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Pitching Prowess Propels Mets Into West Race

14 July 2008

Pitching Prowess Propels Mets
Into Thick of West Division Race

HYANNIS, Mass. -- The day after Hyannis’s second 1-0 shutout victory of the season, the mood is light at McKeon Park, as the Mets are tied for first place after winning their last two games. Hitters take their cuts in the batting cage, coaches make small talk and lounging in the left field bleachers on home run duty are Hyannis hurlers Andrew Carraway (Virginia) and Russell Brewer (Vanderbilt).

     Carraway and Brewer have been two of the individual standouts on a pitching staff that is second to none in team earned run average. The Mets have been near the top of the Cape Cod Baseball League in ERA all season, but have jumped ahead of Orleans by nearly four-tenths of a run.

     Manager Rick Robinson and pitching coach Chad Gassman have installed a unique system that is designed to keep pitchers’ innings count low and get everyone into games.

     The system consists of a six-man starting rotation, three “finishers,” a couple of “jam guys,” and Brewer, the closer. The finisher’s job is to do just that -- finish games, almost like a second starter. And the jam guys will enter a game in any situation to bail their fellow hurlers out of trouble.

     “It’s been working”, said Gassman, the head coach at Waldorf College in Iowa.

     “The philosophy is simple,” says catcher Curt Casali (Vanderbilt): “Throw strikes and avoid walking hitters.” Although it sounds simple, it is something with which that many pitchers. Luckily for Hyannis pitchers the defense has been solid, allowing them to feel at ease when a ball is put in play.

     “It’s easy to pitch when you have a good defense behind you”, said Brewer, the closer, who has 11 saves this season. The league record is 16, putting Brewer in position to break it with a strong second half.

     “If we have a lead and we get to the ninth inning, we pretty much know that the game is ours,” says Gassman of his closer. Brewer, who has yet to blow a save this summer while allowing just two runs, has a single mission when he is out there: Go after hitters.

     “You have to think that your stuff is better than what they have at the plate, whether you’re feeling good or not,” he says. “I definitely don’t throw as hard as most closers, but I just go out there and attack the hitters and try to pitch to my strengths.”

     While Brewer has been finishing games, the starters have to get him the ball with a lead. Carraway has been the Mets’ most effective at handing Brewer those leads. He ranks second in the league with an ERA of 0.95 in his five outings.

     “You tell all your pitchers you want them to throw three pitches for strikes, to have a great mental presence on the mound and to control the ballgame, and that’s what he does,” Gassman said of Carraway.

     Carraway credits his success this summer to the starting experience he has earned over the past 12 months. He was used mainly as a reliever at Virginia his first two seasons, but then got to be a full-time starter for the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League last summer, parlaying that know-how into being a weekend starter for the Cavaliers this spring.

     “At school, I started on Sundays almost all year long, so every Tuesday all year long I would be doing the same thing, and that’s a mixture of working out, long tossing and throwing short with drills,” said Carraway. He and Brewer both emphasize having a set routine to stay sharp on the mound and in between outings.

     “I have a routine every time I got out to the mound and before every pitch,” said Brewer.

     Although these two have been the standouts so far, they certainly haven’t been the only pitchers getting it done for Hyannis.

     Jason Franzblau (Winthrop) has finished three games, Drew Muren (Cal State-Northbridge) has an ERA of 1.69 and Ryan Sharpley (Notre Dame) has 21 strikeouts in 12 innings pitched.

     “Austin Hudson (Central Florida) just goes after guys and gets a lot of ground balls,” said Carraway. “He knows his pitches are good enough.”

     Hudson, a second-year Met, has shown great strides in his second year in Hyannis. He has a 1.93 ERA in five starts.

     Casali says he has had the opportunity to catch Carraway, Hudson and Colin Bates (North Carolina) frequently this season. “They make it really easy for me, because I don’t have to move my glove very often,” said Casali.

     Bates’s story is one of the more interesting ones on the team. After his freshman year at North Carolina, he was faced with something very rare for someone his age. He had a blood clot in his right shoulder.

     It would take surgery and the removal of one of his ribs to get rid of the blood clot. He decided to take the risk in order to continue his baseball career.

     On this night, it is Bates’ turn in the starting rotation, and something he has done ever since his surgery is keep that removed rib in his back pocket every time he starts -- a reminder of how far he has come.

     “He’ll have it in there today. I guarantee it,” said Brewer.

     So maybe there is a secret to pitching success on Cape Cod. And if that secret is keeping a rib in a back pocket, then the Mets have the inside track.
 

Chris Blake, CCBL Intern (blake@capecodbaseball.org)
 

John Garner, Jr.
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Interns: Chris Blake, James Chandley, Ashley Crosby, Phil Garceau, Stefanie Marini, Laura Rasmussen