Scouting report: FIU
The Cajuns are in Miami for a three-game set against Florida International (20-15, 5-7 SBC). And, they're playing in University Park for the fifth time in six years. FIU hasn't visited Tigue Moore Field since 2008, Turtle Thomas' first year as head coach.
University Park is a fan-friendly ballpark. Seating capacity isn't large, about 2,000 tops, but it's a good place to watch a ball game. As far as the field itself is concerned, it's one of the toughest in the league, which is part of the reason FIU never seems to have a good fielding percentage. This year is no exception. And, without having been to the park yet, I can tell you the wind will be blowing out to left field. It always is.
This is a different FIU club. First of all, props to Turtle for actually getting out and playing someone. Thomas' club has gone on the road and taken on Rice, Texas A&M, Baylor and Tulane. As a result, their RPI is good despite a 20-15 record.
When you think of the Panthers under Thomas, you think of a very very scary lineup, capable of putting up double digit runs on any given night. You also think of a pitching staff that potentially does the same. Not this year. Although FIU returns most of their starting lineup from a year ago, production is down considerably. The Panthers team batting average (.293) is down almost forty points from a year ago. Mike Martinez, who was one of the most dangerous hitters in the league last year, is hitting a pedestrian .261, although he has seven homers on the season. FIU still hits the long ball; they have 29 home runs and part of that is their ballpark. Pablo Bermudez has felt no effects from the new bats. He's second in the league in hitting at .425. Garrett Wittels, who had his 56 game hitting streak snapped in the season opener, is second on the team in hitting at .324. Wittels, by the way, heads back to the Bahamas next week for his hearing on a rape charge.
On the mound, FIU is much better. And, much deeper than in the past. Scott Rembisz, who ate the Cajuns up for two straight years, is gone now. Lefty Phil Haig has taken Rembisz' place on Friday nights and has pitched well. He's 4-2 with a 4.10 ERA. His numbers were better than that, but he got cuffed around at Troy last weekend. He's struck out 41 in 48.2 innings. Another lefty, R. J. Fondon (1-4, 3.97) goes on Saturday. He's more of a "traditional" lefty, without many strikeouts. Thomas seems to have decided on Daniel DeSimone as his Sunday pitcher. DeSimone is 4-2, 3.58 and has thrown two complete games. FIU's team ERA (3.63) is down about two full runs from a year ago. Thomas has options in the bullpen, but his late inning go-to guy is Bryam Garcia (1-0, 1.23, 4 svs.) Jose Velasquez and Mason McVay have also been good out of the pen.
Defensively, as usual, FIU isn't real good. Part of that is their ballpark, but defense has never been a strong suit of the Panthers. Their 57 errors and .959 fielding percentage is last in the Sun Belt.
The key to beating FIU is to make sure they don't get out early. They haven't been a really good come from behind team, and they've not won this year when trailing after the 6th inning. Conversely, when they get up early, they smell blood and are tough to catch.
Don't let FIU's 5-7 conference record fool you. They've already played FAU, Troy and Western Kentucky. They'll have to play FAU again (in Miami), but the rest of the league schedule lightens up after this weekend. They play three of their last five conference series at home, with trips to UALR and Middle Tennessee.
SUN BELT COMPARISONS (ALL GAMES)
HITTING: FIU 4th (.293) UL 6th (.284)
PITCHING: FIU 3rd (3.63) UL 2nd (3.60)
DEFENSE: FIU 10th (.959), UL T-2nd (.979)
CONFERENCE GAMES ONLY
HITTING: FIU 5th (.296), UL 1st (.309)
PITCHING: FIU 6th (4.60), UL 4th (4.19)
DEFENSE: FIU 9th (.966), UL 1st (.984)
Gametimes: Friday 6pm ESPN 1420/96.5 KPEL
Saturday 5pm 96.5 KPEL
Sunday 12:00 noon 96.5 KPEL