The Lakeland Flying Tigers finished their first half with a treacherous five games in three days against Daytona. Then Lakeland had to open the second half on the road against Sarasota. Not the ideal way to start the second half of the season. However they were able to split a four game set in Sarasota.
The compact series was a created from the rained out series in May. Four of the contests were decided by a single run and the Flying Tigers held leads in four of the games. Though once the dust settled the Lakeland Flying Tigers finished percentage points behind Tampa to finish on the floor in their division.
If the Lakeland Flying Tigers are going to make a significant jump in the second half they are going to have to win the close games. In the first half Lakeland was 9-12 in one run games. Having a +5 run differential for the week becomes insignificant if the Flying Tigers aren't able to come up with the run in close games.
The first pitcher to toe the rubber after the All-Star Game was the newly promoted Mauricio Robles. Robles is a slender south paw who uses his lively fastball (91-93mph) to dominate opponents. In West Michigan Robles was dominating batters, striking out 71 in 56 and 1/3 innings. At just 20 years old he is now the youngest pitcher on the staff. In his first start Robles had to take it on the chin when he allowed five earned runs in just 2 and 2/3 innings of work.
It went significantly better in his start in Sarasota. He struck out ten Reds in just six innings while only walking one. It wasn't a flawless outing since he still allowed four earned runs on six hits. His curve and change isn't nearly as developed as his fastball. In his first outing he threw 67 pitches and only featured eight off-speed pitches. It will be a developmental process with Robles this season though he has the talent to succeed.
It took longer then he was hoping but Josh Workman finally had his first hit in the Florida State League. After going hitless in his first three games he came through, and he hasn't stopped hitting since. After managing his first hit he had three straight multi-hit games and had a clutch RBI double to break a shutout against Daytona.
Manager Andy Barkett rolled the dice and slotted Workman as the leadoff when he gave Justin Henry a day off. He responded by going 2-for-3 and scoring a run. Workman plays like a jack of all trades but a master at none. He doesn't have any real eye popping tool; however he plays the game hard and limits his mistakes and tries to exploit the mistakes of his opponents. He could be an integral part of the team if Kaiser's misses substantial time.
The play of the first half might have happened when Justin Henry was on the base paths. Henry started a rally by beating out an infield single to the second baseman. Henry then used his heady base running ability to steal his 13th base of the season and get into scoring position. Chris White then rolled a grounder into the hole to the right of the shortstop.
White went charging out of the batters box and forced Daytona shortstop Starlin Castro to make an off-balanced throw which pulled first baseman Jovan Rosa off the bag just enough for Chris White to beat the throw. Rosa was shocked the inning wasn't over and Justin Henry seized the opportunity.
Henry never slowed down when he was rounding third base. The moment of hesitation was just enough for Justin Henry to beat the throw home and slide under the catchers tag to score the games winning run.
The catching duo of Adrien Casanova and Jordon Newton had the most taxing week. Nine games in a seven day stretch will wear down anyone, but with Casanova and Newton have been alternating games which let both catchers be as fresh as possible. Newton was one of the driving forces in the lineup when he was promoted, though nagging injuries and infrequent play (from the rain) brought on a slump. Newton started June off with an 8-for-41 slump (.195) with 15 strikeouts while only walking three times. Since, Newton has put together a solid week going 5-for-15 with five walks. The walks hopefully indicate that he's seeing the ball better and stop chasing pitches out of the zone.
If L.J. Gagnier didn't have bad luck he would have no luck at all. Gagnier allowed a manufactured run to score in the first inning in Sarasota which ended up being the only run scored in the game. Gagneir pitched a complete game only allowing five hits and one walk while striking out a season high 13 batters.
Gagnier has thrown five straight quality starts and hasn't allowed more then two runs in any of his past six starts. In that stretch he has struck out 43 batters in 38 innings while holding a WHIP of a mere 1.05. At this pace, Gagneir is lining up as the next pitcher to be promoted to Erie.