By Allen Moff | Staff writer
Key personnel losses continue to pile up for the Kent State baseball team, while first-year head coach Jeff Duncan announced a change in his starting rotation for this weekend's regular season-ending series with rival Akron.
Junior shortstop Sawyer Polen is believed to have mononucleosis, and is considered "very questionable" for this weekend's three-game set against the Zips according to Duncan.
"He didn't travel (Tuesday to Pittsburgh), and I don't think he'll be with us this weekend," said Duncan Tuesday morning. Tuesday's game at Pitt was later cancelled. "Hopefully we can get him healthy for the tournament. We'll see what happens. I think we'll have a better idea next week."
Polen, a third-year starter for the Golden Flashes (30-20, 14-10 MAC), is batting .244 with 14 doubles, 28 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
Freshman Zach Beckner will likely start at shortstop in place of Polen. Beckner, who is batting .243, has struggled at times defensively this season (7 errors).
"Beckner's gonna have to step up," said Duncan. "He needs to be extremely solid and make the routine play defensively, and he'll be fine."
Redshirt freshman Curtis Olvey (.214) has also seen more action of late, starting all three games at third base last weekend at Ball State, and that will continue according to Duncan.
"Olvey's had some good at-bats, been taking some nice passes on the baseball," said Duncan. "This is a good opportunity for him, and he has ability."
Meanwhile, junior centerfielder Alex Miklos continues to be plagued by a knee injury he suffered during Kent State's May 3 game against Northern Illinois. He has missed the past five contests and is "very questionable" for the Akron series according to Duncan.
"If he does play it will be as a pinch-hitter," said Duncan.
Miklos is currently tied for first on the team with a .362 average. He leads KSU in doubles (18), triples (7), slugging percentage (.593) and stolen bases (17), and ranks second in runs (44), home runs (3), RBI (36) and on-base percentage (.439). He has also made just two errors this season in centerfield.
Starting left fielder Jon Wilson (.320) has moved from left field to center, while sophomore Jacob Neuschaefer (.238) and senior Troy Summers (.182) each started in left last weekend.
Duncan also said Tuesday morning that junior Brian Clark (5-6, 4.14 ERA), a former reliever who converted to a starting role this year, will work out of the bullpen against the Zips (23-26, 11-13). Duncan made the move to give his struggling bullpen a boost while also setting up his starting rotation for the Mid-American Conference Tournament, which begins next Wednesday.
"Brian Clark's gonna come out of the pen (against Akron), and he's gonna end up starting the first game of the (MAC) Tournament because we have such a short week," said Duncan. "Our first (MAC tourney) game will be on Wednesday, and I want (Clark) to go that first game. He's been really good, and I trust him. He'll be ready to roll on good rest. It also gives (freshman Eric) Lauer and (sophomore) Nick Jensen-Clagg (normal) rest."
Lauer (7-3, 3.04) will start Thursday's game against Akron at Canal Park, while Jensen-Clagg (4-2, 4.78) will take the mound Friday in Kent. Duncan has not decided who will start Saturday's regular-season finale.
Facebook: Allen Moff, Record-Courier