A Tired Bunch of Piggies at Lehigh Valley

After an 8-7 win in 15 innings Monday night and a 2-1 loss in 16 innings Tuesday night, there's a tired group of players at Lehigh Valley. The bullpen has been especially overworked, but they've been up to the task.

The bullpen of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are possibly one of the more tired groups of guys you'll find anywhere in the minors. With back-to-back marathon games, the IronPigs relievers have had to pull in some overtime. Even though starter Nate Bump (4-1, 2.29) gave them eight strong innings Tuesday night and Brandon Duckworth - who had been pitching in relief lately - started Monday and gave them five good innings, with a total of 31 innings to eat up over the past two games, there has been plenty of work for the bullpen.

Relievers Brian Gordon (4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER), Oscar Villareal (0-1, 2 IP, 4 ER) and Mike Zagurski (3 IP, 0 H, 1 HB, 2 BB, 3 KO) have pitched in each of the marathon games and manager Dave Huppert will likely be slow to go to them for Wednesday night's game against Louisville. In fact, one of them could be given a break by being sent to Double-A for a few days while a fresh arm would join the 'Pigs bullpen for a couple of days. Ehren Wasserman, who threw an unlikely 60 pitches over four shutout innings of work Monday night probably could use another day off before being called back into action.

That would leave Alex Concepcion, Scott Mathieson and Ryan Vogelsong as the only potential relievers for Wednesday night's game. Mathieson threw 16 pitches in one inning of work and Vogelsong, who was just recently moved out of the starting rotation in favor of Duckworth, threw 40 pitches in two innings of work Tuesday night, so both of them - or at least Vogelsong - might be unavailable for Wednesday's game as well.

Overall, the bullpen - not including rehab appearances by J.C. Romero and Brad Lidge - has gone 3-9 and has converted seven of 12 save opportunities this season, which doesn't sound like an impressive mark. When you consider that the same group of pitchers has just a 3.51 ERA, it doesn't sound too bad. And when you consider that Scott Mathieson has converted all six of his save opportunities, it's easier to realize that there are some true gems in that Lehigh Valley bullpen.

"They've picked up 18 innings in the last two nights; they've done an outstanding job," Huppert told Jeff Schuler of The Morning Call after Tuesday night's 16 inning, 2-1 loss to Louisville. Besides the two games, there was a late night flight from Georgia to the Lehigh Valley after their series in Gwinnett ended Monday night.

While Duckworth hadn't worked as a starter in almost a month and was able to work through five innings of work in his start Monday and Bump provided his usual quality start Tuesday, the 'Pigs have to be worried that they may not get the same results out of Wednesday's starter, Joe Savery. The left-hander has started six games and went five innings in the first three and six in the last three, meaning that Lehigh Valley will likely need more help from their beleaguered bullpen on Wednesday night. Twice in his career, Savery has thrown eight innings, but hasn't gone that far since July of 2008 when he was with Clearwater. Twice last season - once with Reading and once with Lehigh Valley - Savery threw seven innings in a game, with his Lehigh Valley start coming in his last start of the 2009 season.

Louisville - with a .254 team batting average - ranks in the middle of the pack in the International League in offense, meaning that the potential for a longer start is there, if Savery can keep his pitch count down. Louisville also isn't a very patient club, ranking 11th (out of 14 teams) in the International League in both drawing walks and in striking out. Another reason to believe that perhaps Savery can work a little deeper into the game even though he does tend to let his pitch counts spiral upward.

On the down side for Lehigh Valley is that their offense - ranked 10th in the IL with a .253 average - has been especially anemic of late. The 'Pigs eight run outburst to win Monday's 15 inning game at Gwinnett was an exception. Even with that output, Lehigh Valley has scored just 42 runs in their last 14 games and ranks 11th in the IL in runs scored with an average of 4.3 runs per game, much of which came earlier in the season.

On their recent eight-game road trip, which ended Monday night, Lehigh Valley scored 22 runs and collected seven or less hits in six of the eight games. Andy Tracy, who generally heats up about this time of the season and starts to lead the club's offense, was placed on the DL Wednesday and his roster spot was taken by right-hander Ty Taubenheim, who was signed earlier this month to a minor league deal and had been at Double-A Reading. John Mayberry Jr. is heating up and has hit safely in four of his last five games, going 9-for-23 (.391) and has four home runs in 13 games this month.

While Lehigh Valley (15-23, 8.0 GB in the North Division) has struggled this season, they've arguably been without some of the key players that they counted on at the beginning of the season. Wilson Valdez, who was supposed to be a big part of the 'Pigs infield, went up to Philly when Jimmy Rollins went on the DL and starting catcher Paul Hoover is also with the big league club thanks to Brian Schneider being on the DL. Antonio Bastardo has been back-and-forth between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley and has a combined ERA of 0.90 between the two stops.

While fans love to see as much baseball as possible, you have to figure that the IronPigs will be hoping for a short-and-sweet win Wednesday night, especially since Lehigh Valley and Louisville will be back on the field at 10:35 a.m. on Thursday for game three of their four-game set.

Get the Lehigh Valley IronPigs season stats from Baseball-reference.com.

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