Ian Clark On Baseball: Pitching keys Fisher Cats’ surge
BY IAN CLARK New Hampshire Union Leader
IMPROVED performances up and down the pitching staff have paved the way to a summer surge for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
The Fisher Cats were 13-6 in July heading into Wednesday night’s game with Harrisburg, including a franchise record-tying eight wins in a row.
“The name of the game is starting pitching. At least is was when I was playing,” said Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson. “Good pitching beats good hitting too many times.”
No pun intended, but the strong pitching has started with the starters. Quality starts have become a regular occurrence for the starting rotation. Ryan Tepera earned Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors last week, throwing eight shutout innings against Portland. Sean Nolin, Marcus Walden and Tepera each pitched eight innings on consecutive days against Portland from July 15-17. That may be a first in Fisher Cats history according to broadcast and media relations director Tom Gauthier.
Overall in the month of July, the starters have posted an ERA of 3.35.
“If our starters can get quality outings, giving us six innings and three runs or less, it really gives our hitters a chance to go after the other team’s starter and gives us a good chance to win,” said Walden.
According to Walden, fastball command has allowed the starters to get ahead of hitters and control at-bats. “Throwing that fastball down and away to righties, once you get strike one off that fastball command, it really helps and then we can go to breaking stuff and off-speed pitches,” Walden said. “For a lot of our pitchers, our off-speed pitches are our strikeout pitches. That’s one thing we’ve gotten a lot of.”
The bullpen has also come on strong for the Fisher Cats.Tyson Brummett has allowed one earned run in relief in the last 12.1 innings since June 27 and sports a 0.96 ERA in July. Scott Gracey has allowed one earned run in 10 innings since June 30 and has a 1.13 ERA in July.
Randy Boone had a 2.41 ERA in June and is at 2.61 in July. He has thrown 7.2 straight scoreless innings. Boone was also the winning pitcher in back-to-back outings this month. “When the starters haven’t been doing that good, our longer guys have put up two, three, four-inning stints that have put up big zeroes for us,” Walden said. “Then we’ve got our late-inning guys with (Dustin) Antolin and Gracye and (Alan) Farina. They’ve been doing real good for us.”
Allenson said that it all ties together. Timely hitting has been on the rise as well and that could be a result of the confidence the pitching staff has built up.
“I’m sure that they feed off each other. Sometimes it’s just a hit that gets us back of the ball game,” Allenson said. “We would score a couple runs in an inning and then give it back. We did that too many times and we lost momentum. Lately, there’s been a couple times where we lost momentum and lost a lead and we’d get it back and then we keep it. That’s a good sign.”
The Fisher Cats (52-49) entered Wednesday night with a one-game lead on Trenton for second place (and a playoff spot) in the East Division.
“At one time we were seven games under .500,” Allenson said. “It’s been a nice little run, but we’re not done with it yet.”
HERE COME THE CURVE: The Fisher Cats welcome in the Altoona Curve for three games from Friday to Sunday. Altoona has the worst record in the Western Division, but swept a three-game series between the teams in Pennsylvania in June. Prospects to watch for include strikeout specialist Jameson Taillon, speedy outfielder Gregory Polanco (28 steals), power-hitting first baseman Alex Dickerson (13 homers) and smooth-fielding shortstop Gift Ngoepe.