Lakeland MLN: Found in Familiar Territory

The week started off with such promise. The Lakeland Flying Tigers split a series with division leader Port Charlotte, but it all fell a part in Jupiter. Now the team is two games under .500 and back in the cellar of the division.

Every time the Flying Tigers are able to climb back to .500 they fall back to reality. After losing the first two games at home in the series against the Charlotte Stone Crabs they went on a run to win the final two games to earn the split. Then they even took the first game in the four game series in Jupiter.

In a battle for last place, the Jupiter Hammerheads won the final three games. The Flying Tigers were outscored 28 to 20 against a team that was nine games under .500. It was just the latest example of how inconsistent the play of the Flying Tigers has been. At this level it's not really a rarity.

"Inconsistency is rampant in the minor leagues. That's why they are here," said manager Andy Barkett. The unpredictable nature of the Flying Tigers reared its ugly head when Lakeland lost two more one run games this week.

The most disappointing game of the week was when they were able to break up a shutout in the 9th inning in Jupiter. When Audy Ciriaco singled in the game tying run it looked like the Flying Tigers were going to make a comeback. However it was all for naught when the walk off run was aided by a Justin Henry error.

Henry wasn't the only villain in the end. Chad Linder walked the bases loaded, which a contact oriented team like Lakeland can't afford to have happen. "As a team we only walk about 2.6 batters per nine innings (top two in the FSL) but we don't strike out that many either (fewest in the FSL) so we have put the ball in play and count on our fielding," said pitching coach Joe Coleman.

Since signing on with the Flying Tigers in May, Chad Linder has been the enigmatic lefty out of the pen. With the promotions throughout the bullpen, Linder has been thrown in to more consequential innings. Since the All-Star break Linder has had an abysmal ERA of 6.23. However most of his damage occurred in two outings.

In the two outings against Charlotte and Clearwater he allowed nine runs in an inning and a third. If you subtract those outings Linder's ERA has been 1.69 over the last 16 innings. If Linder could have a mulligan in those outing his overall ERA would drop two runs to an even 3.00.

It's the maddening part of constructing a bullpen, when fifty percent of the damage is done in just four percent of your body of work. Linder's card will be called in big innings yet to come, let's just hope the damage will be limited for the remainder of the season.

The best performance of the week was again achieved by Mauricio Robles. Robles showed why he's shot up to being ranked 12th in the Tigers system. In his start against Charlotte he struck out a career high 11 batters in his six inning of work. "His approach has been tremendous, he does a lot of the little things well," raved pitching coach Joe Coleman.

What is most impressive about Robles is the manor in which he was striking out batters. Six of his 11 strikeouts happen in four pitches or less. It is a rarity you find a strikeout pitcher with that type of efficiency. The strikeouts have started to mount now because he has been mixing in more change ups and curve balls now that he has established his dominant fastball.

A decent barometer was when he faced Tampa Bay Rays backup catcher Shawn Riggans who struck out on three pitches, all fastballs. If Robles can pick up the little nuances in pitching he could be a special talent.

The lineup was delivered a blow when Michael Bertram set off to Erie. The promotion has left the Flying Tigers a void of a true third baseman. Joe Tucker and Devin Thomas will now get the bulk of the playing time. Their roles will be to play the Swiss Army knives of the roster, to turn into the tool necessary for the task at hand.

They did call up first base prospect Luis Grullon. Grullon hasn't found his stroke yet as a Tiger. In his 60 at-bats this season in the GCL he has a .267 batting average with a line of .286/.400/.686 with 21 strikeouts and just two walks.

It seems like Grullon will be going from the frying pan and into the fire. The scouting reports are positive and remember the sample size is small and he has only had a year and a half playing in the states.

The Lakeland Flying Tigers have to grind out the rest of schedule, but hitting Coach Larry Herndon still has hope. When asked where this team falls with teams from the past he said, they are right with everybody we've had, we just have to enjoy the 24 hours that we got each day and keep working." Hopefully they'll have enough time to turn it around.

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