Aces Pitching Rotation Coming Together
After struggling to begin the season, the Reno starting pitching rotation seemed to be heating up entering the All-Star break. In the final series before the unofficial second half, Aces starting pitchers gave up just two earned runs in a span of 28 innings.
“I’ve been pleased in the way a lot of guys that were struggling in that first month and a half have really turned it around,” said Reno Aces Pitching Coach Mike Parrott. “They’re throwing with more confidence, locating pitches more, and I think the key thing right there is what I said with you have to pitch with confidence.”
The Aces used 16 different starting pitchers before the start of the All-Star break, with just six of those players starting 10 or more games. Through Sunday night’s game, Reno had used 29 total pitchers this season. The club used 30 different pitchers throughout the entire 2012 season.
In addition, 11 Reno pitchers have had a big league appearance this season, with four making their Major League debuts. Eight pitchers made their Triple-A debut with Reno in 2013.
“You can’t approach everyone the same way because you have 16 different personalities, 16 different deliveries,” said Parrott, regarding Reno’s starting rotation this season. “You just have to be kind of open to what each individual guy is trying to do, what they do best. Try to help them maximize what they do best. Try to keep everything as simple as you can, while at the same time not taking away anything that they do—their aggressiveness, velocity, anything like that.
“I think the biggest thing is just to be open minded to what every pitcher does best and try to work around that.”
RHP Mike Bolsinger, who was transferred to Reno from Double-A Mobile in the beginning of June, has delivered a quality start in six of his nine outings for the Aces this season. The 25-year-old, who had previously pitched only 1.0 inning at the Triple-A level, is 4-3 with a 3.65 ERA (23 ER in 56.2 IP) for the Aces, the best mark among Reno pitchers with five or more starts this season.
“It’s a lot different from Double-A for sure,” said Bolsinger about his first real look at Triple-A batters in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. “You just have to learn how to pitch out here in this league. You’re going to face better hitters. Obviously the altitude is a lot different out here, so you have to learn to keep the ball down. You can’t get away with stuff you did at lower levels.”
Bolsinger has had just one outing last less than 6.0 innings this season, in his second appearance (6/12 vs. Sacramento). After allowing 10 walks across his first two starts, he settled in and has issued just nine free passes across his last 48.0 innings pitched. He also struck out a career-high 10 batters in his third Triple-A victory (6/28 at Sacramento).
Across his first nine starts, Bolsinger gave up a combined 14 runs—11 earned—in the first inning, for an ERA of 11.00. Compare that to a combined 2.27 ERA across the final eight frames of each game, and it is easy to see where he has the most room to improve.
With nearly half of his total runs allowed coming in the first inning, the righty has had to learn to buckle down and focus on his outings to bounce back from rough starts.
“You really have to bear down, execute your pitches,” said Bolsinger. “That’s what I’ve learned in this league. You can’t let an inning or two get out of hand.”
Bolsinger noted his maturity has helped him deal with rough innings, so as not to get overwhelmed.
“When I was younger, I would get weird if stuff got out of hand,” said Bolsinger. “If stuff got out of hand, I would just keep letting it get out of hand. You can’t do that here [in the PCL].”
Working with young pitchers can pose a challenge for pitching coaches, especially when trying to help those players overcome their obstacles.
“Bolsinger is probably the classic example of starters we’ve had this year who have had bad first innings,” said Parrot. “He gets through the first inning, and he’s usually very good the rest of the game, no matter how long that is.”
Parrott noted that the first inning and the fifth inning—which a pitcher needs to complete in order to qualify for a win—are the two biggest innings for pitchers.
To help starters prepare to successfully make it through the first inning, Parrott likes to walk his players through mental exercises, visualizing themselves making the outs before the game has ever even started.
“You can do little things like that, sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t,” said Parrott. “Ultimately it comes down to more of a mental approach a pitcher has to have.”
With just over a month left in the season, both Bolsinger and Parrott are looking forward to good results from the Aces starting rotation.
“With these last eight or nine starts I have left, I’d like to have at least seven or eight good starts,” said Bolsinger. “I think that’s my main goal, just to pitch good the rest of the year.”
Parrott, who points to defense and good pitching as the keys to success for any baseball clubs, is excited to see the rotation continue to deliver like they have as of late.
“If you have good defense, which is what we’ve had lately, that’s going to lead to better pitching,” said Parrott. “It gives the pitchers more confidence. When the pitchers have more confidence, and they’re putting the ball in play sooner in the counts, the defense is going to be alert. Those two things for me go hand in hand. Those things lately have been better.”
In addition, with Reno’s starting pitchers lasting much longer than they did in the beginning of the season, the bullpen has been able to be used more effectively. Aces starting pitchers lasted five innings or more in just six of Reno’s first 14 games to begin the season, placing a large burden on the bullpen.
“You don’t want to overwork your bullpen, so if the starter can get you into the sixth, seventh even eighth inning, at times you only maybe have to get six or seven outs out of your bullpen,” said Parrot.
“It makes everybody better.”