Lakeland MLN: Ciriaco, offense heats up

As the summer emerges, so does the rain. Mother Nature caused one cancellation and a make up doubleheader. In the soaked week the Lakeland Flying Tigers split the six games and are praying for a dry game.

The rain is fitting since it looks like the Flying Tigers have washed away their poor offensive start. They were able to out produce their opposition for a run differential of +7 and score more runs in this five game week then any other week of the season.

The game changer this week was the proficiency with two out RBIs. Throughout the season the Lakeland Flying Tigers have been borderline inept once there were two outs in an inning. 19 of the teams 50 two out RBIs happened during the five games this week. Run production ceases when you bat a mere .226 with runners in scoring position. The remedy this week was to bat an even .300 going 12-for-40 with ducks on the pond.

It's been a team effort to right the ship at the plate, though Audy Ciriaco has been on a tear. If a pitcher throws a middle in fastball to Ciriaco the pitch will be sent to the seats in left field. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the bases and the count full for opposing pitcher Rafeal Lluberes. Lluberes challenged Ciriaco with a fastball in and it promptly left the yard on a rocket to left for a walk off grand slam and Ciriaco's second home run of the game.

In the past nine games Ciriaco has been hitting at a .310 clip. He has been bounced around the lineup a little bit, hitting as high as second and as low as eighth. Recently he's been in the latter third of the line up but if the offense continues he completely changes the lineup adding much needed depth and run production after the heart of the order.

Kyle Peter had a scary moment when he made an amazing sliding catch where he slid into the wall. Peter had to make up ground when he went to cover a potential throw to second when the runner was attempting to steal. He made up the ground and made the catch but had to slide into the wall in the left center field gap. After the collision he wasn't moving readily and in a heady move Chris White ran over and grabed the ball out of his glove to double off the runner at first before waiving the trainer to Peter's aid. Peter did get eventually get up, but did need assistance off the field from the trainer while he limped off.

Peter has been a steady contribution to the lineup, even if his average has been below .250 for the majority of the season. His on-base percentage is the best on the roster at .356 and he is also leading the team with 11 stolen bases and has yet to be caught. Even though the average is below par and his mere three extra base hits won't turn heads, as long as he can stay healthy and get on base he could keep the offense rolling.

While the offense has started making strides the pitching has taken a couple steps back this week. In five games Lakeland pitching has surrendered 24 runs for an average of 4.8 runs per game. The results were the same as past weeks, splitting six games and waiting for the team to collectively come together.

In the past four recorded saves the Lakeland Flying Tigers have had four different pitchers earn saves. Scott Green has been the most consistent late inning presence. His huge 6'7" 240 pound frame makes him the most physically imposing pitchers on the roster. Green pitches down hill challenging hitters to make contact with his fastball. He's only walked three batters in 13 and 1/3 innings. When he works at the bottom of the strike zone he's the best option out of the bullpen.

Location, like all pitchers, is his key to Green's success. Green had a very clean save to start the week then proceeded to blow his second save of the year in the doubleheader. He entered the inning to clean up Brett Jacobson's mess, but allowed a grounder that found a hole to the first batter he faced. He battled his control the whole appearance throwing 33 pitches and only 14 for strikes. It's an anomaly that Green didn't record a strike out this week and will back challenging hitters next week.

The pitcher who has seen his ERA rise the most has been Lauren Gagnier. The vast majority of Gagnier's outs are of the fly ball variety. In his start over the weekend he only had three hits that were hit well, but he had five others that fell between fielders. It doesn't help when the defense turns singles into extra base hits. In his second inning on three straight hits his teammates bobbled plays and allowed the extra base. In a peculiar three error inning yet all the runs were earned.

Gagnier works high in the zone with his fastball 88-91 mph fastball and will change planes with his curveball. If he locates he can be very challenging since he works in all quadrants of the zone with every pitch in his arsenal. That is why of his 17 outs recorded nine of them were strikeouts. When he's locating all his pitches he is one of the most prolific strike out pitchers in the rotation, but when he's off the ball will fly, lets just hope it lands in a glove.


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