season where he was a middle of the week/relief pitcher to earning a spot in the weekend rotation.
Daniel DeSimone has developed nicely with effective mid-week starts and has become an innings-eater.
Until closer Bryam Garcia hurt his elbow, he was pretty much lights out as the 9th inning guy. TT said he expects Garcia back before the end of the regular season. Eric Berkowitz has probably been the most efffective reliever thus far.
TT's take: "We've been a little inconsistent with our pitching. Teams that sweep series on a regular basis and are at the top of our league get three good starting performances each weekend. We've had two most weekends, but never had three. If we can get a little more consistency out of our bullpen that would be good."
Probably the other issue with FIU's pitching besides consistency, has to be the lack of depth.
For 2011, the Panthers will have Illinois transfer Phil Haig, Mike Ellis, Columbus High's Andres Perez-Lobo (one of the top pitchers in Dade County) along with MDC transfer Ricky Perez and Dodds besides the returns of Fondon, Arboleya, DeSimone, etc. And FIU still has some scholies left to hand out which the Panthers are actively pursuing: "We're in the process of signing a couple of more pitchers for 2011. Possibly JUCO guys." Thomas said.
AROUND THE DIAMOND
With a lack of pitching depth, the Panthers could help themselves with the gloves, but so far FIU has plenty of room for improvement.
There have been some secure gloves around the field for the Panthers such as Garrett Wittels' (left, thanks AJH photo) superb play at the hot corner and how he flawlessly filled in for Junior Arrojo at shortstop when Jr. was out.
Jr. for the most part has been solid at SS. Pablo Bermudez has shown a very dependable glove in center and freshman Jabari Henry has a hose from left field as some opposing runners have found out.
But overall, FIU must tighten up defensively to help out its undermanned pitching staff, especially in Sun Belt play where every team in the conference, including FIU, seems to hit like if it were slow-pitch softball.
TT's take: "Our defense needs to be more consistent and more solid. However, our errors don't seem to be made in the clutch. I don't think it has affected us that much."
THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING
How many of you would be surprised if I told you FIU leads the Sun Belt in hitting? My hand is up.
FIU is No. 1 in hitting with a .347 team average and No. 1 in on-base percentage with a .436 mark.
Although the power numbers (FIU has 32 HR) are down with no Tyler Townsend-type bat in the lineup, the Panthers are averaging 8.2 runs per game, which should be enough for some more wins than the 19 the team has, but we've already gone over that above.
GW leads the team and is third in the Belt with a .417 average. GW also has a 28-game hit streak. Mike Martinez (right, thanks AJH photo) is second on the team and fifth in the conference with a .408 batting clip. MM also has a mighty .490 on-base percentage.
Freshman Jabari Henry (left, thanks AJH photo), who is looking like he will develop into Townsend-type bat, leads the team with 8 HR and 38 RBI.
One area where the Panthers could improve on is being more consistent driving in runs. For example, the 16 runners left on base against Louisiana on April 3 which wasted a nifty start by Fondon. FIU sweeps that series if they win that game.
TT's take: "They've done a nice job. In baseball, everybody runs into slumps, funks. We've had some pretty good consistent guys. We probably could knock in more runs. Middle Tennessee does a good job of knocking in runs. We were very impatient last Saturday against Middle Tennessee."