THE Australian Baseball League converges on Mount Gambier tonight for Round 6 of the season, where the Auckland Tuatara will play host to the Adelaide Bite at Blue Lake Sports Park.
Tuatara’s final 20 regular-season games will take place in Australia, providing their best Frontier Greys impersonation.
Despite registering a season-high 34 hits in their series against Geelong-Korea, Auckland left Geelong with a series split after victories in games one and four.
The Tuatara will also be buoyed by their decrease in strikeout numbers, with Auckland hitters striking out 24 times in Round 5, down from 53 in Round 4 against Sydney.
Auckland has relied heavily on its experienced heads five weeks into its inaugural campaign, with Daniel Lamb-Hunt (.290/.371/.403) and Kris Richards (.281/.303/.469) leading the Tuatara offence.
Josh Collmenter put in a vintage performance on the bump in Auckland’s game four win, as the former Major League Baseballer baffled GK hitters in 6 1/3 innings, scattering five hits.
While those veterans have pulled their weight, Auckland’s affiliated talent must lift for the Tuatara to be competitive.
Guiyuan Xu (Orioles) has only managed six hits in his past 10 games, while Zac Clark (Brewers) and Eric Jenkins (Rangers) have a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
An increase in production from those three talented position players would give Auckland a real shot at upsetting the Bite.
Auckland’s key inclusion this week is Nick Tanielu, a Triple-A prospect with the Houston Astros.
Tanielu arrives for the second half of the season with big raps from Tuatara manager Steve Mintz, who was quoted before the season saying, “he will step off the plane and instantly be one of the best players in the league”.
Meanwhile Adelaide took three heartbreaking one-run losses against Canberra in week five and will hope for a bit more luck in the Blue Lake city.
Boasting the best 1-2 punch in the league, Adelaide should head into its Round 6 clash with significant optimism against a strikeout-prone Auckland.
Markus Solbach and Kurt Heyer have fanned a combined 64 hitters in 53 innings of work, while only surrendering 10 earned runs between them.
Manager Chris Adamson will adjust his rotation slightly this weekend, with regular game-one starter Solbach slated to pitch in the first game of the double-header.
Solbach is putting together one of the best ABL seasons of all-time, as the big German’s ERA sits at 0.26 through five starts.
Adelaide’s locals must stand up, with every-day players Stefan Welch, Aaron Whitefield, Curtis Mead and Jordan McArdle all hitting below .240
The Bite gain bullpen pair Yoshihiro Tamura and Hirotaka Tochiya at the expense of Tohru Kikue and Ryo Takeuchi.
The games are free to watch, with parking only in designated areas.
ONES TO WATCH
VETERAN pair Daniel Lamb-Hunt and Stefan Welch are leaders on their respective teams and both will be crucial to Auckland’s and Adelaide’s playoff hopes.
Lamb-Hunt’s performances over the past 10 games have been solid, claiming 11 hits and driving in six runs, while Welch has shown improvement in his comeback season, needing only three hits
to become the first Bite player to register 250 in his career.
THIS is the first of two Auckland “home series” in Australia, with the second coming against Melbourne in Round 10.
Current Tuatara mainstays Beau Bishop, John Holdzkom and Max Brown will take on their former side at Blue Lake Sports Park.
Holdzkom made four appearances for the Bite in the 2013/14 season, while Max Brown and Beau Bishop have spent time in Adelaide.
G1: Kurt Heyer (3-2, 2.86) at ERA Jimmy Boyce (0-3, 4.91).
G2: Markus Solbach (3-2, 0.26 ERA) at Eliot Johnstone (0-1 8.10).
G3: Michael Gahan (1-2, 3.10) at Atsuki Taneichi (0-3, 4.35).
G4: Greg Mosel (0-4, 9.82) at Josh Collmenter (2-2, 2.49).
Game 1: Friday, 7pm; Game 2: Saturday, 4pm; Game 3: Saturday, 7pm; Game 4: Sunday, 1pm.