BOCA RATON – Even when FAU was playing its best baseball, back when the Owls were 15-4 and own an RPI approaching single digits, Florida Atlantic coach John McCormack understood his club wasn’t particularly deep.
In recent weeks injures to three starting pitchers and their starting catcher exposed a vulnerability McCormack always knew was there.
“Now it’s kind of rearing its ugly head a little bit,” McCormack said.
The head started to emerge with Saturday starter Kyle Marman, who held a 4-0 record with a 1.45 ERA before an elbow injury required season-ending surgery.
Marman’s replacement in the weekend rotation, Mark Nowatnick, missed three of his past four scheduled starts because of injuries, but could return – at least in a relief role – this weekend at Middle Tennessee.
Now Friday starter Jake Miednik (6-1, 3.24 ERA) is battling shoulder tendinitis, which forced him to miss this weekend’s games at FIU. Miednik was scheduled to throw on Monday, but there still isn’t a timetable for his return.
“I think he’s a little ways away,” McCormack said.
Catcher Pedro Pages had his left wrist re-examined by a hand specialist on Monday. Results were not immediately available, but surgery to remove part or all of the hamate bone is a consideration. FAU’s cleanup hitter, Pages is second on the Owls with 31 RBI.
At the moment Pages can’t grip a bat or close his hand inside a glove to catch a ball. Recovery time from hamate surgery is generally four-to-six weeks.
“I would expect that if they have to take it out you’re looking at maybe, by the grace of God, he could play in a Regional,” McCormack said.
Complicating matters even more for the Owls, Sunday starter Mike Ruff developed a blister while warming up for his start against FIU. With the series finale rained out, Ruff didn’t have to attempt to pitch through the blister.
He’ll get the start on Tuesday against Central Florida at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. If Ruff can go, he’ll be on a pitch limit with the hopes of giving him the ball again on Sunday at MTSU. If the blister prevents Ruff from pitching on Tuesday, McCormack will likely turn to Nick Swan or Marc Stewart.
One of the reasons FAU now schedules a couple games per year at West Palm Beach’s Ballpark of the Palm Beaches – the spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals – is because the Owls would hope to use the ballpark to host an NCAA regional. FAU can’ host at their on-campus facility because it doesn’t meet NCAA specifications.
Not long ago, back when the Owls boasted a Top 20 RPI, being one of the 16 schools that host a regional appeared to be a possibility.
“Three weeks ago we thought we might have been,” McCormack said. “Our RPI was 15. We’re leading the league too, tied with Southern Miss. There was a possibility of making sure we did that.”
Despite the recent rash of injuries, the Owls are still positioned for an NCAA at-large berth.
At 31-14-1, 15-7-1 FAU enters the final two weeks of the regular season in Conference USA’s second place, percentage points ahead of Louisiana Tech and 3 1/2 behind Southern Miss. If the Golden Eagles falter down the stretch, FAU could claim the regular season C-USA title.
FAU sewed up a berth in the eight-team C-USA tournament over the weekend, another step forward.
Tuesday marks the Owls final non-conference game. Following this weekend’s trip to Middle Tennessee, FAU concludes the regular season with Western Kentucky in town for the final weekend.
Both MTSU and WKU are fighting to qualify for the C-USA tournament.
“The issue that we have is Middle Tenn and Western, their RPIs aren’t great, so we have to play well,” McCormack said. “One, we want to finish [no worse than] second. Two, we want to stay in the at-large discussion, and if you don’t do well against the bad RPIs you are going to slide.”
FAU’s RPI has fallen to 35 – nearing the danger zone for at-large berths. If FAU wins both of its final two series it will end the regular season with no worse than 35 wins. A couple victories in the C-USA tournament could have the Owls pushing 40 wins.
“At least we’re in the top end of the [NCAA at-large berth] conversation,” McCormack said.