Hass on Hoppers:Relief pitching is an Art…

Former News and Record writer Bill Hass brings us the inside on the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ bullpen in one of his recent entries from gsohoppers.com. To read the complete article go to gsohoppers.com and click on Bill on Baseball.

In the world of relief pitchers, the closer stands in the spotlight, the man counted on to finish the game in the ninth inning and send teammates and fans home happy.

But equally important is the relatively anonymous job done by the rest of the bullpen in the preceding innings. Getting outs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings counts as much as three outs in the ninth.

“Sometimes your save comes in the sixth or seventh inning, getting out of a certain situation,” said Greensboro Grasshoppers pitching coach John Duffy. “It doesn’t always come in the ninth inning. If they treat it like that and understand that you’re just getting outs, you don’t put any added pressure on yourself.”

The Hoppers’ bullpen corps has embraced that concept. The guys who throw in middle relief and in setup roles have treated the innings they pitch as if they were closing in the ninth. And in doing so, a couple of them have shed the cloak of anonymity.

Corey Madden and A.J. Battisto were both selected to the North team for the South Atlantic League All-Star game, along with closer Garrett Parcell.

“You don’t see many teams with three guys out of their bullpen who are all-stars,” Duffy said.

Madden’s numbers border on the ridiculous – 35 games, 5-0 record, 0.89 ERA, 80 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings, batters hitting .166 against him.

“I really like what I’m doing, coming in and handing over a save to Parcell,” Madden said. “In those two innings I feel like I’m going to give my team a shot at staying in the game.”

The key to his success, Madden explained, is treating every hitter the same, no matter if the Hoppers are ahead or behind.

“If I pitch any different, I put myself at risk for taking pitches off,” he said. “One bad pitch leads to another, so I really go after every hitter the same, whether the game is close or not.”

Hoppers manager Edwin Rodriguez said Madden’s efficiency has impressed him.

“He gets ahead in the count.” Rodriguez said. “You’re not going to see the hitters going to a 3-and-2 count on him very often. He’s not afraid to pitch to contact – ‘go ahead and hit it and see how far it will go.’ That’s the sign of a major-league pitcher.”

Battisto, in 33 games, has compiled a 6-1 record with a 1.76 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings, holding hitters to a .167 average. He said he concentrates the same whatever the situation and could care less when he enters a game.

“I’m always ready to pitch; it doesn’t matter what inning,” Battisto said. “I know I’m someone to bridge the gap between starter and closer. I bear down and there’s no difference if we’re up by 10, down by 10, up by one or down by one. I treat every batter the same – I attack them.

“It doesn’t matter if I start, close, or pitch in middle relief. Just get in and get them out.”

Madden, a 21st-round pick in the 2006 draft, was with the Hoppers in the first half of last season but was sent down to Jamestown in the New York-Penn League. Battisto, drafted in the 30th round last summer, didn’t do much to stand out at Jamestown. Rodriguez believes their improvement is in part because both took a much more serious approach to baseball this season.

“When you take the right approach toward your career, it makes a huge difference.” Rodriguez said. “Physical ability will get you to professional baseball. Somebody will sign you. The way you prepare mentally, your mental toughness, that’s what will take you to the next level.”

While Battisto and Madden have been consistent standouts, several other bullpen members have made important contributions. Steven Cishek has been a workhorse, appearing in 35 games (1-4, 4.17 ERA, 53 strikeouts in 54 innings).

Others haven’t appeared as often but have also tasted success – Eric Basurto (1-1, 1.99 ERA in 31 2/3 innings), Matt Mallory (0-2, 2.55 ERA in 35 1/3 innings) and Kevin Gunter (1-1, 2.87 ERA in 15 2/3 innings).
*****from Bill Hass at gsohoppers.com*****