The Danville Braves are once again doing well in the Appalachian League, despite an extremely young roster. And once again pitching is the key.
Danville's pitching staff is second in the Appy League with a 3.40 ERA. There are nine pitchers starting, with only lefty Jeff Locke on his own. The other eight are split into four piggyback groups, with one pitcher starting and then relieving the other pitcher he's grouped with the next time out.
Neftali Feliz (1.20 ERA, sixth best in the league) is paired with Edgar Osuna (2.40, 12th best in the league). Cole Rohrbough (1.26, seventh best in the league) is with William Ramirez (6.57). Yeliar Castro (8.00) is grouped with Jose Ortegano (1.45, 10th best in the league). And Chad Rodgers (1.50) is pitching with Thomas Palica (0.90).
Those nine pitchers have combined for a 9-5 record so far and an ERA of 3.01. They've allowed 128 hits in 122.2 innings, 59 runs, 41 earned runs, 32 walks, and 132 strikeouts.
In the first seventeen games of the season, the Danville starters have an ERA of 2.79, with only 15 walks and 68 strikeouts in 71 innings.
The Braves could add lefty starter Steve Evarts and hard-throwing reliever Casey Beck to the Danville roster in the near future. Both have spent time suspended for violation of team rules.
The pitching has been a key, but the offense has also been a huge story for Danville. Four of the top fifteen league leaders in batting average play for the Braves.
Cody Johnson got back into the lineup Saturday night after missing five games with a groin injury. That's the same injury that bothered him last season in the Gulf Coast League. Johnson had a two-run home run against Bluefield to help Danville win 9-2. Johnson is hitting .346 with four home runs (tied for the league lead) and 14 RBI (seventh best in the league). He's erasing some of the fears that fans had about him after last season, but he still needs to stay healthy and remain in the lineup.
Second baseman Cole Miles, who started the season in Rome, is fourth in the league with a .390 batting average. Miles is also ninth in the league with a .433 on base percentage.
One of the surprises so far this season has been shortstop Michael Fisher, drafted in the sixth round out of Georgia Tech. The switch-hitter is hitting .344 with two home runs and 16 RBI in 61 at bats. Meanwhile another college shortstop, Texas A&M's Brandon Hicks, taken in the third round, is hitting only .111 in 27 at bats.
First baseman Ernesto Mejia is off to a good start hitting .361 with 13 RBI. And after a slow start, third baseman Adam Coe is hitting .364 in his last ten games to get his average up to .313. He's made seven errors at third base, but the Braves are still excited about his future at the hot corner.
Two more corner infielders, Josh Morris (.371) and Stephen Shults (.320), are also off to good starts at the plate.
So after the first three weeks of the season, it's been a good start for the Danville Braves as they try to repeat as Appy League Champs.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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