ORONO — If you want to see the possibility and the challenge facing the Maine baseball team this spring, look no further than pitcher Scott Heath’s first two starts.
The Black Bears embarked on a challenging schedule with a pair of three-game series at top-15 teams.
Against Miami, Heath, a left-hander out of Westbrook, was masterful. He allowed just two hits over seven innings while striking out eight in a 3-1 victory.
Against Clemson, Heath was miserable. He lasted just 2 1/3 innings, and was belted around for nine runs on eight hits while fooling no one.
“I think if Scott’s pitching against one of our (America East) conference foes, he gets away with some of the mistakes he made. Clemson, with the No.2 offense in the country, took advantage of them,” Maine coach Steve Trimper said.
“He’s got a fastball with a lot of movement, and he runs it up there at 88-91 mph. His secondary stuff is OK. He’s working on a changeup. He had them all working at Miami. I think if he can get one of his secondary pitches going on any given day, he’s going to be pretty tough.”
Heath’s victory was the lone bright spot in a 1-5 start for the Black Bears. The junior is being counted on to fill out a starting rotation that includes Tommy Lawrence and Jake Marks.
Heath plays first base when he’s not pitching. And he was unable to pitch for much of his first two seasons because of shoulder injuries. His win at Miami doubled his career total.
“It was the best game of my career so far. Hopefully, there are more to come,” Heath said. “I just need to work hard every week in between starts and try to be more consistent with my arm slots. It’s nice to be able to go out there and, if you don’t have the best day on the mound, the next day with the bat you can help your team win.”
Maine is coming off a 37-22 campaign, and optimism is high again. The Black Bears are in the midst of a 15-game swing through Florida that should help settle who will be the mainstays in the bullpen, Trimper said.
He is happy with his outfielders and catchers, but the infield is in a bit of flux. Senior Troy Black is being asked to move from second base to shortstop this spring to solidify things.
The return of Lucas Morrill and Shane Bussey also will help. They were suspended for the first six games of the season after being arrested for an on-campus burglary in December.
“I think they learned their lesson. I think they learned it pretty hard, actually,” Trimper said.
The adjustment for Black, who has been Maine’s leading hitter the past two seasons, will be finding the arm strength required of a shortstop. He said he will make up for that with smart positioning, reading the batter and anticipating the pitch that will be thrown.
“You’ve got to field everything cleanly; there’s not much room for error,” Black said. “At second base, you can kind of plant your feet and take your time. At shortstop, you’ve got to get rid of the ball quicker, you’ve got to use your feet more.”
Black also plans to use his feet to spearhead an offensive attack that is built around putting balls into gaps and stealing bases to generate runs.
“That’s pretty much how I play. I’m not going to hit the ball over your head very much,” said Black, who stole 18 bases a year ago.
“We’ve got more talent this year than we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve got more seniors. It’s just a matter of the guys who are unproven stepping up and showing how talented they are.”
Black, the team captain, will be instrumental, Trimper said.
“He’s probably one of the biggest game players I’ve ever coached,” Trimper said.
“When there’s a guy on second base, two outs, he gets the hit. He’s always been able to perform under pressure.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH