After going 40-20 in 2011, FIU’s baseball team has suffered through a combined 57-58 record the past two years.
Last season’s 26-32 mark was FIU’s first losing year since 2008, and pitching was the main problem.
FIU’s team ERA has soared from a respectable 3.68 in 2011 to 4.34 the following season and a troublesome 5.03 last season.
In an attempt to reverse the trend, FIU coach Turtle Thomas dismissed Drew French, his pitching coach the past two years, and replaced him with Sam Peraza, who had held the same position at Cal State Northridge.
“No disrespect to the previous coach,” Thomas said, “but Sam has expertise and knowledge about pitching that we haven’t had before. He does a lot of things in the bullpen that are more like game stuff, situational pitching.”
Peraza will have 19 pitchers to work with during fall practice, which began last week.
Senior Mike Ellis, who has 19 career starts, sustained a severe back injury last season but is finally healthy. He could be the team’s Friday starter.
Sophomore Alex Seibold (3-6, 4.69 ERA) could pitch Saturdays and senior Mike Franco (5-4, 5.23) on Sundays.
“Franco started out 5-1 on Sundays, but we moved him to Saturday, and he got out of sorts,” Thomas said. “He was better than most of the other teams’ Sunday guys.”
Two newcomers who will challenge for rotation spots are junior college transfer Robbie Kalaf and freshman Cody Crouse, a 19th-round draft pick of the New York Mets.
The bullpen will be rebuilt around senior Alberto Cardenas, who led the team in ERA (3.14).
Seniors Michael Gomez and Mitchell Davis and freshman Michael Lopez —all coming off injuries — are battling for bullpen innings. Gomez is the only lefty among the pitchers listed.
The good news for FIU is that the offense is in solid shape. Only three starters are gone — second baseman T.J. Shantz, right fielder Nathan Burns and DH Oscar Aguirre.
Replacing Shantz will likely be junior Julius Gaines, a former 32nd-round pick of the Red Sox who is finally 100 percent after shoulder surgery. He wasn’t at his best the past two years but still started 105 games for FIU at shortstop, second and DH.
First base sets up as a battle between junior college transfer Alec Beyersdorf and freshman Gunnar McNeill, who is also a pitcher.
The rest of the infield appears set with strong-armed sophomore Edwin Rios at shortstop and senior Josh Anderson at third. Junior Aramis Garcia, who made first-team All-Sun Belt Conference last year, returns at catcher.
The outfield could include seniors Zach Sweety and Tyler Hibbert and junior Roche Woodard, who combined to start 114 games last season.
Thomas is high on freshman JC Escarra of Mater Academy as a lefty-swinging DH who can also play catcher and third base.
Escarra was drafted in the 32nd round by the Mets.
“We have 42 guys on our roster, so we have way more competition than we had before,” Thomas said. “Last year, a guy could strike out three times and make two errors and know we would still start him the next day. That’s no longer the case.”
The women’s soccer team is 0-4 against top-15 teams this season and has been outscored 15-0 in those games. The Canes are 6-0 vs. unranked teams.
Miami Dade College
Catcher Daniel De La Calle, who was drafted in the 33rd round by the Texas Rangers, turned down their offer and transferred to Florida State, where he will compete for a starting job.
Boban Rankovic is the Bucs’ new women’s rowing coach. He replaces Dave Sanderson, who is now the coach at the University of Miami. Rankovic, a former Olympic rower for Serbia, was a Barry assistant the past two years.
Former Nova soccer star Juan Gonzalez is now playing for the New York Cosmos. His brother, Manny Gonzalez, plays for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.