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Mike Gipson, Kevin Alexander and Taylor Everist (front to back) will start the season in the weekend rotation. (FAUOwlAccess.com)

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A call to arms

The key to improving on last season's 30-26 record lies in FAU's starting rotation.

Originally published on 2/15/2010

by Chuck King

BOCA RATON – Pitching, pitching and pitching.

Those are the three simple answers to the questions: What was FAU’s biggest shortfall last season? What was the reason the Owls started winning near the end of the season? What did FAU coaches need to shore up in the off-season?

FAU put a priority on upgrading a pitching staff that posted a 6.41 team ERA during a 30-26 season last year. The coaches won’t have to wait long to begin judging their level of success.

Two newcomers, junior college transfer Taylor Everist and freshman Kevin Alexander are expected to draw starts when the Owls open their season with a three-game series against Cincinnati beginning on Friday.

“We have more pitching and we have more pitching depth than we had last year,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “We just didn’t have enough bodies. We had some guys go down and we just didn’t have anybody to plug in there.”

The third weekend starter, junior Mike Gipson, is slated to take the mound opening night. He has been in that position before. He also epitomizes FAU’s staff struggles last season.

The Owls’ opening day starter in 2009, Gipson finished the season with a 4-5 record and 5.93 ERA. Gipson struggled so mightily during the middle of the season that FAU coach John McCormack sent him to the bullpen.

He turned it around near the end of the season. After five appearances out of the pen Gipson took the mound as a starter in a Sun Belt tournament elimination game against FIU. He rewarded McCormack by giving the then first-year skipper what he’d expected all-year, earning the Owls’ final victory of the season by allowing six runs in eight complete innings as FAU mercy-ruled the Golden Panthers.

Gipson’s strong performance in the Cape Cod summer league – he struck out 50 in less than 40 innings pitched – combined with good offseason workouts have McCormack ready to send Gipson back to the mound for opening day.

“I feel good about the season coming up,” said Gipson, who has drastically improved his change-up to go with a high-80s fastball and a sweeping curve. “I think we are going to do some damage as a pitching staff.”

McCormack said the choice for No. 1 starter hasn’t been easy and may even fluctuate during the season

Everist has impressed coaches and players alike with a three-quarter sidearm delivery that produces grounder after grounder. While his upper-80s mph fastball is about the same as Gipson’s, Everist’s slider and change don’t allow opposing batters to get comfortable in the box.

“I have to have a good infield behind me,” Everist said. “I rely on my infield a lot. I get a lot of sink on my ball and hitters chop down on it.”

While McCormack is confident in Gipson’s and Everist’s abilities, he talks absolutely glowingly about Alexander. A freshman righty from Coral Springs-Taravella, Alexander’s command of the strike zone had McCormack considering starting him on Fridays.

“I have a better feeling about him and his longevity and his career here than I did about Mickey Storey at the same age,” McCormack said.

Alexander will begin the season as the Sunday starter, but could easily move up in the rotation as he gains experience.

“I’m very excited,” Alexander said. “It’s a 100 percent different level [from high school]. You can tell just from doing intra-squads that the hitters are 10 times better, the fielders are 10 times better, the pitchers are 10 times better. I’m definitely ready for the competition.”

Nine of the 18 new players FAU added this season are primarily pitchers, but McCormack will turn to veteran Owl to close out games. Junior Glen Troyanowski began last season as a starter before assuming the closer role.

“It’s nice to know what your role is,” said Troyanowski, who led the Owls with six saves last year. “It’s a different mindset and I think I have the mindset to come out of the pen.”

 

FAU Baseball: 2010 Season Browser

Key Returners:
C Mike Abaladejo – 2010 captain hit .373 last season
SS Nick Delguidice – needs to cut down on his team-high 18 errors in 2009.
LF Colby Gratton – Coaches toyed with moving him to 3B, but will likely start season in outfield
SP Mike Gipson – must improve on 5.93 ERA.
RP Glen Troyanowski – Led Owls with 6 saves last season.

Key additions:
1B Dan Sheffler – Needs to provide power to an otherwise contact-based offense.
2B Raymond Church – defensive upgrade at crucial position.
DH Eddie Cassidy – Will miss at least first week of the season with knee injury.
RHP Taylor Everist – Should be the biggest beneficiary of improved defense.
RHP Kevin Alexander – McCormack says changeup is “unbelievable.”

Breakout Player:
RF/RP Ande Mee – Second team JUCO All-American hit .425 last season at Santa Fe. Also recorded nine saves and will close games when Troyanowski needs rest.

Key Injuries:
P R. J. Alvarez – Arm, could be ready for second weekend.
DH Eddie Cassidy – Knee, should be ready for second weekend.
P Ahmed Garcia – Shoulder – won’t start throwing again until after season begins.
P Jason Kitchen – Shoulder/bicep could be ready after a couple weeks.
P Barry Rooks – Elbow, should be ready after a couple weeks.

Projected Opening Day Lineup
1. Mike Abaladejo - C
2. Sean Bukovich - DH*
3. Colby Gratton - LF
4. Dan Sheffler IB
5. Andy Mee - RF
6. Nick Delguidice – SS
7. Raymond Church – 2B
8. Chase Vergason – 3B
9. Anthony Mesa - CF

*Eddie Cassidy will likely DH and bat fifth when he returns from injury.

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