For much of the season, the Sacramento River Cats have been scrambling to put together a regular five-man starting rotation, thanks to injuries both in Sacramento and at the major league level. The Oakland A's have signed numerous minor league free agents to help the River Cats field a rotation. However, the River Cats most recent rotation addition was of the home-grown variety.
Last week, right-hander Travis Banwart was promoted from Double-A Midland. The A's 2007 fourth-round pick joined the River Cats after posting a stellar 2.92 ERA in 14 starts with the Rockhounds.
Banwart made his debut for Sacramento last Thursday and he earned the win in Las Vegas, allowing two runs on five hits in six innings.
"He threw well. Vegas is a tough place to pitch and he kept the ball down, had good breaking stuff." Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco said.
"I think in Vegas when you are there, you just have to keep dominating the ‘zone and keep the ball down and he did a good job of doing that."
Banwart made a habit of attacking the strike-zone throughout the first half of the season with Midland. In 14 starts stretching over 83.1 innings, Banwart held hitters to a .231 average and had a 59:31 K:BB ratio. That was an improvement over his numbers with the Rockhounds in 2009. He won 10 games for Midland, but posted a 4.89 ERA and struck-out only 77 in 140 innings. He also allowed more hits than innings pitched last season (165) compared to only 71 hits in 83.1 innings in 2010.
"I definitely learned a lot more [the second time around the Texas League]. Me and the pitching coach, Scott Emerson, down there really got together this year and concentrated on developing different pitches and more of the mental side of the game, too," Banwart said.
The Wichita State alum points to his improved fastball command as one of the biggest reasons for his better performance in 2010.
"I was able to throw it in different counts and when I fell behind hitters, I was able to spot it. That was probably the main thing," Banwart said.
Banwart made one start for Sacramento in 2009, as well, but he says after two Triple-A outings it is still too early to tell the difference between Double-A and Triple-A.
"I know that the hitters are more disciplined in every level that you move up. It's a different feeling up here," Banwart said.
Before his promotion to Triple-A, Banwart was selected to participate in the Texas League All-Star game. It would have been his second Texas League All-Star appearance had he stayed with Midland, but Banwart wasn't disappointed to be called up to Sacramento before the All-Star Game.
"I was happy just to move up. I actually didn't think I was going to be able to throw [in the game] because I was scheduled to start the day before," Banwart said.
Upon arriving in Sacramento, Banwart joined a River Cats' rotation that already featured two members of the 2009 Midland Rockhounds' staff: right-handers Graham Godfrey and Kyle Middleton. Banwart indicated that having two familiar faces in the rotation has made the transition to Sacramento even easier.
"It is nice to have [Godfrey and Middleton] in the rotation here to show me the ropes and lead me along," Banwart said.
For the past two seasons, Banwart has been a workhorse. He is currently on pace to reach the 140 innings mark for the second consecutive year. In 2008, shoulder woes limited the right-hander to 100.1 innings.
"I'm definitely over those [injuries]. This is my second year [of being healthy. It is something that I have really worked hard on the past two years and I haven't had any problems since," Banwart said.
For the oft-injured River Cats, a healthy Banwart down-the-stretch would be a valuable addition.