Sacramento River Cats Pitching At A Glance
Team ERA: 4.30 (fifth out of 16 teams in the league) Strike-outs/Walks: 1065/565 (second-most and most, respectively) Team WHIP: 1.47 (ninth)
Note: this article covers all pitchers who threw at least 20 innings for the Sacramento River Cats this season.
In some ways, it was a typical season for Tony DeFrancesco's Sacramento River Cats. The River Cats won 79 games and finished first in the Pacific Coast League's Southern Division. However, in many ways, the year was far from typical. The River Cats began the year with a highly touted roster, but struggled out of the gate. It took a furious comeback for the River Cats to overtake the Fresno Grizzlies for the division title. Injuries and promotions forced pitching coach Rick Rodriguez to use 37 different pitchers ranging from call-ups from High-A to veterans with more than 10 years of major league experience.
Despite the motley crew of pitchers, "Rick Rod's" staff managed to finish among the top five teams in ERA and second in the league in strike-outs. Walks were an issue all season for the River Cats, but the team was able to work around them, for the most part. The Sacramento staff also had to pitch around a spotty defense that committed 137 errors, which led to 113 unearned runs.
Thanks to the revolving door of pitchers on the River Cats' roster, Sacramento had only three pitchers with more than 100 innings pitched this season. The staff leader, Clayton Mortensen, had 165.1 innings pitched, a total that out-stripped the next-closest pitcher by nearly 60 innings. Mortensen also led the team with 26 starts. The right-hander finished the year with a 13-6 record and a 4.25 ERA. He showed solid command, walking 53, and he struck-out 112. He was especially good early in the season, going 10-2 with a 3.57 ERA before the All-Star break, earning him a mid-season PCL All-Star nod. He clearly tired in August and September, allowing 30 runs in 40 innings. Mortensen should enter spring training as one of the candidates for the A's fifth-starter role, although he will be an underdog in that battle.
Three of the pitchers who are also expected to battle for that fifth starter spot spent time with Sacramento this season: right-handers Vince Mazzaro and Tyson Ross and left-hander Bobby Cramer. Mazzaro was the team's Opening Day starter after he lost out on a spot in the A's rotation to Gio Gonzalez during spring training. Mazzaro was solid in his seven outings for the River Cats, posting a 3.13 ERA and striking out 38 in 37.1 innings. He did walk 17, but he allowed only two homers and held opposing batters to a .245 average. Mazzaro was called up to Oakland in late May and spent most of the rest of the season in the A's rotation, posting a 4.27 ERA in 122.1 innings. He did return to the River Cats in the post-season, however, as the A's sent him down to Triple-A to work on his location and game-management. He pitched well in his one post-season start for the River Cats.
Ross was a surprise member of the A's Opening Day roster. Before the start of spring training, the A's 2008 second-round pick was slated to be in the River Cats' rotation, but injuries opened up spots in the Oakland bullpen and Ross was tabbed for that role. He was up-and-down with the A's before being sent down to Sacramento in July to be stretched out as a starter. He made six starts for the River Cats before landing on the DL with a sore right elbow. In 25.1 innings, he had a 3.55 ERA and struck-out 30 while walking 13. He allowed only one homer and induced an absurd 4.25 groundouts for every flyout. Ross has been on a throwing program the past few months and the A's are hopeful he will be 100 percent at the start of spring training.
If Ross' inclusion on the A's Opening Day roster was a surprise, Cramer's late-season insertion into the A's starting rotation was shocking. The left-hander spent most of the season pitching in the Mexican Summer League, as the A's had loaned his contract out. He returned to Sacramento at the conclusion of the Mexican League season after winning the league's ‘Pitcher of the Year' honors. He continued to pitch well with Sacramento, posting a 1.94 ERA with 35 strike-outs in 41.2 innings stretched over seven starts. When the A's decided to send down Mazzaro, they called on Cramer, who made four solid starts for Oakland to finish the year, posting a 3.04 ERA in 23.2 innings. Cramer set career highs in wins (17), strike-outs (171) and innings pitched (193.1) in 2010.
