It is amazing the amount of talent that is building up from rookie-level to low Single-A for the Nationals this season.
A good amount of the players that helped guide the Gulf Coast Nationals to a 52-9 record and a league championship now play for the Hagerstown Suns. So far, the success this team had at the GCL level is translating to the South Atlantic League. Sixteen of the players on the current roster played for the GCL Nats, 10 of them pitchers.
The Suns are managed by Patrick Anderson. He moved up to Hagerstown after managing the GCL Nats to the title. His combined record is 82-17 (.828). Their 30-8 record leads the Northern Division over Greensboro by nine games.
"We are playing aggressive with everything we have," Anderson said. "They are getting used to winning. One person feeds energy on to the next guy. It is really fun to be around."
One key has been the relief pitching. The bullpen has done an outstanding job of holding leads and not allowing the opponent to have any success scoring runs in the late innings. The Hagerstown staff leads the SAL with 16 saves. Overall, the pitchers have a 2.84 staff ERA, second in the league. They have given up only 13 homers, 10th in the league out of 14 teams.
"They have been maximizing their opportunities," Anderson said of bullpen. "The mentality as a whole, guys challenging each other on the mound and really just passing off quality outings to the next guy. It has been pretty good."
The starters are well known. Big right-handers like Lucas Giolito and Jake Johansen have steadily got into a groove. Nick Pivetta has allowed only two runs in last three starts. Austin Voth has allowed no runs in his past two starts, a span of 12 innings with 14 strikeouts. Andrew Cooper is 4-0 in the bullpen and makes his first start tonight. Hector Silvestre has allowed no runs in his last three appearances.
Focusing on Johansen's most recent outing, he went five innings, giving up only one run on six hits with six strikeouts for a no-decision. In his previous start, Johansen notched the win, going 5 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run.
"His last outing was even more impressive to be honest with you," Anderson said. "He finished hitters before with ease, he really had quality stuff, cutters he threw, commanding the zone. He did a pretty good job (Tuesday). He had a little bit of a scuffle early on, but really just left one pitch up. I thought he did a really good job, very happy with how he is developing every single outing he has gone out there. It is very promising with him."
One way Anderson has gotten these players ready for the pro level is to throw them into the fire as quickly as possible. He did this with newly promoted right-hander Phillips Valdez. Valdez threw a scoreless ninth for the save in Hagerstown's 3-1 win over Kannapolis Tuesday morning.
"Every kid that is called up, I want to get them in there as soon as possible, try to get them in a positive situation," Anderson said. "I put in Valdez (in Tuesday's game), I had him last year. He gave up a leadoff walk. But he did a good job getting the save and really kind of a cool thing to have a player come up from extended spring training and play a ballgame and do what he did."
More on the pitching staff and offensive crew coming up.
Note: Right-hander Dixon Anderson decided to voluntarily retire. He wants to return to Cal-Berkeley and finish his degree. The 6-foot-5, 225 lb., Anderson (no relation) was 4-0 with a 6.38 ERA in seven games with three starts over 24 innings.
After allowing 13 runs in three starts, his last three outings for the Suns were out of the bullpen. The 24-year-old Anderson went 5-5 with a 3.20 ERA in 15 starts (78 2/3 innings) last season, striking out 72 batters. He was drafted in 2011 and had been with Hagerstown since 2012.