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Baseball: Ardoin faring well with Class A Tigers

Dan McDonald

Kevin Ardoin says he’s accomplishing what he’d hoped early in his second year of professional baseball. Now all he’s hoping is that somebody’s watching.
Ardoin, the former St. Edmund and University of Louisiana standout, is in the regular starting rotation for the Lakeland Tigers, the advanced Class A squad of the Detroit Tigers. He’s getting plenty of work, since he leads the Florida State League in innings pitched as of earlier this week.

“I’m doing what I wanted to be doing,” Ardoin said. “It’s just a matter of staying consistent the whole summer through. Everybody’s going to have some dropoffs here and there, but for the most part I’m logging a lot of innings. I want to throw 160 innings to show them I can be a workhorse.”

So far, the plan’s working both for the Eunice native and for the Lakeland squad. Ardoin was the Florida State League’s Pitcher of the Week for the May 15-21 period, when he threw a complete-game shutout in a 6-0 win over the Brevard Count Manatees. He faced only 32 batters in a six-hit, no-walk performance, one of only four shutouts in the entire league this season.
And Lakeland? They’re in the thick of the hunt for the first-half title in the FSL entering an early-week series at Fort Myers (Twins). Lakeland, Fort Myers and Dunedin (Blue Jays) are in a three-team battle, and Lakeland wins the first-half title and a spot in the league postseason playoffs with three wins and two losses by Dunedin this week.

Ardoin is scheduled to pitch in Wednesday’s 6:05 p.m. series wrapup and possible playoff-decider with Fort Myers.

For the season, Ardoin is 5-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 13 starts, with 87 hits, 31 earned runs, 46 strikeouts and only eight walks in 81 1/3 innings.

“It took me a couple of outings to find my way through the league and realize what was going on,” Ardoin said. “I’ve started learning how to approach different teams. Teams here throw different types of hitting strategies at you … some are aggressive and some sit back and let you work.”

It’s certainly a higher level of play than his 2005 assignment to the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps, where he worked in relief for that short-season squad.

“It’s some of the same guys I’m pitching against,” he said, “but you can tell they’ve gotten a lot better. If I make a mistake in this league, it’s going to get hit harder for sure. I really have to focus on keeping the ball down. When I’ve gotten hurt was when I got the ball up. These guys don’t miss their pitch often.”

Last year’s relief work wasn’t his first such assignment. He worked short relief at UL as a freshman in 2002, getting six saves to tie for the third-most in a season in Cajun history. He divided starting and relief duty as a sophomore before becoming a full-time starter and going 16-7 with a 3.51 ERA over his final two years.

He likes the starting role better, and he definitely likes the Florida weather better even though he’s lost as many as six pounds in one start this year because of the heat.

Lakeland plays mostly night games, but the 7 p.m. local starts don’t figure in stretching at 3:30 p.m. and batting practice at 4 p.m. in the heat of the day.

“In college we always started seasons when it was cold, and you wanted to go to Florida because it was a little warmer,” Ardoin said. “A weekend series in Florida then was awesome. Now it’s hard. You have to keep your strength and endurance up, eat right, drink a lot of water and keep yourself nutritionally fit.”

Originally published June 18, 2006