BOCA RATON, Fla. — The University of Maine had plenty to figure out early this season in regard to its pitching staff.
Thus far, the Black Bears appear to have established some front-line starters and ample depth as they gear up for the America East Conference schedule.
Juniors Tommy Lawrence and Mike Connolly, along with senior A.J. Bazdanes, have set the tone for UMaine while establishing themselves as the top three starters. Freshmen Logan Fullmer and Charlie Butler have thrust themselves into the regular mix along with juniors Shaun Coughlin and D.J. Voisine.
“I think we’re pitching extremely well,” said head coach Steve Trimper, whose team is 9-10 after Tuesday night’s 8-0 win at Florida Atlantic.
“We’ve solidified who’s the starters, who are the bullpen guys and who are the closers,” added Trimper, who has utilized 15 different pitchers in an attempt to learn more about the staff.
Lawrence, a transfer, is 1-2 with a 3.76 earned run average in a team-high 26 1/3 innings. He leads the group with 18 strikeouts and only six walks.
Bazdanes, who sat out 2012 after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, has bounced back (2-1, 3.51, .258 opponents batting average). He went nine innings Saturday, giving up only eight hits and one run (6 strikeouts, 1 walk) in a no-decision.
“A.J. pitched his butt off,” Trimper said of the Nashua, N.H., product who was 1-5 with a 5.04 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings in 2011.
Connolly, who is the starting catcher, boasts a 1-2 record with a 2.50 ERA and a .232 OBA.
“My biggest concern is the way to properly manage and coach Mike Connolly,” Trimper said. “He’s done a tremendous job behind the plate, but we need to keep him healthy.”
That trio of right-handers is expected to start the league games Saturday (2) and Sunday at defending AE champion and College World Series participant Stony Brook.
The fourth starter is Fullmer (1-1, 3.57, .231 OBA), while fellow freshmen Charlie Butler (0-0, 0.00, .250) and Burk FitzPatrick (0-0, 3.38, .115), along with Coughlin (1-1, 4.09, .244) and Voisine (2-0, 6.00, .283), head the bullpen crew. Freshman Jake Marks (1-0, 0.73, .095) inserted his name into the discussion Tuesday, pitching a three-hit shutout.
Junior Fran Whitten (0-1, 8.10) and sophomore Luke Morrill of South Thomaston (0-0, 5.19) are pencilled in as closers.
The Bears have compiled a 4.27 team ERA, holding opponents to a .275 average and 4.9 runs per contest. UMaine has struck out 98 and walked only 67 in 154 innings.
UMaine also appears to have locked in its regular positional lineup, where junior second baseman Troy Black (.367, 4 runs batted in), sophomore right fielder Brian Doran (.347, 4 RBI), senior shortstop Mike Fransoso (.338, 1 HR,16 RBI, 9 stolen bases) and sophomore left fielder Sam Balzano of Portland (.333, 7 RBI, 10 SB) are leading the way.
Junior center fielder Colin Gay (.329, 1 HR, 8 RBI), Connolly (.297, 4 RBI), sophomore designated hitter Scott Heath of Westbrook (.277, 1 HR, 13 RBI) and senior utilityman Fran Whitten (.273, 6 RBI) also have been steady.
“We’ve been able to get everybody playing time and establish our roles,” Trimper said.
Balzano and Doran have locked down starting spots in the outfield, while junior Alex Calbick (.200, 6 RBI) has moved to first base and classmate Eric White of Brewer (.180, 1 HR, 5 RBI) has played at third.
Trimper is looking for more production from Fransoso, Heath and Calbick in the middle of the batting order.
“Those guys need to get going and give us a few more hits with runners in scoring position,” he said.
Freshman backup catcher Jonathan Salcedo (.385, 1 RBI) has led the way among the newcomers in limited duty.
Trimper mentioned that his predominantly left-handed hitting lineup has had some trouble against lefty starters as UMaine is 2-4 in those games.
The Bears are 2-10 when scoring fewer than six runs, but are 6-0 when tallying six runs or more. They are 7-3 in games where opponents have scored five runs or fewer.
“We’ve been in position to win ballgames against very good programs,” Trimper said, pointing out UMaine played a stretch of nine games in nine days before a travel day on Monday.