There are only eight days until the University of Maine baseball team opens its America East Conference season at Albany.
That means this week’s four-game series at the New Jersey Institute of Technology is essentially the final step before coach Steve Trimper and his staff solidify their regular pitching rotation and lineup.
Pitching is the foundation of every outstanding team and UMaine is still refining its starting rotation and bullpen setup in the hope of developing enough depth to endure a four-game weekend series.
“It’s the final tune-up before we go into conference play,” Trimper said. “You win with pitching and defense.”
UMaine will go into the NJIT series with the same starting rotation as last week, with freshman Steve Perakslis and sophomore A.J. Bazdanes working Friday and freshman Jeff Gibbs and junior Matt Jebb working the Saturday twinbill.
Each day will include a seven-inning game followed by a nine-inning contest.
That group appears to be settling in, particularly in terms of its collective control.
“Our goal coming back from Florida was to cut down on walks,” Trimper said. “Certainly against Oregon State and last weekend, we did do that. We want to continue with that trend.”
Black Bear pitchers walked 12 and struck out 17 in 32 innings against Lehigh.
Jebb has been the most effective starter of late, going 0-1 with a 3.60 earned run average in his last three starts. That includes only two walks.
Bazdanes is 1-2 with a 5.28 ERA in his last three starts, while Gibbs (1-2, 6.27, 17 strikeouts) and Perakslis (1-2, 6.35, 18 Ks) are learning the ropes.
The bullpen mainstays have been senior righty Justin Latta (3-0, 3.04, .226 opponents batting average overall) and senior lefthander Barry Keiffer (1-1, 6.65). Senior Myckie Lugbauer also has seen limited mound duty in a closer-type role.
Sophomore righthander Keith Bilodeau, who has been nursing a sore shoulder, could get some work this weekend. He last pitched March 9.
Trimper continues to hold out hope that some of the pitchers who underwent offseason arm surgery could start contributing in the next few weeks. That group includes sophomore Kyle Benoit, senior Joe Miller and sophomore Jimmy Cox of Bangor.
“In the past we’ve lost pitchers as we’ve gone through the year. This year, we should be getting some back,” Trimper said. “We have four guys in the next couple weeks that we could be adding to our rotation.”
Bears’ Martin on the mend
Joey Martin of Portland could be back in the lineup in some capacity against New Jersey Tech after missing Sunday’s doubleheader.
The junior first baseman and outfielder from Portland, who has been a key member of the UMaine lineup, encountered soreness and tightness while taking batting practice Sunday.
Trimper said Martin (.372, 19 RBIs, 4 stolen bases) practiced Wednesday.