TigsTown Pitchers of the Month: July

A scout last week asked TigsTown, "Have the Tigers invented a ‘pitching factory' that the rest of league doesn't know about?" It's an interesting question, and one with merit given the number of pitchers the Tigers continue to graduate to the Major League level. Which pitchers popped out of the factory this month to take home TigsTown's monthly honors?

Starting at the top, none other than Virgil Vasquez managed to take home yet another monthly award, his second this season (April). In and around another trial at the Major League level, ‘VV' managed to post an impressive 3-0 record in four starts, including his first complete game shutout since Lakeland in April of 2005. Virgil's 1.27 ERA and 0.74 WHIP are clear evidence that he baffled International League hitters and his 0.95 walks per nine innings for the month is a great indicator of just how great he was. Vasquez has proven he is capable of getting AAA hitters out, and his next test will be an extended trial at the Major League level.

The Erie SeaWolves have seen their pitching mound dominated by Dallas Trahern and Jair Jurrjens for much of this season, but July saw an unsuspecting name atop the team's pitching leaders. Reliever Anthony Tomey has had his ups and downs throughout his five year professional career, but now he has his third TigsTown monthly award, and is rolling towards a possible look at the Major League bullpen in 2008. In 18 July appearances, Tomey posted a 1.25 ERA and nearly ten strikeouts per nine innings. Anthony stingily allowed only 12 hits over 21.2 innings, and notched two saves despite not being the ‘Wolves official closer.

Burke Badenhop has been about as consistent as anyone could be for the Lakeland Flying Tigers this season. His superb pitching has helped a struggling club stay afloat for much of the season. In five starts last month, Badenhop managed a perfect 3-0 record, including his first complete game shutout since his inaugural pro season with Oneonta in 2005. Over 30-plus innings, Burke logged a 2.35/1.08 line while maintaining a 2.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

The Tigers loved Jonah Nickerson and his "moxie" coming out of Oregon State, as he helped lead the Beavers to the 2006 College World Series title again Andrew Miller and North Carolina; but his performance as a pro has been a bit of a disappointment to this point. However, it appears he may be figuring it all out as the ‘Caps 2007 season starts to wind down. A 4-0 month (five starts) with his own complete game shutout, was backed by a 1.09 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, over seven strikeouts per nine, and only five walks in 33 innings. Nickerson got back to his basics; and his basics apparently include completely dominating the opposition.

The Tigers have never really utilized the draft and follow process to any great extent, but their decision to bring Brandon Johnson aboard prior to the 2007 draft appears to have been a good one. Johnson has been absolutely dominant since making his debut in the Gulf Coast League. While his GCL debut only lasted two starts, that is only because it was time for him to make his next debut; with the Oneonta Tigers. Through five starts for the O-Tigers, Brandon managed a stellar 3-1 record that saw him twirl 29 innings. While striking out 24 and walking only 5, Johnson managed a 1.86/1.00 line, and appears poised to become yet another product of the Tigers' "pitching factory."

After two dominant seasons in the Dominican Summer League, the Tigers brought Santo Franco stateside in 2006, but the results were unimpressive (6.35 ERA). That has all changed this season as Franco has been nearly unhittable out of the GCL Tigers bullpen. He made nine appearances in July, notching five saves while only allowing one run in nine innings. Franco only walked three and struck out 12 en route to a filthy 1.00/1.00 line.

Sandy De La Cruz has been hiding in the Dominican Summer League for three seasons now, improving his arsenal and improving his numbers. After an insane season in 2006, the 19-year old relief phenom has apparently decided to try and better his numbers from a year ago; and his July stats will go a long way towards achieving that goal. Through 12-plus innings and nine saves in July, Sandy allowed only seven hits and didn't bother to allow a single run; giving him a 0.00/1.22 line for the month. That's one way to improve on a 0.63 ERA from 2006.

Despite spending the 2006 VSL season in the starting rotation, Victor Larez has moved to the bullpen for the 2007 campaign, and the results have been impressive. His 3-0 season mark was aided by a 2-0 spot in July, which also saw him post a 1.42 ERA over six appearances. His stellar month continued a trend of improving numbers that started with a 3.00 ERA in May, and then a 2.66 ERA in June.

While it may have been a sarcastic remark, the Tigers really do have a pitching factory working at the minor league level; with new pitchers constantly stepping up to the challenge and establishing themselves as prospects. Who will it be next month? Check back with TigsTown to find out.

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