The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers got a stellar performance from the most unlikely of players las Tuesday night at Fox Cities Stadium. And if his performance is any indication of how the Mariners 2004 draft class will pan out, their future is going to be just fine.
Sixteenth-round draft pick Chad Fillinger, pitching in his first game with Wisconsin, took the mound in the eight and ninth innings of a 4-4 game in relief of starting pitcher Nibaldo Acosta. He was more than impressive, holding the Beloit Snappers scoreless and sitting down all six batters he faced, and striking out two.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, catcher Justin Ruchti proceeded to single to left and score Wladimir Balentien, who doubled before him, giving the young right-hander his first win as a Timber Rattler.
"I made the pitches in the right spots," Fillinger said. "I trusted Ruchti. He's been here for four or five days facing this team and I've been here for two. Who better to have back there (catching) than him."
Fillinger, 22, has come a long way in the last two months. In early June, well into the heart of the Timber Rattlers season, he ended his career with Santa Clara University and finished with the eighth most strikeouts in school history with 223. He then headed to Everett to play for the AquaSox, the Mariners Short-season-A affiliate which began their season on June 19, before being called up to Wisconsin on Saturday.
"We were playing in Eugene and we got done and had about a six hour drive back to Everett. We didn't leave there until about 11 o'clock (pm) and 45 minutes into the bus ride the manager told me that when we got back I had to pack my bags and catch an 8 o'clock shuttle for a 12 o' clock flight (to Wisconsin)," Fillinger said of his promotion. "I didn't even sleep on the bus because I was too excited."
Pitching coach Brad Holman is also very excited with the addition of Fillinger to his staff.
"If it's not broken don't fix it," Holman said. "I think he's got a pretty good slider, and that pitch, in and of itself, is going to make his other pitches better. What I saw tonight is it looked like hitters were a little bit conscious of that slider, and as result now he's able to sneak his fastball by them."
Fillinger's performance with Everett, however, left something to be desired. While in an Aqua Sox iniform he accrued an earned run average of 5.94 in 11 appearances. His first game in a Timber Rattlers' uniform, however, should leave Mariners' fans with short memories of his mediocre numbers in the Northwest League.
It should also leave Wisconsin fans with the same short memories, as they have seen their beloved Timber Rattlers bullpen struggle for most of the 2004 season.
"Confidence is everything in the game of baseball." Holman said. "You start feeling things going your way and people feed off that. Being his first appearance at this level, you really don't want to put him in a situation where he could possibly fail. But it worked out the other way, and as a result that has got to be good for his confidence. It's got to be good for the confidence of everybody that grabs a baseball and steps between the lines."
Perhaps the Timber Rattlers have found a solution to their bullpen woes. Chad Fillinger's inaugural Rattlers performance Tuesday night certainly suggests that they have.
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