Shawn Haviland is accustomed to leading the league in appearances, innings pitched, games started — "workhorse" statistics. As a Vancouver Canadian in 2008, Haviland ranked amongst the leaders in all three categories in the Northwest League, despite splitting time as a starter and reliever. As a Kane County Cougar pitcher in 2009, the righty led all pitchers with 28 starts and all but two with 153 innings pitched.
This year brought more of the same for the Harvard alum. As a Stockton Port, Haviland leads the California League with 22 starts midway through the season. He ranks second with 122.2 innings pitched.
Catapulted by an impressive hot streak last month, however, Haviland now finds himself in unchartered territory: amongst the leaders in wins, ERA and WHIP. He leads all Cal League pitchers with 134 strikeouts.
"Here's the big thing: I've tried not to change my approach," Haviland says.
"You're going to have a hot streak; you're going to have a cold streak. So, I just bring my best stuff every game. I try to be a guy who can take the ball every fifth day and take it deep into the game to give us a shot to win. That's something I take pride in."
Haviland's numbers over the first half of the 2010 season showed promise — 4.07 ERA, 88 hits and .286 BAA in 77.1 innings pitched — but didn't garner much attention outside of Banner Island Ballpark. But with an impressive July, including a one-hit masterpiece, Haviland owns some of the best pitching numbers in the league and Cal League Pitcher of the Week honors for July 26 through August 2.
This July, Haviland recorded a 2.68 ERA in 37 innings pitched, including 44 strikeouts and only 26 hits, 11 earned runs, four homers and 11 bases on balls.
The 24-year-old capped off his July with the one-hit gem on July 29 against the Lake Elsinore Storm, which helped secure the Pitcher of the Week honors. He struck out eight and walked two in seven strong innings, allowing the lone hit — a solo homer to first baseman Cody Decker, who ranks fourth in the league with 21 bombs — on a 1-1 pitch to start the second frame. He lasted seven innings, before handing the ball off to Scott Deal and then Paul Smyth to close out the 2-1 win.
Despite a strong July, Haviland's one-hitter gave him his first win in six weeks, following a string of three consecutive no-decisions and three straight losses before that. It was the fourth time in 2010 that Haviland threw a season-high seven innings.
"[Pitching coach Don] Schulze and I worked on locating my fastball to both sides of the plate and just changing speeds a little bit, keeping the ball down," Haviland says.
"Because it's the California League, you're going to want to keep the ball on the ground. Here, if you make a mistake, you're going to pay for it. You've definitely got to focus a little harder and certainly keep the ball down."
A career sub-one groundout-to-flyout ratio pitcher, Haviland retired batters on the ground nearly twice as often as through the air in July (1.74 GO/AO). Specifically, 52.7 percent of all batters he faced hit the ball on the ground, leading to five double plays for the month — helping to negate some of the effects of the hitter-friendly Cal League.
Along with spotting his fastball and changing speeds effectively, Haviland throws his bread-and-butter curveball for strikes and studies the approach of veteran Brett Tomko, who began his rehabilitation stint with Stockton earlier last month.
Unlike Haviland, however, Tomko — a 13-year major league veteran and career 4.65 ERA pitcher — can't figure out Cal League hitters. With a similar pitching arsenal to Haviland, Tomko surrendered 20 earned runs (including 10 homeruns) in 23 innings pitched in July, racking up an ERA of 7.39.
"It's harder to pitch down here [in Single-A] because I think the higher you get hitters have more of an idea of what they want to do and they stay within their own game plans," Tomko says.
"Guys down here are a lot more free-swinging, so you have a hard time setting guys up and picking a pitch to put them away with because guys are just swinging at everything."
As Haviland is learning, the best way to overcome the Cal League free-swingers is to strike them out. If that doesn't work, force them to beat the ball into the ground. Should this strategy — and hot streak — last into August, Haviland should expect to see time in unfamiliar territory in West Texas, but in a comfortable spot amongst the league-leaders in innings, games, strikeouts and maybe even ERA or WHIP.