Falcons dealing with dead bats

Erik Cassano and Erik Cassano

Months of freezing and thawing precipitation has taken its toll on the surface of Warren Steller Field. It is starting to take its toll on the Bowling Green baseball team as well. Rain and snow have turned the surface into a cake-like mush. Lack of games is turning BG’s offense into an atrophied limb, coming off a spring break trip in which they hit barely .200 while posting a 1-5 record.

“Kuhnie [head groundskeeper Greg Kuhn] said the playing surface is like pumpkin pie right now,” BG coach Danny Schmitz said. “But they’re working on drying it, putting down some turf conditioner, and hopefully we can play this weekend. I think we have a good shot.”

The Falcons had their first two home games postponed this week, bringing their season total to seven. They will have played the fewest games of any team in the Mid-American Conference when they open up conference play at Steller Field against Buffalo this weekend.

Buffalo is 3-10 overall. This will be their conference opener as well. The Falcons and Bulls got only one game in over a rain-soaked weekend in Buffalo last spring, their only meeting of the season. BG won, 9-1.

BG is entering a critical time to start playing games. The air temperature and skies are mostly co-operating, and the schedule is friendly travel-wise. The Falcons play six of their next eight at home, with the two road games an hour’s bus ride away at Eastern Michigan. They have ample opportunity to climb out of a 1-7 start, but in the end, the team is at the mercy of several-inch blades of grass and their ability to recover from a harsh winter. “The team is anxious to play,” Schmitz said. “We’re trying to go outside [Thursday] and work out on one of the football practice fields.”

The weather has been an adversary for BG’s offense, but ultimately, it maybe be the loss of third baseman Andy Hudak that hurts them more than anything. Hudak was expected to be a veteran anchor in the heart of the order, but a back injury may sideline him for the entire season. Schmitz spent much of the spring break trip to Fresno, Calif. tinkering with the batting order.

“We’re struggling to find a three-hole hitter right now,” he said. “With Andy out, we’ve been using guys like Dave Barkholz and Jeff Warnock, but I think it’s getting them away from their personal games. They like to spray the ball to all fields, but now they’re trying to be home-run hitters.”

Barkholz is currently batting .233. Warnock is hitting .167. Early returns had the pitching staff progressing faster than the hitters. That discrepancy has only grown through the season’s first month. Kyle Knoblauch threw a gem in a 1-0 loss to Gonzaga March 10, and will pitch the Friday openers of most weekend conference series this spring. “Kyle’s probably not even in the top five of our pitchers, velocity-wise,” pitching coach Tod Brown said. “He throws maybe 84-86 mph. But what makes him so unique is that he’s big, 6 feet 8 inches, and he has great location with all three of his pitches. He is the true definition of a pitcher.”

Knoblauch throws a fastball, slider-curve, and change-up. Schmitz praised the work of pitchers Tom Oestrike, Doug Flere, Burke Badenhop and Ryan Lindquist as well.

“The pitching and defense are there,” Schmitz said. “It just comes down to the fact that we haven’t swung the bats.”

BG will play an abbreviated conference series against Buffalo, with single games on Saturday and Sunday, both 1 p.m. starts. Most conference series consist of a single nine-inning game on Friday, a seven-inning doubleheader on Saturday, and a single nine-inning on Sunday.

The fewer innings to cover will allow Schmitz and Brown greater flexibility in using their pitchers. According to Brown, the only sure thing is that Knoblauch will start Saturday and Neil Schmitz will close. Sunday’s starter may not be determined until after tomorrow’s game.