Getting the Fossil Ridge baseball team back to the playoffs this year is weighing heavy on the mind of a Panthers pitcher – in between sliders and fastballs.
For junior Carlos Tavera, the work he’s put in since last year’s disappointing finish has led him to the mound as a starting pitcher this year.
Tavera has helped the Panthers stay in the top half of the district standings through the early stages of the schedule.
When Tavera isn’t on the mound, he said plays a little at several other positions, but prefers first base. The infield is in good hands with Justin Gordon at third and Dylan Neuse at shortstop.
Tavera’s experience may be as much as anyone’s on the team.
“I started playing when I was 3,” Tavera said, noting his dad starting playing catch with him early on and has since become his pitching coach.
“He knows what he’s talking about and I listen to him,” Tavera said. His father played in high school but a shoulder injury ended his playing days.
His father’s main advice to his son about pitching doesn’t have anything to do with how he throws his strongest pitch, the slider.
“Have a lot of confidence,” Tavera said of the direction given by his father. “Have a lot of confidence whenever I go out there, and stay composed.”
The mental aspect of pitching is as much a priority as the physical, Tavera said. “You have to compete on every pitch.”
When things do go awry, Tavera said the time it takes a batter to circle the bases after a home run can be the worst 20 seconds of a game. Fortunately, Tavera said, it has happened only about five times for him.
“Let’s go strike out the next guy,” is what he said he tells himself after a big hit is earned off of him.
Other than his slider, Tavera said his fastball is also effective and he’s working to enhance the impact of his change-up.
The slider began coming around to Tavera when he was 12, he said, as his father taught him the pitch which gets a good, late break.
His fastball has topped out at about 92 mph, but he said it’s consistently coming across the plate at about 88-89 mph.
That speed is about 5 mph faster than last year and Tavera expects the speed to pick up as he continues to grow.
The 6-footer is up 20 pounds from last year’s 145. His time in the weight room, in addition to some growth, has helped him get up to 165.
A curve ball is also in the works, but Tavera said he can get his slider to arrive about 8 mph faster than his curve.
Being a concern on the Ridge defense is just one aspect of Tavera’s benefit to the Panthers.
His hitting has been developing rapidly, and head coach Doug Delany said Tavera is now hitting in the number four hole.
“I’m becoming a better hitter,” he said, “but I just need to spend more time on it. My sophomore year, I was pretty much a ‘pitcher-only’ when I came here, but it was Dylan’s (Neuse) dad who actually helped me with some hitting.”
Before the season is done, Tavera hopes in addition to a playoff appearance, he has the type of season that is worthy of an all-district and all-state selection.
More importantly, Tavera sees the Panthers as making the big turnaround this year and get Fossil Ridge back into the postseason.
“We’re confident in how tough we are and we can be district champs,” he said.