Graham Godfrey finished second on the River Cats' staff in innings pitched with 106.1, but he wound-up with his lowest innings-pitched total for any season since his first professional campaign in 2007. Godfrey made 16 starts and eight relief appearances for the River Cats and also tossed 18.2 innings for Double-A Midland, giving him 125 innings pitched for the year. In 2008 and 2009, he threw 140.2 and 159.1 innings, respectively. Godfrey, who was acquired for Marco Scutaro before the 2008 season, was a Texas League post-season All-Star in 2009, but he struggled with the jump to Triple-A in 2010. His K:BB ratio with Sacramento was less than 2:1 with 87 strike-outs and 53 walks, and his groundout-to-flyout rate was only 0.68. He is capable of better numbers and should get another chance at Triple-A in 2011. Godfrey is eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time this season and he is showcasing himself in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he has tossed nine shut-out innings in two starts.
Another pitcher who went back-and-forth between the bullpen and the rotation was Kyle Middleton, who made 14 starts and nine relief appearances for Sacramento. In 102.2 innings, he posted a 3.77 ERA, although his K:BB ratio was only 69:48. Middleton was brilliant in May (2.74 ERA in 23 innings) and June (0.00 ERA in 23 innings), but he struggled in July (6.35 ERA) and was shut-down in early August with a sore right shoulder. He missed the rest of the season.
A sign that the River Cats' season didn't go according to the pre-season plan was the inclusion of the veteran John Halama in the starting rotation. Halama finished tied for third on the team in starts with 14 and tossed 87.2 innings for Sacramento, a mere 16 years after his professional debut. Halama wasn't particularly effective for the River Cats, posting a 5.44 ERA and striking out only 40 in those 87.2 innings. He also allowed opposing batters to hit .308 against him. Despite turning 38 before the season, Halama doesn't appear to be ready to hang them up. He is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League.
If Halama was the grizzled veteran of the rotation, Travis Banwart was the green rookie. He began the year with Double-A Midland, but was promoted to Sacramento after posting a 2.92 ERA in 83.1 innings for the Rockhounds. Banwart got off to a bit of a slow start with Sacramento, but by season's end, he was one of the team's top starters. He finished his first stint in Triple-A with a 4.81 ERA in 73 innings. After a two-start stretch in early August when he allowed 10 runs in 10.2 innings, Banwart allowed only eight runs over his final 29 innings. Banwart's velocity also saw a spike at the end of the season. He had 71 strike-outs for the River Cats and his ERA was 2.89 while pitching in Sacramento. He is currently competing in the Arizona Fall League.
Lenny DiNardo was brought into the organization during the off-season with the expectation that he would provide depth for the A's pitching staff while also pitching quality innings for the River Cats. Unfortunately, as with many of the pitchers in the A's organization, injuries got in the way of those plans. DiNardo was able to make only nine starts before arm problems sidelined him in late May. He did return in time to make one relief appearance at the end of the season, but DiNardo finished with only 47.2 innings pitched for Sacramento. He did have a solid 3.40 ERA and a good 1.62 groundout-to-flyout rate, but his K:BB was a mediocre 28:15. He will be a free agent again this winter.
Like DiNardo, veterans Brett Tomko and Travis Blackley were signed by the A's to give Oakland major league depth at Triple-A, but injuries impacted both of their seasons. Tomko began the year in extended spring training, as he continued his recovery from a nerve problem in his right arm that he suffered while pitching for the A's in 2009. It took him until mid-season to get back into game action. He made eight poor starts for the A's Rookie League team and the High-A Stockton Ports before he was promoted to Triple-A. With the River Cats, he finished with a 7.16 ERA in 27.2 innings, although he actually pitched better than that ERA number, for the most part. In his first and last starts for Sacramento, he allowed 14 runs in 5.1 innings. In the other four starts, he gave up eight runs in 22.1 innings. He is currently a free agent.
