And down the stretch the desert warriors called upon each of their starters in turn, almost taking both halves of the AZL and winning it outright before claiming the Championship game on the strength of the pitching staff and timely hits.
Through it all, Australian-born John Hussey exerted his will on the opposition - earning Pitcher of the Year honors for the Arizona Rookie League Padres.
The Savage File:
What separated Hussey from other talented pitchers on the roster was his ability to limit damage. As any young hurler, the hits will come but how does the determination factor in when times are tough? Hussey came through in that regard, allowing little to bother the job he was doing on the mound.
In 13 games, he never allowed more than three runs to cross the dish. One of keys to his success was his ferocious attitude with runners on base. While the opposition batted over .300 with the bases empty, they were thwarted thereafter. He limited the opposition to a .191 average with runners on and got even better when they reached scoring position.
Hussey has three pitchers he can throw for strikes and as his command improves so will he. The right-hander works very well at keeping the ball down in the zone and thus keeps hitters from getting good wood on his pitches. His final game against the AZL Angels was a work of art – six innings of three hit ball in a 1-0 loss.
Pablo Menchaca was handed the ball for the Championship game and rewarded his squad with the win. The right-hander out of Mexico allowed just three earned runs over his last 23.2 regular season innings and walked just nine over 51 frames. As his mechanics clean up, Menchaca should only benefit.
A pair of Matt's were bulldogs out of the pen. Matt Huff had a 12-game, 19.1-inning scoreless streak and was a calming influence for the youth on the squad. Matt Handley may not throw very hard but the hitters swear he was using a Superball since they barely touched anything he threw. Handley gave up runs in just two of his 20 outings.
Australian John Hussey, 18, validated the Padres confidence in him, putting together a solid year in Peoria. In seven starts, Hussey went 3-1 with a 2.44 ERA, allowing fewer hits than innings pitched [39/44] and holding batters to a .253 average to earn Pitcher of the Year.
He needs to improve on his K/BB ratio [32/16], but for someone in his first extended baseball season out of Australia, the results were very promising. Right now the biggest obstacle for the young right-hander is to improve his velocity and his ability to control his changeup and breaking pitches.
The other big bright spot of the season was low round draft pick Matt Huff out of small Division II Regis University in Colorado. Huff, 22, held opponents to a .256 batting average while posting a strong 38/7 BB/K ratio before being promoted to Eugene in late September. The relief pitcher threw well, especially in his last two months, and should make the Fort Wayne squad to start the year.
Left-hander Geoff Vandel returned to the Arizona League for his sophomore season and once again experienced success, going 2-0 with a 3.48 ERA, striking out 33 in 31 innings against ten walks. He is still only 19 and should be better next year in Eugene than he was this past year [9.82 ERA].
AZL Padres Pitcher of the Year: John Hussey