On Cingrani And Breaking Balls

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A quick note before the Owls battle the Bearkats ...

The surprise start Jr. LHP Tony Cingrani is making tonight is more about UCF than Sam Houston State. The drastic retooling of his delivery was reduced to the quickening of his stride to home plate so that he could better manage holding runners at first. Not only did the staff realize that Cingrani was scuffling in that regard, Cingrani did as well, and because he was so aware of his shortcomings once a runner reached, it impacted his ability to focus on the hitter. All parties believe that Cingrani should be quicker to the plate, better at holding runners and, hopefully, more effective pitching with runners on base than he was his first five appearances.

Cingrani won't work more than three innings tonight. This outing will serve to mark the progress of his shortened stride and to prepare him for action for this weekend's key C-USA series at UCF. Of the 10 Knights with at least 90 at-bats, only four bat lefthanded. UCF does feature three switch-hitters, but the Owls would prefer that those three - Darnell Sweeney (.328/.380/.410), Ronnie Richardson (.299/.472/.416) and Ryan Breen (.373/.442/.597) - bat from the right side of the plate. Should the Knights sprinkle seven righties around slugger Chris Duffy (.458/.515/.907 w/13 homers and 48 RBIs), then so be it. Rice would rather face a righty-dominated lineup, which is why all the Owls' southpaws will be on alert. If Cingrani can help support Taylor Wall, Abel Gonzales, Holt McNair and Doug Simmons, all will be good.

While number-crunching on the road to Huntsville, I stumbled across some interesting stats. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Owls' pitching this season, their pitchers have produced surprisingly similar numbers in several key categories. Through 33 games, the Owls have the exact same opponent's OPS (.729) and WHIP (1.40) as they did through 61 games last season while the difference in BAA (.257 in 2009, .255 this season) is negligible. The reason behind the Owls' inflated ERA (4.48), which is more than a quarter-run higher than last season (4.21)? The startling inability to record strikeouts relative to last season's staff.

This season the Owls are averaging 5.9 Ks/9 IP and 1.53 Ks/BB as compared to 7.1 Ks/9 IP and 1.71 Ks/BB. This staff has struggled to command the breaking ball, which leads to one of three things with runners in scoring position: fastballs which opposing batters are prepared to hit, ineffective breaking balls, or off-speed pitches that have been fouled off with frequency. Anecdotally the Owls have struggled mightily pitching with runners in scoring position, and that is based largely on certain pitchers' inability to get the breaking ball over in key situations. Fewer strikeouts in those situations mean more balls put in play, which yields a spike in ERA.

Enjoy the game. I'll join J.P. Heath for the middle innings of tonight's broadcast.

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Great comeback by the Owls tonight against SHS. Cingrani was disappointing, but hopefully the staff can work out the kinks. Boogie was a bit better this evening. No walks is huge. Still doesn't miss many bats, but I'd rather him throw quality strikes than give them base runners. I hope we are going to see more of Fant now after his performance this evening. He might be a right-handed option to explore as the season winds down. And, Abe is just the most consistent arm we've had all year.

Great win tonight. Hope the boys get some rest on the ride home from Huntsville.

MK - why hasn't Fant gotten more innings this year? The guy has performed in the Fall, the Spring, and now in the regular season.

Also, what's the coaching staff's thoughts on Cingrani's mechanics after the game?

WDMPG: Fant was erratic during the offseason, and truthfully, the staff didn't know what he would do in game situations. I've heard him compared to Benak, who had his moments last season yet also struggled at times. Fant was fabulous last night. Didn't ask specifically about Cingrani last night, but I have a pretty good idea what the coaching staff thought of his performance. I'll get their thoughts later today. - MK

MK -- Love the tweets -- keep them coming! I assume by his absence that Evers is showing no progress? do we know who tonight's starter will be?

owl-1983: RS Fr. Anthony Fazio is getting the start against the Islanders. - MK

I second what owl-1983 said. Thanks for the tweets last night. Kept me informed on the game progress since GT was done and the radio was spotty.

Hey MK, quick question for the OG if you get a chance. Are we going to reschedule the Texas State game that we lost b/c of the rain early in the year? I know it is tough to find time to play it. Maybe we drop Tx. Southern and get ourselves another good RPI chance in the mid-week? Just curious. Thanks.

Russell: No confirmation on this, but I get the feeling that the game won't be rescheduled. When I hear something definitive, I'll be sure to pass info along. - MK

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