KANSAS CITY - As the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds charge toward next month’s South Atlantic League playoffs we got another reminder this week of how special their pitching staff has been this year.
It started Tuesday night with lefty Drew Rom and continued the last two nights with right-handers Gray Fenter and Grayson Rodriguez. The trio combined to pitch 16 no-hit innings, allowing one unearned run with two walks to 24 strikeouts.
They seem to be getting better as this season goes on.
Behind this strong staff, Delmarva is playoff-round for the first time since 2005. They’re trying to become the first South Atlantic League team to win 90 or more since August 2006. Delmarva is 88-46 with four games left in the regular season and will begin the playoffs next Wednesday.
The Delmarva staff leads the league in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. And Shorebirds pitchers recently broke the SAL record with 1,332 strikeouts (10.28 K/9). Eleven times a Delmarva starter has struck out at least 10 batters.
Earlier I wrote this story after talking with first-year Delmarva pitching coach Justin Ramsey about pitch development this year with his team. Today he talks more in depth about those three key 2019 starting pitchers.
Rom, 19, was the Orioles’ fourth-round pick in 2018 out of Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky. In 21 games he is 6-3 with a 2.93 ERA. Over 95 1/3 innings he has allowed 83 hits, including just five homers, and has recorded 33 walks, 122 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP.
Ramsey on Rom: “I think the biggest thing that I’ve been impressed with is that, even though he’s just 19, he hasn’t had the crazy swings (up and down) that you might expect out of a younger guy coming into his first full season. He’s been pretty consistent. He has worked hard and maintained a growth mindset. He’s not settling and understanding there is still room to grow.
“It’s a mix. He does a good job of mixing quite a few different pitches. Got a couple of different breaking balls he goes to, couple of different changeups, a split. And so the ability to locate and the angles at which he throws from the left side, he creates some havoc for the hitters. The ability to land a couple different pitches with those angles gives him the chance to keep guys off balance and get some swing-and-miss.”
Fenter, 23, was the O’s seventh-round pick in 2015 and was signed to an overslot $1 million bonus. He underwent Tommy John surgery on April 7, 2016 and the stuff now looks like it’s all the way back, including a fastball that at times reaches the mid 90s. Fenter has had a great season, going 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 94 1/3 innings. He has yielded 61 hits, including four homers, with 43 walks and 123 strikeouts along with a 1.10 WHIP.
Ramsey on Fenter: “Similar to Rom, shows up to work hard every single day. Obviously a little older and a little more mature and focused in terms of knowing exactly what he wants to do. The conversations we have are a little more refined to the work that day. Love the personality and we’ve clicked from the start. There is a little bit of that bulldog that he has on the mound that I had too that resonates. He’s been very open to the new regime and the information that he has been getting and he’s loved applying that to his game.
“There is intent on everything he throws. It’s a fastball mentality no matter which pitch is coming. You know he’s going to impart whatever he can on the baseball to the maximum of his ability and efforts. You’ll see some sharp breaking balls. He’s getting healthy and getting going, which is why he’s been here all year. Let him build on this for the future.”
Rodriguez, 19, was the O’s No. 1 pick last year, No. 11 overall. He has looked every bit the first-rounder this year, going 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA. In 94 innings, he has allowed 57 hits and four homers with 36 walks. He’s registered 129 strikeouts and a 0.99 WHIP. He threw six no-hit innings last night, after he pitched five no-hit innings three starts ago.
Ramsey on Rodriguez: “He was a first-rounder for a reason. His body works a little bit different than most, and that’s a good thing. The biggest thing I’ve found and been very impressed with: His aptitude and his willingness to listen and go apply has been awesome. For a guy that has had his success and been a first-rounder, there is zero settling, ‘Got it figured out.’ None of that. He’s coming in to get better every single day. That started with some of the things he applied in spring training to now. What he has done has been awesome.”
I asked Ramsey to rank Rodriguez’s pitches.
“Good,” he said, laughing. “In terms of what is his best pitch? You know the fastball is getting to be that pretty special elite weapon that he can locate with some velo that he maintains. That changeup he’s developed through the year is coming very nicely. As he continues to get the feel and shape of the pitch it’s going to be a real weapon against lefties, but also righties. The slider is very good and the curveball has gotten better in the last month or so as he improves the velocity and spin on that. He’s even got a cutter that every now and then he feels very comfortable with and will bust it out five or 10 times an outing. He’s got five weapons to go to. Really fun to watch.”
And Ramsey confirms that Rodriguez’s changeup has been the pitch that has made the most gains during this season.
“I would think so. It really has. To his credit, he had a goal and started making adjustments since spring training. His intent was to make progress on the pitch, and he did it. The ability for his body to move and create spin on the baseball and spin the changeup with the intent and finish - that’s why he was a first-rounder and others were not,” he said.
Bowie closing in: Double-A Bowie crushed Reading 17-2 last night behind an attack that featured 23 hits, 12 for extra bases. The Baysox, now 45-23 in the second half, opened a two-game lead on Erie with four to play for a playoff berth. The magic number for the Baysox is two, and if the clubs tie for first, Bowie holds the tiebreaker.
Last night Anderson Feliz went 4-for-6 with three doubles, a homer, four runs and seven RBIs. Ryan McKenna went 4-for-5 with two doubles, three runs and two RBIs. Yusniel Diaz hit a solo homer among his three hits.
Short season Single-A Aberdeen beat Brooklyn 12-3 as Jaylen Ferguson went 3-for-6 with a double, triple, homer and four RBIs. The IronBirds (40-31) are one game out for the division lead and tied for the wild card lead with four games left.
O’s at KC: After splitting two games in Washington, the Orioles’ road trip continues tonight at Kansas City. The Orioles (44-89) have won three of four and five of eight games. They took two of three from the Royals last week in Baltimore.