West Mich MLN: Keep Tight Eye on Pitching

After a tough stretch that witnessed West Michigan drop eight of their previous ten contests, Ernie Young's squad was able to bounce back by stealing three wins in a row, something that hasn't happened since the end of June. However, it might unfortunately be too little too late in terms of playoffs for this team as they have sufficient ground to make up over the last four weeks of the season.

With the loss of the likes of Steven Moya to injury and Curt Casali and Dean Green to promotions during the past couple months, the Whitecaps have, to put it simply, struggled to keep their offense firing on all cylinders. Even guys like Eugenio Suarez, whom I raved about a few weeks ago, has come down to earth hitting .250 over his past ten games that included a stretch of 5-for-43 at the plate with 11 strikeouts.

The ‘Caps also haven't gotten much help from their catchers offensively – a position that has been lacking since Casali's transfer to Lakeland. Zach Maggard was recently added to the Disabled list but during his previous six games before injury, had merely gone 0-14 with five punch-outs.

Pat Leyland suffered from injury earlier in the season so he has primarily seen action as a designated hitter which means Gabriel Purroy has gotten more playing time. But through 25 games all he's got to show for it is a less than stellar .141 average to go with a paltry .221 OBP. Jordan Guida made his first start last Friday night after being called up from the Gulf Coast League but has provided zero offense for the ‘Caps thus far in only two at-bats.

All in all the Whitecaps have had 66 roster moves this season. When one can expect a lot of shake-ups in Low-A ball, this high amount of roster change inevitably will take its toll on any team, which has definitely shown lately in West Michigan. Additionally and unluckily, 14 of those moves have deposited a ‘Cap to the Disabled List.

Ferrell Continues to Fight

Jeff Ferrell is the perfect example of what hard work and dedication can bring. After rehabbing from Tommy John surgery just last summer, Ferrell has turned into a legitimate starter once again. Beginning normal play with the Whitecaps again earlier this season first and foremost as a reliever, the North Carolina native has slowly worked his way back into a starting role.

Reaping the benefits of what he's sown throughout the season, Ferrell was acknowledged and named the Midwest League Pitcher of the week on Monday. He needed only one start to earn the hardware and the start was indeed a beauty.

The 21-year-old retired all 21 of the batters he faced before being pulled after seven perfect innings. According to pitching coach Mark Johnson, it was obviously one of the best starts he's seen from the righty and will hopefully do wonders in building up his confidence.

"Jeff threw the ball really well and pitched seven innings where no one reached the bases," remarked Johnson. "That has a lot to do with the defense too with not making errors and given the opportunity to make a play, making one. Perfect games are difficult, let alone getting a no-hitter so I think it's a huge confidence for him being able to pitch seven innings of that."

Starting to Shut it Down

Albeit there are four weeks left of the season, it's that time of year where pitchers start to get skipped in the rotation while guys are seeing less innings of work in general. It almost feels like the ‘Caps have seven starters now going into the final stretch of the season but is an absolute necessity according to Johnson in order to keep his staff injury-free.

"We're going to skip guys at times as it's that time of year where we're trying to back off a little bit in order to protect their arms. We're trying to keep them away from injuries by not pushing them as much because for a lot of our pitchers, it's their first full season. Backing off a little and making sure that our pitchers finish the season healthy now becomes our priority."

The Tigers' organization is going to do what they have to do to ensure the health and longevity of their pitchers, regardless of how tough it might be for these guys to get skipped or be forced to come out in the third or fourth inning.

"As coaches, we see the big picture and realize it's not about this year but rather it's about the development for these guys," says Johnson. "We're trying to get them to the big leagues and once they get there, we're trying to make sure that they don't have to be shut down due to injury or fatigue. It's all in their favor to protect them now so they're healthy later in their career."

Keeping them healthy for later in the career as well as for the remainder of this season and their time in West Michigan is important as the staff here has shown good signs of talent and development. Even though pitching overall has been a bit suspect more recently, the Whitecaps still lead the Midwest in fewest walks allowed, something that any manager will tell you is a good statistical category to lead in.

West Michigan continues their six game road trip tonight in Fort Wayne before returning home for a short three game series Saturday to take on Bowling Green. The Hot Rods grabbed the second of two playoff spots over the ‘Caps in the first half of the season and currently sits another five games ahead for an overall second half lead in the standings.

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