Blackley was signed mid-season after being released from the Mets organization. He pitched well for Sacramento, posting a 2.52 ERA in 35.2 innings, but he spent a significant amount of time on the DL after surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips. The Australian lefty made 11 relief appearances and four starts for Sacramento. He is also a free agent and is currently pitching in Mexico.
With so many injuries in the starting rotation, the River Cats' bullpen was called upon frequently. The Sacramento bullpen was also impacted by injury, as Brad Kilby, Dan Giese, Michael Benacka, Cedrick Bowers and Marcus McBeth would all miss significant time. The team also lost star closers Henry Rodriguez and Sam Demel to a promotion to the big leagues and a trade, respectively.
Before departing the team around mid-season, Rodriguez and Demel combined to save 17 games and post an ERA under 2.00. Rodriguez had a breakthrough season at Triple-A after struggling to the tune of a 5.18 ERA with the River Cats in 2009. Despite missing several weeks with a strained hamstring, the hard-throwing right-hander had a 1.69 ERA with 31 strike-outs and only 10 hits allowed in 21.1 innings. He did walk nine, but that was a big improvement over his 38 walks in 43 innings in 2009. Rodriguez went on to post a 4.55 ERA in 27 innings for the A's. Demel was traded in July to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Conor Jackson and Demel was immediately inserted into the Arizona bullpen. Before the trade he had a 1.26 ERA with 28 strike-outs in 28.2 innings. Demel, who had a new cut fastball in his arsenal this season, made 37 appearances for the D-Backs after the trade, posting a 5.35 ERA and striking out 33 in 37 innings.
Fernando Hernandez and Jon Hunton were the workhorses of the bullpen. Hernandez was fifth on the team in innings pitched with 77.1 and Hunton was seventh with 63. A former Rule 5 pick by the A's, Hernandez was signed as a minor league free agent in the off-season. He was coming off of a brilliant season in the White Sox' chain, where he posted a 1.68 ERA in 69.2 innings. Hernandez was unable to recapture that level of success with the River Cats, however. In 45 appearances (four starts), he had a 4.77 ERA. He struck-out 65 against 26 walks, but he allowed eight homeruns. He did improve after the All-Star break, however, posting a 3.18 ERA. Hernandez is eligible for free agency.
Hunton was pitching at the Triple-A level for the first time and he held his own, posting a 3.57 ERA. He struck-out only 40 and he walked 25 while allowing 72 hits, so his ERA probably should have been higher, however. Hunton, who was signed out of the independent leagues in 2009, is currently pitching well in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Edwar Ramirez and Benacka also gave the River Cats solid innings out of the bullpen. Ramirez spent the early part of the season shuttling between Oakland and Sacramento, but he was still with the River Cats long enough to pitch 49.2 innings. He had a 3.62 ERA, although his K:BB was a mediocre 35:22. Benacka missed time with vertigo, but he was still able to appear in 40 games and pitch 46.1 innings. The A's signed him out of the independent leagues in 2008 and he has moved steadily up the chain since then. In 2010, he had a 4.08 ERA and five saves for Sacramento. He struck-out an impressive 61 batters, but he walked 39. That trend has continued into the Arizona Fall League, where he has nine strike-outs and eight walks in six innings pitched.
Veterans Cedrick Bowers and Boof Bonser split their time in the A's organization between Sacramento and Oakland. Bowers was an off-season minor league free agent signing and the A's liked what they saw from the hard-throwing lefty in spring training. He showed a live arm both with the River Cats and with the A's, striking out 68 in a combined 46 innings pitched. However, he had some command issues, walking 32. Unfortunately, Bowers injured his elbow late in the season and underwent Tommy John surgery. He will likely miss the entire 2011 season and is currently a free agent.
Bonser, who once started an ALDS game against the A's for the Minnesota Twins, was acquired by Oakland mid-season after he was released by the Boston Red Sox. Bonser made five starts with Sacramento, posting a 4.56 ERA in 23.2 innings, before he was promoted to Oakland, where he made 15 relief appearances, allowing 17 runs in 25 innings.