The High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans are off to a mediocre 12-12 start through 24 games this season, currently sitting four games behind first-place Winston-Salem.
As detailed below in the Pelicans' game recap from Tuesday, the offense is scuffling in a big way. But the pitching––and the bullpen in particular––has been strong.
In fact, the Myrtle Beach bullpen has a cumulative 2.17 earned-run average so far this season. In 95.1 innings, they've allowed only 61 hits while walking 32 and striking out 91.
The only disappointing member of the 'pen so far is Dominican right-hander Francisco Mendoza, who has allowed seven runs on 13 hits and six walks in five innings. The 24-year-old has pitched only sparingly because of his performance, appearing in just four games despite remaining active since opening day. He hasn't appeared in a game since April 21, when he coughed up four runs in 1.2 innings.
Mendoza's issues date back to spring training, when he showed good velocity on both his fastball and slider but was almost completely unable to locate either pitch. His fastball works between 91-96 mph with good life, and his power slider comes in at 86-90. Mendoza had success late last season at Single-A Hickory, throwing his fastball for strikes and showing impressive command of a slider that had become a borderline plus-plus pitch. But during camp this year, Mendoza was often spiking his breaking ball in the dirt and wasn't able to get it over the plate.
On the much brighter side, literally every other member of the Pelicans' bullpen has been lights-out thus far. Randol Rojas recently tossed five no-hit innings of long relief in his second High-A game. Zach Osborne, who features an 87-89 mph sinker with a sweeping slider, fanned five of the six batters he faced on Tuesday. Lefty Chad Bell's strong early-season performance earned him a recent promotion to Double-A Frisco, where he has continued to pitch well.
The list goes on, including RHP Joe Van Meter (1.69 ERA), RHP Ben Rowen (1.88 ERA), RHP Randy Henry (0.00 ERA), RHP Ben Henry (3.00 ERA) and LHP Jimmy Reyes (3.24 ERA).
Randy Henry––no relation to Ben––is perhaps the most intriguing prospect in the Pelicans' bullpen. Acquired this past offseason as part of the trade for Taylor Teagarden, the former Orioles prospect came into spring training looking to prepare as a starting pitcher.
The Rangers may still move Henry into a starting role later this season. While his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and deep repertoire are well-suited for starting, past injuries have limited him to a relief role and abbreviated innings totals over the last few years. Henry logged a career-high 52.2 frames in 2011.
Henry, who has featured a 91-94 mph fastball this season to go along with a cutter, a slider, and a changeup, was featured in this story last month.
W - Kirkman (1-1)
SV - Tateyama (1)
11-15, 5.0 GB
The Jekyll and Hyde performance of Michael Kirkman (9.00 ERA/.388 BAA) continued on Tuesday. This time, it was the good side of Kirkman.
The 25-year-old southpaw sat around 92 mph with his fastball and touched up to 95, as he allowed two runs in five innings. He gave up five hits, walked two, and struck out four.
Kirkman's first start after moving into the rotation was strong. His second start was poor. And his third start, on Tuesday, was good. He threw 44 of his 73 pitches for a strike on Tuesday.
The Round Rock offense collected 15 hits in the game, but the only extra-base hit was a double from shortstop Greg Miclat. The former Orioles prospect went 1-for-2 with a walk, a sacrifice fly, and a whopping four runs batted in.
Right fielder Joey Butler (.305/.405/.526) led the way for Round Rock with three singles in four at-bats.
Julio Borbon (2/5), Yangervis Solarte (2/5), Leonys Martin (2/3), Brad Nelson (2/5) and Mike Bianucci (2/5) all had two hits.
Solarte extended his hitting streak to 12 games, and after a slow start, he now boasts a solid .289/.343/.464 slash line in 23 games. The switch-hitter has drawn seven walks and struck out eight times.
Martin, who stole his seventh base, left the game after the fifth inning with a jammed thumb.
Right-hander Mark Hamburger (9.00 ERA/.400 BAA) allowed a run on three hits in two innings of relief, striking out two.
Hamburger's early-season numbers have been rough––he's allowed 18 runs on 32 hits in his first 18 innings. The 25-year-old's velocity has also been down, for the most part. After working between 91-96 mph for much of last season, his fastball has been in the 88-91 mph range for many of his outings in 2012, including on Tuesday.
