Tardif’s focus: strikes

North Fork pitcher Brian Tardif knows how important it is to throw strikes.

Throw strikes.

It sounds so simple, yet it’s not always so easy, and ever so important. Perhaps no one knows that better than North Fork Ospreys pitcher Brian Tardif. Tardif’s focus this summer in his second season in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League is on finding the strike zone.

“Coming in and [not] throwing strikes, that’s what got me in trouble a lot this year” at C.W. Post, Tardif said. “That’s definitely important, just keeping your fielders alive. The first pitch and first out of an inning are very important. It can change a lot of things.”

Tardif went 0-1 with a 12.27 earned run average this past college season, which was his freshman year athletically (he red-shirted a season at Monmouth College before transferring to Post). Post’s opponents hit .214 off Tardif, but in three and two-thirds innings of work, the left-hander allowed 10 walks.

Last year, in his first season with the Ospreys, Tardif went 0-0 with a 2.86 ERA. Over 22 innings he gave up 18 hits and 17 walks against 22 strikeouts.

Tardif has started this summer season well. He has no decisions and has not allowed a run in two relief appearances. In five innings he gave up three hits, walked four and fanned six. Tardif handled the final three innings of Saturday night’s game, a 10-0 plastering of the Riverhead Tomcats at Jean W. Cochran Park in Peconic. He struck out five batters, walked one, and allowed two hits.

“That’s what you want out of him,” said Ospreys Manager Shawn Epidendio.

Apparently, Tardif has taken to heart the lesson Epidendio preaches to his pitchers: Throw strikes, get ahead in the count and keep your pitching options open. It could change the scenario of an at-bat.

“I keep telling these guys, ‘Pound the zone, pound the zone, get ahead,’ ” Epidendio said. “It’s hard to work from behind. You might as well have the count leverage as much as possible to get ahead. It’s very important. You can use your arsenal of pitches when you get ahead. When you fall behind, hitters start to sit on fastballs when they know they’re coming.”

Tardif throws a fastball, curveball, changeup, and is working on a slider. His fastball reaches the plate at around 86 miles per hour on a good day.

Ospreys catcher Rocco Gondek said he sees an improvement in Tardif from last year. “His fastball is very fast, [and] his curveball has a lot of movement,” said Gondek.

Gondek and Tardif are the only two returning players from last year’s North Fork team.

For Tardif, a former Mattituck High School star, playing for the Ospreys is a great convenience. In a league that draws players from all over the country, Tardif is fortunate that he lives in Cutchogue, a two-minute drive from Jean W. Cochran Park.

He also enjoys the challenge of pushing himself against top players from other areas of the country.

“I feel that the better the competition, the more you raise your level of play,” he said. “It’s definitely a good thing.”

“They hit balls hard, but then you have players behind you who can definitely field,” he continued. “So, it’s nice knowing you can let the ball be put in play and the defense will take care of you.”

Just the experience of playing against this caliber of competition will help, Tardif said. It will also help if he remembers one thing: “You have to really bear down and throw strikes.”

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