Re-emergence of Gibbs key to UMaine baseball fortunes

It’s early in the America East baseball season, but the University of Maine appears to be positioning itself to make a strong bid for a second straight conference title.
The factor that will determine whether the Black Bears can defend their championship, not surprisingly, is going to be their pitching staff.
UMaine has been forced to work around injuries to a couple of their most experienced seniors in A.J. Bazdanes, who had season-ending Tommy John surgery, and Jon Balentina, who has become a sidearmer after an arm issue.
That has put more pressure on the other returning veterans to shoulder the load.
The missing link thus far has been junior Jeff Gibbs. The righthander, who has been a pivotal member of the staff the past two seasons, has struggled with his consistency.
Gibbs might be the most talented pitcher on the staff, which makes his recent inefficiency that much more noteworthy. Then again, don’t expect the trend to last.
Unless Gibbs has an undiagnosed or undisclosed injury, he has ample tools to turn his season around — and quickly. If he does not do so, UMaine will have a difficult road to again reach the NCAA tournament.
Gibbs heads into this weekend’s four-game series at Binghamton with a 2-4 record and a puffy 9.00 earned run average. He has allowed 39 hits and 37 earned runs in 37 innings and has struck out 38 and walked 26 with eight hit batsmen and 10 wild pitches.
Gibbs has admitted that his difficulties are as much mental as they are physical.
The expectations were understandably high coming into the 2012 season as he was very much on the radar for the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. That meant he was staring down plenty of scouts’ radar guns, in addition to opposing batters, on the Bears’ southern trip.
All the attention may have been an unwelcome distraction for Gibbs, who has not been able to establish a good groove from game to game.
Gibbs throws hard, reaching the mid 90s, but must command his slider in order to be effective.
While Gibbs continues to work with pitching coach Jason Spaulding on ways to physically alter his grips and deliveries in order to throw more strikes, the solution rests squarely between Gibbs’ ears.
The best way for him to restore his self-confidence is to relax and throw strikes. Gibbs shouldn’t be worried about trying to strike out every hitter.
He needs to challenge early in the count with the fastball and keep it down in the zone. Once ahead, he can get opponents chasing his slider or other offspeed offerings.
Gibbs is blessed with a more than capable defense playing behind him that should be able to handle all the routine plays and many of the tough ones.
Gibbs must continue to develop a bad short-term memory. He has to be able to shrug off a walk or hit and stay focused on retiring the batter in front of him.
When he returns to his familiar pitching groove, the Bears should be able to ride him, Steve Perakslis, Shaun Coughlin, Mike Connolly and D.J. Voisine to another AE title shot.

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About Pete Warner

Pete is a Bangor native who graduated from Bangor High School, Class of 1980. He earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He has been a full-time member of the Bangor Daily News Sports staff since 1984. Pete lives in Bangor with his wife of 35 years, Annia. They have two adult sons, Will and Paul. Pete is fluent in Spanish and enjoys visiting his in-laws and friends in Costa Rica. His hobbies including hunting, fishing and listening to jazz.