Yoshinori Tateyama (0.93 ERA/.182 BAA) finished the game with a pair of shutout frames to earn his first save of the season. The Japanese hurler gave up two hits, struck out one, and didn't walk a batter.
W - Murphy (1-2)
SV - Yan (6)
16-9, 2.0 GU
A trio of RoughRiders hurlers combined to out-duel former Rangers prospect Robbie Erlin in Tuesday's series opener.
Despite being stuck with the loss, Erlin was excellent. The southpaw threw 103 pitches (74 strikes) in eight innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out 10.
The eight-inning start was the longest of Erlin's young career, and the 103 pitches were the second most he's thrown in a professional game. Erlin tossed 105 pitches in a 6.2-inning start with Frisco last season.
‘Riders centerfielder Engel Beltre (.270/.315/.510) led off the game with a double, and he came around to score on a Brad Hawpe (2/3) single to left field. That would be the only offense Frisco needed on the evening, as the pitching staff scattered eight hits without allowing a run.
Beltre would go 2-for-5 on the night with two stolen bases, giving him 10 on the season. After swiping 16 and attempting just 23 in 118 contests last year, Beltre has been much more aggressive on the base paths in the early going this season.
Third baseman Mike Olt (.264/.368/.527) had two singles and an intentional walk in four plate appearances. He also stole his first two bases of 2012.
Starting pitcher Tim Murphy (4.95 ERA/.257 BAA) worked five scoreless innings for the second consecutive start––both of which came against San Antonio. On Tuesday, he yielded three singles, walked two, and struck out two.
Wilfredo Boscan (4.08 ERA/.304 BAA) followed Murphy with 2.2 shutout frames, giving up three hits and striking out three without issuing a walk. Sidearming righty closer Johan Yan (0.77 ERA/.182 BAA) finished the game by working around two singles in 1.1 scoreless innings. He struck out two.
The 23-year-old Yan has permitted two earned runs in 38.1 Double-A innings––a stretch that dates back to last season.
Jurickson Profar (1/4, 3B) belted his fourth triple while Chris McGuiness (1/4) and Jared Prince (1/4) each singled.
Although catcher Jose Felix is scuffling offensively, he continues to stand out behind the plate. After gunning down an attempted base stealer on Tuesday, the Mexico native has thrown out 9-of-20 (.450) this season.
L - Hendricks (0-3)
12-12, 4.0 GB
Centerfielder Jake Skole (1/3) broke up Keys pitcher Rick Zagone's no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the top of the seventh inning. After a first-inning error, Zagone had retired 17 consecutive Myrtle Beach hitters leading up to the hit.
Zagone, a 25-year-old University of Missouri product, has faced the Pelicans in each of his last three outings. Over that span, he's yielded just one run on five hits in 12.2 innings.
While the Carolina League––and Myrtle Beach's TicketReturn.com Field in particular––is certainly known as pitcher-friendly, the Pelicans' offense has scuffled in the early going this season. Through 24 games, Myrtle Beach ranks last in the league with a .300 on-base percentage and second-to-last with a .338 slugging percentage.
Leadoff hitter and shortstop Odubel Herrera (.245/.273/.330), who went 0-for-4, also committed his 10th error in 20 games at shortstop. He has a .905 fielding percentage thus far.
Left fielder Teodoro Martinez currently has the highest batting average of any Pelicans regular at .271. Herrera's .245 mark is second best.
Despite the losing effort, Dartmouth product Kyle Hendricks (3.07 ERA/.274 BAA) turned in another strong effort. The 22-year-old yielded three runs––two earned––in six innings, giving up six hits while walking one and striking out four.
Hendricks allowed all three of his runs in the sixth inning.
Reliever Zach Osborne (1.26 ERA/.152 BAA) sat down all six batters he faced in two perfect innings, striking out five. The Houston native has 19 punchouts and three walks in his first 14.1 innings.
16-8, 0.0 GU
The Crawdads enjoyed a scheduled day off on Tuesday. The club, which is tied for first place with Greensboro, will face the Grasshoppers in a three-game road series between Wednesday and Friday.
As a team, Hickory currently ranks third in the 14-team South Atlantic League with a .767 OPS. The pitching staff is sixth with a 3.97 earned-run average and sixth in strikeouts (201 in 210.2 innings).
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