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Pick your pitcher or poison

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published April 25, 2007


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Sometime tomorrow, if not sooner, but probably not, Zephyrhills baseball coach Bruce Cimorelli will have to make his hardest decision of the year in the first of what could be a series of must-win games:

Picking a starting pitcher for today's 4 p.m. district quarterfinal against Springstead.

It comes down to this, after 25 games, 150 innings, two months of practices. It comes down to playing the possible outcome of a game yet to be played over and over again in your head. It comes down to moving your chess pieces in the right positions at the right time.

It's not as easy as you might think, which makes it so darned interesting.

Before screaming "start Geoff Parker!" at your morning paper, consider the fact this must-win game means the Bulldogs will have another must-win game the next day, likely against a Nature Coast team that has beaten Zephyrhills twice.

That semifinal will determine the Bulldogs' playoff future since the district finalists are automatically headed to the postseason, rendering the championship as a must-get to, but not a must-win.

Cimorelli will need Parker, but for what game will he need him more?

Answer: the semifinal.

For today, he may have to choose between two 15-year-olds - freshman Tyler Guy and sophomore Austin Adams - or senior T.J. Jeffries.

That such a decision would even cause consternation against a team like Springstead is mildly perturbing, I'm sure, for Bulldog fans. The Eagles aren't a laughingstock by any means, but have been handled by everyone else in Pasco County and even dropped a game to Class A Hernando Christian last week.

And yet Zephyrhills needed every bit of Parker to win 1-0 this season and lost 7-4 in the rematch.

So here Cimorelli is, wondering if he needs Parker again to beat Springstead or wondering if he can save his ace.

There is nothing better in a must-win game than a can't-lose decision, and a month ago that's what Cimorelli had. Adams was cruising along, Guy had been solid and Jeffries had barely been touched in limited action.

But since the start of April, all three have had their shaky moments, especially when it comes to their control. Maybe it's youth catching up to them - did we mention Adams and Guy are only 15? - or maybe it's a mechanical glitch in the deliveries that Cimorelli can fix before tonight's first pitch.

Or maybe it's absolutely nothing. Adams could go out and throw a shutout tonight, if he gets the nod, making his last three starts, all losses, disappear from memory.

Springstead hasn't seen Adams, and if he is finding the plate with his pitches he is a tough guy to hit. From what we've seen as well, he isn't rattled by the pressure - last year he won his varsity debut against a Land O'Lakes team with big bats aplenty.

He seems the most logical choice.

The Eagles, however, may be hoping for Guy, whom they roughed up for seven hits and six walks in four innings in their last meeting.

And Jeffries is a wildcard, a lefty working his way back from an injury with a killer curveball and just one bad outing to his credit this season - his last one.

Tough choices, but not really a bad one in the bunch. The answer could even be all of the above, but the pick for starter is the most important of them all.

The beauty of making the right choice today, should Parker be saved, is Cimorelli gets to make the easy choice Thursday.

John C. Cotey can be reached at 727 869-6261 or johncotey@gmail.com.

Geoff Parker

W-L: 9-2 ERA: 0.73 IP/K: 67/96

Advantages: He's as close to money in the bank as Zephyrhills has. Parker beat Springstead 1-0 on a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts this season and has allowed one hit in his past 12 innings.

Disadvantages: If Parker has to go seven innings, he would have limited availability against Nature Coast in the semis, though the FSU signee is a horse with a strong bounce-back arm and could probably do 14 innings on consecutive days if allowed.

What we think: Use him to save the game if you need, but otherwise preserve him for Nature Coast. Yes, you have to get to Nature Coast first, but if your other guys aren't ready for a quarterfinal against Springstead, what chance will you have in that semifinal (bigger game) against the Sharks (better team) anyway.

Austin Adams

W-L: 3-4 ERA: 2.48 IP/K: 36.2/45

Advantages: He's good and unfamiliar to the Eagles. Adams had a sub-1.00 ERA most of the season, including a pair of one-hitters, until hitting a pothole lately. When he's on mound, the Bulldogs can play their best defensive lineup. And Adams was the losing pitcher in both games against Nature Coast, so why give the Sharks a shot at a third in a semifinal?

Disadvantages: Adams has been struggling to find the plate lately. His stuff is still good - he struck out six in five innings his last outing - but his walks are a concern, with 13 in his past 10 innings.

What we think: Adams has been the No. 2 guy all year, so stick with him and hand him the ball. He has only allowed more than three hits in one of his starts all season, and let's find out if he's your ace of the future.

Tyler Guy

W-L: 1-3 ERA: 3.31 IP/K: 25.1/22

Advantages: The big fella is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds and can bring it. He had a good game against Key West, and while only a freshman has a great deal of potential. Guy struggled his last game against Springstead, but probably learned a few things about the Eagles.

Disadvantages: Springstead handled him the last time out, the worst outing of Guy's career. That's not necessarily a precursor to future misery, but why take the chance?

What we say: Save Guy in case Adams runs into some early problems, but pray you don't need him. The freshman has seven homers, but none of those in games he also pitched in, so let him concentrate on driving in runs instead of prohibiting them.

T.J. Jeffries

W-L: 2-0 ERA: 1.19 IP/K: 17.2/20

Advantages: Who wouldn't love to throw a southpaw with nasty stuff in a big game like this? We would. Jeffries struck out five Ridgewood hitters in two innings, tossed a 1-2-3 against Key West and threw two scoreless innings against Springstead as well in relief. He also shut out South Sumter in his second-to-last start. And his arm should be fresh.

Disadvantages: Jeffries hasn't pitched much this season and most of that has been in relief, though he has two starts this month. In his last one, however, he walked six in two innings.

What we say: Jeffries being a lefty on a staff dominated by righties makes him an ideal candidate for relief or the start in the district final should the Bulldogs get there.

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 23:11:38]


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