by Seminole Savant
Florida State coach Mike Martin knew there would be speed bumps this season when it came to the Seminoles’ young pitching staff.
And there have been frustrating moments, including the three midweek losses to Florida and a 17-6 loss to Boston College on Sunday.
But the big picture has been clear: this is a different pitching staff under the guidance of Mike Martin and first-year pitching coach Mike Bell.
Pitchers have praised Bell for his patience and demeanor. He’s preached keeping the ball down and inducing ground balls. He’s expanded the use of video analysis, sitting all of the pitchers in a room together during the fall so everyone can take part in critiquing mechanics.
A year after losing ace Sean Gilmartin and two of the teams’ best relievers in Daniel Bennett and Tyler Everett, FSU’s young staff has a 3.49 ERA with 279 strikeouts and 129 walks (in 330 innings).
“Michael (Bell) is just doing a fantastic job with our pitchers,” Martin said. “I am just so impressed with the way that we are under control. We are throwing change-ups and cureveballs in all counts, we are keeping hitters off balance and it is a direct result of the great job that Michael is doing with our pitching staff.”
Photo of Robert Benincasa by FSU grad Reid Compton (www.reidcompton.com)
“Compton and Leibrandt both seem to be in total control of their emotions and of the situation,” Martin said. “They have a good baseball head on their shoulders.”
And sophomore Peter Miller, who pitched just a few innings last season, is 5-1 with a 4.05 ERA.
The difference is dramatic for the veterans who struggled in 2011 as all are enjoying turnaround seasons.
Robert Benincasa had a 3.58 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 32.2 innings a year ago. But now his 0.79 ERA leads the team and he already has 10 saves this year (placing him in the top 5 nationally) and has 32 strikeouts in 22.2 innings this year. Opposing batters are hitting just .152 off the junior right-hander.
“He is proving every time he goes out there that he is one of the best closers in the country,” Martin said.
Benincasa was in the bullpen last year and says he loves the role of closer, knowing that he’s depended on to come through in close games. He said Bell has helped settle his emotions, working with him to not get too down after mistakes. And there haven’t been many for Benincasa, who has allowed just two earned runs in 2012.
“Everybody always says that baseball is 90 percent mental and I think that’s definitely true,” Benincasa said. “It’s just my ability to handle things and handle my emotions. The role that I’m in demands consistency.”
Hunter Scantling has shed weight and slashed his ERA from 4.45 a year ago to 2.73. The 6-foot-8 Scantling has worked with Bell on his mechanics, generating more power by staying taller and using his strong legs. And he’s seen positive results: Scantling is 4-0 with 28 strikeouts and just five walks in 29.2 innings.
“Cutting down on the walks has been a big thing,” Scantling said. “Coach Bell has told us since Day 1: that first pitch is always a big one. Get ahead. Even if you fall behind 1-0, come back with a strike. Pounding the zone, making the hitters get themselves out – that’s been big for me this year.”
Scott Sitz is 2-2 but has been effective and has a 2.86 ERA (that’s three runs better than the 5.92 of a year ago). In 34.2 innings, he has 25 strikeouts and just 12 walks.
The Seminoles earned their 30th win of 2012 on Wednesday, and there’s still 18 games left in the regular season. With the exception of a few rough days, FSU’s pitchers have enjoyed a strong start.
“We want to get out there, have quick innings, get the team in the dugout,” Scantling said. “We’ve been doing that pretty consistently. That’s been a big difference.”