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Cutters pitching staff has a rough first week

June 23, 2013 - Mitch Rupert
By MITCH RUPERT

mrupert@sungazette.com

Nelson Prada isn't one to dwell on the negative. It's not the way he operates.

He's not afraid to address problems as he sees them, but he's focusing on the positive. So a week into the Williamsport Crosscutters' season, the first-year Cutters' manager who had previously managed for eight seasons in the Twins organization, isn't focused on his team's rapidly-rising ERA. Instead, he points out how the offense continues to put runs on the board.

Not that the team's 5.43 ERA isn't a concern, but he understands how early it is in even a 76-game schedule.

“I think when they go out there for the first time, it's hard. It's not easy,” Prada said after batting practice Sunday. “They have to start to know the hitters and know the league. It's a process and I thin we're going in the right direction.”

The most startling of trends from the Cutters' pitching staff has been the amount of runs surrendered early in the game. The the first three innings alone in Jamestown, the pitching staff allowed 11 runs. And through the first two games of the series, the staff allowed runs in 14 of 18 innings played.

No matter how well the offense has played (.255 team batting average, .328 team on-base percentage), they've had to find a way to dig out of early holes. Williamsport was able to do that Saturday to salvage one of the three games against Jamestown thanks to a fourth-inning grand slam from shortstop Angelo Mora.

Crosscutters starting pitcher Mitch Gueller was able to bounce-back from the rough first inning Saturday to throw four more scoreless innings and pick up his second win. In his 10 innings of work this year, he's allowed runs in only two.

But the early-game output has been a problem. The Cutters trailed 4-0 after three innings in the opener in Jamestown, and 4-0 after two innings in the second game. They also trailed 2-1 after two innings in the home opener against State College last week.

“It's always tough when you start a game losing by three or four,” Prada said. “Now your offense is like we have to score four to win.”

The pitching staff has also struggled to support the offense after they score runs. Of the 16 innings in which Williamsport has scored runs this year, only seven times has the pitching staff been able to hold an opponent scoreless in the next half-inning.

“That's one of the conversations we've had with the pitchers. We have to be able to go out there and throw a zero on the board,” Prada said. “I think (Saturday) a couple things happened. We scored runs in a couple innings and came back and got them 1-2-3.”

Prada was able to shake off the rough starts because many of the staff saw their first action of the year. Admittedly or not, there were likely nerves playing a part in the rough start.

Jon Prosinski lasted just 2/3 of an inning in his professional debut against Jamestown on Thursday. Shane Martin allowed four runs and four hits in three innings in his professional debut Thursday.

“I still think a lot of stuff went right even when we don't have the best results. I think we had a good week of hitting,” Prada said. “I think when we start to get more together as a team and the pitchers start to do better, we'll definitely win more.”

SPLITTING TIME: Prada has had the unenviable task in the first week of trying to find a way to split time between three catchers. As a manager, it's not an ideal situation, but he's found a way to make it work.

It's not such a bad problem, though, for the Crosscutters. Two of the catchers are legitimate prospects in the system as Andrew Knapp is a second-round selection in this months' First-Year Player Draft, and Gabriel Lino was acquired last year from the Orioles organization in a trade for Jim Thome.

But the third catcher on the roster, 20th-round draft pick Corey Bass, is someone Prada wants to get into the lineup. All three have seen plenty of time in the first six games. Knapp is third on the team with a .313 batting average, and Lino is leading the team in hitting at .348 and his seven RBIs are tied for second in the NYPL. Bass is 1 for 6 in three appearances.

“Having three catchers on the roster is never an easy situation,” Prada said. “I'm a person who likes to give everyone playing time and I'll try to rotate them in.”

Knapp will likely get the majority of the playing time behind the plate as the team's second-round selection in the draft this year. But for now, he's getting a couple days off from behind the plate because of a tender right elbow. Prada said he'll expect Knapp to be the team's designated hitter as he waits for his elbow to feel better.

Prada has told Bass his role with the team is going to be as the third catcher. As he's done early in the season, he's tried to sneak him into the game in the late innings for an at-bat when he can, or even a couple innings behind the plate.

“So now Bass is going to have an opportunity to catch before Knapp comes back,” Prada said. “And that's the thing, this is a tough situation, but the game helps you because someone will get hurt or someone will need a day off and you find a way to get everybody in.”

Lino has also taken time to learn to play first base. Despite an error in his one start at first, Prada said he has enough confidence to put Lino there whenever necessary so he can get both Knapp and Lino into the lineup.

“He's OK, he's moving around OK,” Prada said. “He looks good. I have no problem having him play first base.”

 
 

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