TigsTown MLN: Lakeland Down a Starter

On the surface, all may look fine and dandy for the Lakeland Tigers, who at 24-8 possess the best record in the Florida State League. But the L-Tigers suffered their first significant loss of the season this past week. Besides that though, things have continued to run smoothly for the Tigers High-A farm team.

Starting with the bad news, the possibility of a bad injury turned into fruition, as an MRI revealed bad news for Cristhian Martinez, who was placed on the disabled list at the end of April. Martinez had elbow surgery late last week, and will likely be out for a while (think months) as he recovers. A sad development after a promising season in Oneonta and West Michigan for Cristhian.

But besides that, everything seems to be looking up for the L-Tigers (although they lost their first game of the month on Wednesday night as they took on Daytona for the first time this season). Through the month, they're still 9-1, which isn't too bad.

Virgil Vasquez has a pair of outstanding outings his last two times out, as he continues to simply get the job done for Lakeland. He got a win in his previous start, and in his most recent one, handed over a lead to the bullpen only to see the lead lost. Over his 14 innings, he has 16 strikeouts with just 11 hits and three runs allowed. After being selected as TigsTown's 2004 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Vasquez certainly isn't following that up with a dud.

Lakeland's encounter with Daytona also marks the first time the L-Tigers have faced former teammate Scott Moore, the former first round draft pick who was traded in the offseason in the Kyle Farnsworth trade. While overlooked too quickly by too many, Moore is off to a great start this year. Besides his hit and stolen base against Lakeland on Wednesday, Moore is hitting .276 while slugging .531. Most importantly, he's continued his patience and cut down on his strikeouts, with 17 walks compared to 19 strikeouts. Suffice it to say, the organization may have given up a bit too early on this young star in the making.

Another player that the Tigers seemed ready to give up on was Juan Francia, who after two unspectacular seasons with West Michigan was actually kept in West Michigan for a third season while being expected to fill the role of utility player. But then Tony Giarratano was promoted, Francia got back into the lineup, and the rest is history as Francia hit .340 for the year. He's now proven that wasn't a fluke, as he's hitting .395 to start the year. And while he hasn't scored a ton of runs (despite leading off, he's 4th with 19 runs scored), he's hitting .484 over his last seven games. The youngster continues to improve his status in the organization.

Finally, we finish up with the rotation. Care to figure out exactly why the L-Tigers are destroying their competition so easily, well it's simple, their rotation is absolutely dominating. Their top four starters (Jordan Tata, Justin Verlander, Nate Bumstead and Vasquez) have combined for 16 wins, and just one loss. In fact, only Vasquez has an ERA above three, and that's about as close as you can get at 3.02. So, while people are clamoring that there is a pitching resurgence and offense is far down, this rotation is showing that the way to win is still through the pitching.

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