Timber Rattlers Notebook: Spelling R-E-L-I-E-F

APPLETON, Wisc. - One of the problems with team sports today is the heavy emphasis that's put on the star players. There are many players who are just as important to a team's success, but the only time they see their names in the paper is when they mess up. In football those people are the offensive linemen and long snappers. And in basketball they are the guys that do the dirty work under the glass, getting rebounds and blocking shots. In baseball, they are the middle relievers.

These guys are brought into the game in a variety of situations. A middle reliever might be brought in for a starter who's getting shelled in the second inning one night and the next night he has to pitch out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning.

With the difficulty of the position, it is important to know a good thing when you've got it. And this is definitely the case with the 2005 version of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers' bullpen; they are one of the best units in the Midwest League, posting a combined 2.56 ERA.

One key to the success of the bullpen is the competitive nature of the players. The relievers strive on the pressure that is put upon them, and they remain competitive with each other and take pride in the their work.

"I think when one person goes out, the next person wants to do as good or better than the person coming out," said Wisconsin reliever Chad Fillinger.

That competitive nature allows players to feed off one another. They pick up energy from each other and don't want to let their teammates down.

"Whenever our starting pitcher comes out doing well, dealing, it gets us fired up to go in there and just shut them down," said right-handed reliever Craig James. "Everyone picks up each other; it's not an individual thing at all. We want to win, that's our biggest goal."

After a somewhat rocky start to the season, the Rattlers' relievers have produced very well. And with that success the players have developed a certain amount of pride that they take with them every time they step foot on the mound.

"Other opposing teams look at the stats and you know they don't want to get to that bullpen," said Fillinger.

The Rattlers bullpen has put fear into opponents on plenty of occasions already this season. The idea of wearing out the starting pitcher to get to the bullpend doesn't apply to the Timber Rattlers.

Aside from the competitiveness and the confidence a good bullpen needs to make smart decisions. This is the one area the bullpen has improved on since the start of the season. The Rattlers' pitching staff has been somewhat inconsistent, walking far too many batters and not getting the needed strikeouts. But they are showing great signs of improvement.

"I'd like to say they're aggressively going after hitters, but the one thing that we've tried to cut down on is the base on balls," said pitching coach Brad Holman. "Making the right pitch at the right time, in response to the situation."

The biggest sign of the bullpen's improvement in maturity and wisdom is their ability to minimize the damage done by inherited base runners. It is something that can easily distract a reliever, but the Rattlers have handled it very well.

"They take high regard into keeping those guys from scoring," said Holman. "And that's something that's unselfish and that's something we like to promote heavily."

The Rattlers bullpen is composed of seven talented pitchers. But their success is not solely derived from their own individual skills, rather measured by their ability as a team. They know what needs to get done, and they do it together. Time and time again.

Heading West: The Timber Rattlers are glad to be home and back to the Western Division. After starting out a red hot 13-6 against the Western Division, the Rattlers went 8-12 in their 20 games against Eastern Division foes.

Final Four: Rattlers' right-hander Mumba Rivera has been on fire so far this season. The hard-throwing pitcher is 6-0 with a 2.45 ERA. He gave up only four hits or less in each of his first seven starts. In his last start on May 19, Rivera was beaned with a line drive in his neck. The hit was coincidentally the fourth of the game allowed by Rivera, who showed toughness by remaining in game. Rivera finished the game allowing six hits and picked up his sixth win of the year.

Risky Business: The Rattlers have been very aggressive on the base paths this season, and the statistics prove it. They are tied for second in the league with 54 stolen bases. But careless mistakes have led to the team getting caught stealing 22 times, which is fifth in the league. Asdrubal Cabrera has been the biggest culprit, lately. He was picked off twice in back-to-back games against Clinton on May 19 and 20.

Up Next: The Rattlers head out on their longest road trip of the season, a 12-game test that starts Monday. The road trip will consist of a three separate four-game stops to Kane County, the Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids. The Rattlers swept the Swing of the Quad Cities at home, and will see the Kane County Cougars and Cedar Rapids Kernels for the first time this year. They return home to Fox Cities Stadium on June 4 to face the Southwest Michigan Devil Rays.

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