Pitching in Triple-A is Difficult

Las Vegas may be the fun and games capitol of the world for most people but for the guys who have to pitch there, it's a barren corner of the western desert without an oasis in sight. Last season, the home team 51's employed no fewer than 29 men on the mound in the quest of some sort of succor but without success.

This year is shaping up as every bit as much a disaster. Here's a club hitting .283 as a team yet it's already 14 games below .500. The staff has to be the most embarrassed group this side of the prospective groom of the runaway bride.

Most of the staff are veterans who've been around enough but it doesn't matter what kind of experience they have, all suffer equally. One Dodger high ranking official even proposed that the better prospects be kept away from the place on the grounds that all these balls flying around could be damaging to their psyche. That notion was vetoed although Edwin Jackson has been packed out of town for sanity's sake.

Of course, the 51's play only half their games in Vegas but there seems little solace elsewhere. An ERA of around 4.00 is a requirement for success in most circuits but not in the Pacific Coast League. The best team figure is 3.83 by the staff in Memphis, far closer to sea level than the western portion of the league. The current Vegas team figure is 6.17 and if you think that's bad, it's worse in Colorado Springs (6.28).

You might begin to think that it would take a pitcher of considerable experience and ability to survive here. Like, say, Odalis Perez. Oops, he's been rehabbing here lately. Result -- a 6.52 ERA with opponents hitting .325 in the three starts he's made. Unfortunately for him, he has to make at least one more before escaping to L.A.

Earlier in the season, two of the veterans, Pat Mahomes and Ryan Rupe, were doing so well that each was mentioned as a possible call-up to the Dodgers. Right now, though, nobody's suggesting them though Mahomes 4.91 ERA is downright respectable considering the circumstances. Rupe, at 2-6, 6.70 is another matter.

Those two along with Heath Totten, Buddy Carlyle and Perez, as long as he's here, comprise the starting five. Last year Totten, one of the few who came up through the system, was 8-11, 5.46 but is actually faring better at 6-4, 5.30, showing that you can adjust, however slightly. Carlyle, who made the Dodgers out of spring training only to falter, isn't exactly making a cause to come back at 0-2, 7.79.

Harold Eckert and T. J. Nall started the season in the rotation but have been bumped to the bullpen. Eckert's held opposing batsmen to a .273 mark which may not seem like much but is still the best among those who've been around since the start. On the other hand, Nall, who has better than average stuff, has been cuffed around at a .341 rate with a 7.55 ERA the result.

A team that has lost as often as this one has really hasn't had much call for a closer and that job is still up for grabs. Aquilino Lopez, who once had major league success in the role with the Blue Jays, was tried, found wanting and dismissed. Steve Schmoll, who is a definite prospect with his sweeping almost submarine delivery, has come back down from the Dodgers only to be roughed up for an 0-3, 7.16 record thus far. He, at least, has one save.

Beau Dannemiller, who was throwing much better after a rough start at Jacksonville, has been called up and has gotten some outs as a .188 batting average against would suggest so he'll get more service. Mike Venafro (7.06) is a lefthander on hand. Actually, Mike Neu, added as the season began, has the best mark of all, 4.11 although he's been used mostly when the game has been decided.

All this might seem to be a cauldron to be avoided but two genuine prospects are being thrown in to see how they fare. Eric Stults, who has come back strongly from arm surgery and who pitched quite well at Jacksonville, has gone out twice and is only 0-1, 7.71 to show for it. Lefty Derek Thompson, who was dropped from L.A. when it was decided to pare the staff from 12 to 11, will be starting in someone's place .

In all, it's been the kind of experience for pitchers that has meant that some can tell horror stories of the like that haven't been heard since Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein to enthrall husband Percy and guest Lord Byron in that Swiss castle so long ago. Mahomes, for example, has given up 17 home runs thus far.

There may be a secret to pitching with honor in a hot, dry elevated climate. It's not that these guys are that bad but so far nobody's figured out if it's possible to do anything but throw and duck, either.