"This is a great bunch. The clubhouse is wild. We all get along really well. It's a lot of fun to be around this group," said right-hander Scot Drucker.
Drucker has certainly done his part to help the Javs to their first place perch, spinning four shutout innings last Friday with two strikeouts and no walks. As Drucker prepares for his next start (today), he currently has a 4.09 ERA over 11 innings, with just ten hits allowed and three walks. When asked what has allowed him to get off to such a strong start save for one outing against the other Peoria squad, Drucker said "I'm just doin' what I've always done. I am commanding the fastball, using my off-speed stuff when I need to. If I can keep pitching backwards and keeping guys off balance, I hope I can keep it going."
The AFL isn't just an opportunity to impress the Tiger brass, and Drucker is aware that there are many eyes on him each time he takes the mound; "It's not just an opportunity to be added to the 40-man roster, which is great in its own right. This is also an opportunity to be seen by other scouts and teams, and you never know what can happen."
As if that wasn't motivation enough, many pitchers throughout the AFL are helping the Niekro Foundation for aneurysm awareness as they try to rack up strikeouts. During Aneurysm Awareness Week in the AFL, each strikeout by a participating pitcher (those pitchers who are part of the organizations Joe Niekro pitched for) is worth $36 from sponsors, as well as some matching dollars from Major League clubs. Drucker's start on October 30th was his opportunity to help the cause.
"I've always been involved with stuff like this. I really enjoy it. His daughter spoke before the game, and seeing her emotion was something else. It's great just to be able to give back while just trying to go out and pitch my best."
Since allowing at least one run in each of his first three outings, Weinhardt has settled in as a dominating force in the later innings of games. In his last three outings (two in the last week), Weinhardt has totaled six innings pitched, allowing just three hits, no walks, and nine strikeouts; prompting on NL scout to say "He looks like a guy that could help in the big leagues tomorrow. That fastball-slider has been outstanding lately."
The same NL scout spoke highly of left-hander Andrew Oliver as well; "He looks like the guy that was supposed to be a top 15 pick in the draft. That kind of easy velo from the left side, and the slider seems to be close to being all the way back. He's got a chance."
Oliver has also settled in after a rough first outing where he allowed four runs in just one inning of work. Over the last week, Oliver has tossed four innings, giving up four hits and striking out two against just one walk. Since his first outing, Andrew has managed to give up just one earned run in eleven innings with six walks and 12 strikeouts.
In his second year in the league, the experience is much different for Wells, as he is expected – even if only by himself – to take on a different role; "Mentally, it is totally different in my second year. I'm a lot more relaxed. I can take on more of a leadership role. The guys look up to you, being on the 40-man roster already; I know I did last year."
Just as he did in 2008, Wells has been at home in the batter's boxes of the AFL, amassing a .347/.441/.735 line through his first 13 games this fall. The numbers may give a picture of a player just out there swinging the stick, but Wells is working on this along the way.
"[The Tigers] didn't really give me anything specific to work on. I just have to find a way to recognize the ball better and have quality at-bats. I need to work on focusing more with two strikes, having a better two strike approach, and just putting the ball in play more. Half my at-bats are going to have two strikes, and I just have to work hard to improve in that area," said Wells.
While Wells continues to smoke line drives (including a double and a home run this week) in the desert, the buzz around the Tigers has Wells as a guy to watch heading into spring training, and it sounds like Casper might just be ready for that challenge; "Last year was really a stepping stone for me, going to big league camp and all that. I had a lot thrown at me last year, not so much that I couldn't handle it, but it was a lot to take in all at once. This year I'm more comfortable, and with comfort comes the ability to relax, and when you relax, you can just let your abilities show. This year when I get to camp, I'm going to be battling hard, battling to make the club."