Trailing Lake County by just two and a half games for the coveted second playoff spot, the Whitecaps, at 29-28 and 65-62 overall, have a shot at getting in. Manager Ernie Young knows this and in an effort towards fighting for a playoff berth, has reshuffled his lineup for the home stretch.
Eugenio Suarez has moved back into the two-hole where he's hit .325 this season, nearly 60 points higher than his average while in the third spot. Brandon Loy has been moved out of the two-hole and inserted into the bottom of the order, a place where he's shown much more comfort. Loy is hitting .330 in the 31 games batting seventh or lower compared to just .201 in the first two spots in the lineup.
Streaky individually and also as a team, Loy spoke of the frustrations of not playing well consistently.
"It's been frustrating with the ups and downs this year," said Loy. "We've had a couple runs where we've been good and runs where we've been not so good but hopefully we can catch another one of those good runs here real quick and finish the year strong which will hopefully get us into the playoffs."
Get Them to the Ninth
With exception to Sunday's rain soaked contest where the ‘Caps surrendered a season high 13 runs off 19 hits, West Michigan's rotation and bullpen have pitched exceptionally well as of late and most notably, in the ninth inning when they've had the lead.
The Whitecaps are 51-1 in games heading into the ninth frame on top and a perfect 26-0 at home in those situations. A big reason for that was Daniel Bennett who transferred recently to Lakeland after collecting eleven saves. Since then, Jade Todd has been the go-to guy in the pen allowing only eleven runs in 41 innings on the slab while posting an impressive 1.00 WHIP.
Feel for Them
The buzz around the Whitecaps' locker room continues to surround the fact that innings are being reduced for starters and consequently, relievers are being overextended. Guys like Nicholas Avila, Michael Torrealba and Will Clinard have been victims of this over the past week. Avila threw over six innings last week – five appearances in ten days – and yielded four runs. Torrealba's number was called three times over the past nine games while Clinard was beat up in his 6.2 innings of work.
Asked to pitch more often than during the early and middle parts of the season, ‘Caps' relievers are having to learn how to pitch tired and learn how to get out of jams they not only inherit, but also create. Pitching Coach Mark Johnson says it's all part of growing pains these guys have to experience.
"You feel for them but honestly, you have to learn how to pitch when you don't have your best stuff. Sometimes you're going to have to be overextended and you can't look over your shoulder because it's your job to get out of it. They're out there to learn and the only way you learn is by pitching and learning to pitch when you're tired."
Tommy Collier and Wilsen Palacios, arguably the top two pitchers on the starting rotation for the ‘Caps this season, have had their innings reduced the most out of anyone. In order to pull back on their innings on the mound, Johnson has implemented a piggyback strategy – where two starters see work in the same game to not only keep their innings down, but also to provide relief for the over-worked bullpen.
Sunday saw Palacios combine with starter Chad Smith while Monday featured Collier and starter Brennan Smith. Being skipped and pitching now every ten days or so, Johnson talked about the difficulties in his starters having to stay focused despite their new schedules.
"When you skip starts, you have to make sure to take your work in between those outings seriously," explained Johnson. "Palacios felt really strong Sunday and therefore was over throwing a lot of pitches and had a hard time making adjustments. But preparing yourself mentally, taking your work in between starts seriously and staying focused is what these guys have to make sure to do now."
All this maneuvering and tinkering with the pitching staff will hopefully allow for more innings of work should the ‘Caps make the playoffs. Stringing guys out now is going to prolong their availability should West Michigan make a September run.
The Whitecaps will look to continue their winning ways at home for three games against Fort Wayne starting tonight before embarking on a seven game road trip, their last road stint of the regular season, on Saturday.