“There is concern,” coach John McCormack said.
The baseball season can begin to drag this time of year. Players are finishing exams. Fellow students are leaving campus for summer break. Yet three weeks remain in the regular season, with the C-USA Tournament to follow.
McCormack wasn’t pleased with the preparation of his Owls this past week – nor with the results they produced.
FAU dropped its midweek game against Florida Gulf Coast and lost two of three over the weekend against UAB – a team in the middle of the Conference USA standings. Those loses dropped FAU to third place in C-USA for the first time this season.
“We haven’t pitched well out of the bullpen for a little while now,” McCormack said. “It’s been two weeks, a week and 10 days. We’ve been able to overcome it with some offense and played pretty good defense.”
McCormack is considering shuffling bullpen roles during their all Florida week. FAU heads to UCF on Tuesday before a weekend series at FIU.
The Owls also continue to search for a Sunday starter. Mark Nowatnick missed Sunday’s start because of an oblique strain. On Sunday he played catch, but still experienced pain.
“We’re hoping for the weekend,” McCormack said, before adding, “I just think that it’s going to be a little while.”
Nowatnick only entered the weekend rotation after Kyle Marman’s season-ending injury. With Nowatnick unable to go on Sunday, Jordan Poore drew his second start – and it didn’t go well. He allowed five runs and didn’t record an out in the second inning.
“I didn’t see that coming with Poore, I’ll tell you that,” McCormack said.
FAU is also facing the prospect of losing catcher Pedro Pages for an extended period of time after he injured his left wrist with a swing in Saturday’s first game. Second on the Owls with 31 RBI, Pages was scheduled to see a doctor on Monday. If the wrist is broken – which the Owls fear – his season is likely over.
First baseman Gunnar Lambert caught the final innings of Sunday’s game and will serve as the Owls’ backup catcher, behind Kevin Abraham. Lambert served as FAU’s primary catcher in 2016 while Abraham underwent cancer treatment, but didn’t play last season because of a knee injury.
“His service has become a little bit more valuable right now if Pedro is out for a significant time,” McCormack said of Lambert.
Regardless of who’s catching on Tuesday, sophomore righty Mike Ruff will get the start – although he may make that start in the bullpen, figuratively speaking.
Ruff owns a 2.62 ERA on the season but he’s struggled in the first innings of his starts this season, posting a 5.40 ERA while walking seven in the first frame of his five starts.
McCormack is toying with the idea of having Ruff pitch a simulated first inning in the bullpen prior to the start of the game.
“I told him, Why don’t we get loose, sit down, get a drink, and throw the first inning down there,” McCormack said. “It might limit you (in the game) but you might be better early.”
FIU (21-22, 10-11) enters the week tied for seventh in C-USA.
Should FAU’s pitching woes, and that May malaise, linger into another weekend, FIU is certainly capable of taking a couple games from the Owls. That would likely drop FAU’s RPI into the danger zone when it comes to NCAA Tournament condition.
What can McCormack do to shake FAU out of its funk?
“Just keep working,” McCormack said. “Keep working. Keep grinding. Keep kind of working with the guys, encouraging them, maybe try to put some guys, especially in the bullpen, in different roles.”