Cutters pitchers improving

Nelson Prada has been saying it since media day, before Williamsport ever played a game this season. If the Crosscutters can just get adequate pitching, this Crosscutters team is capable of winning a lot of baseball games.

With the third-best offense in the New York-Penn League, no statement has ever been truer. And six games into the month of July, William-sport is starting to see the potential of its pitching staff come to light.

Even in a 3-1 loss to State College on Wednesday night, the coaching staff and players shrugged off the loss as just one of those days in baseball where nothing goes your way. The Cutters pitched well enough and hit the baseball hard, but couldn’t string things together.

But the well-pitched game from starter Drew Anderson and three relievers was what was most exciting for the team. It was a big step toward the Cutters being the complete team the guys in the clubhouse believe it to be.

“It’s gotten a lot better recently. The pitchers are a whole have gotten a lot of confidence,” Cutters reliever Lee Ridenhour said after tossing a scoreless, seven-pitch inning Wednesday. “We’ve had some small meetings here and there just to talk about some things like tempo, timing and what we want to do with fastballs. I feel like everyone is getting on the same page with everything.”

For the first week to 10 days of the season, the biggest problem for Williamsport pitchers was getting ahead in the count. Constantly pitching from behind led to 9.7 hits per nine innings and a .273 opponents batting average through the month of June.

The Cutters allowed 3.7 walks per nine innings, helped by a strong final five to seven days of the month.

But since the calendar has turned, the staff has improved in almost every statistical category. Its hits per nine innings is down to 7.83. Its allowing just .43 runs per inning instead of .59, and opponents are hitting just .234.

Small sample size? Yes. Encouraging nonetheless? Absolutely.

“Fastball command is very important. Getting that first guy out is very important,” Ridenhour said. “But mainly locating that fastball and getting over for a strike. In hitters’ counts if you have to go to a fastball, the results usually aren’t that good.”

Just take a look at Ridenhour’s latest outing as the blueprint for how pitching coach Les Lancaster wants his staff to pitch. First-pitch strikes to two of the three batters he faced. Around the plate to all three batters, inducing three weak-contact outs.

Better production from the Williamsport starting rotation has led to outings by bullpen members that last just an inning, two at the most. In six games in July prior to Sunday’s scheduled series opener against Auburn, three times the starter has gone at least five innings.

Two of the three times the starter didn’t go five innings, it was because they were on limited pitch counts and went four innings. The only short start from a rough outing came from Mitch Gueller who struggled his way through 2 2/3 innings in a series-opener against State College.

“We’re getting in the swing of the season, the rotation, what pitchers are throwing and what pitchers have,” Ridenhour said. “Even getting a feel for the catching and what type of pitches they like. Every day we’re getting a little bit more confidence and, and if there is a shaky outing, we just sit back and reevaluate.”

The Cutters did their first bit of shuffling with the pitching staff last week when it removed Josh Warner from the rotation. After posting an ERA near six in nine starts between Lakewood and Williamsport this year, he’s getting a chance to right the ship in the bullpen.

His first outing was a success, striking out two in an inning Wednesday against State College. He was able to better utilize his curveball in a one-inning stint, with both his strikeouts coming looking at the sweeping hook.

Julio Reyes was moved into Warner’s spot in the rotation and allowed just one run and two hits in four innings, striking out six.

“In this game, you have to trust everybody in different positions,” Prada said. “(Warner) got an opportunity to start games and someone else has the opportunity now and he had to go to the bullpen. As a pitcher, as long as you have a uniform on, you pitch. He’s going to get his opportunity out of the bullpen.”