Starting Staff Warms Up as Calendar Reaches May: RiverDogs Report
The 2017 South Atlantic League season began with a lot of hype for the Charleston RiverDogs. This was a team with a lot of hot prospects, including a group of outfielders who were ranked as some of the best in the New York Yankees’ system. Included in the excitement was the pitching staff which, last season, set a club record for earned run average (3.03) and touted a series of great young starters.
However, the early part of the season saw that vaunted pitching staff struggle mightily. Despite being 7-4 through the first 11-games, the team had yielded a total of 64 runs, an average of 5.8 runs per game.
In their defense, the pitching staff was not solely responsible for all of those runs. The defense for Charleston struggled during that stretch, making at least one error in each of the first nine games, and 24 overall in the 11-game span. That led to 15 unearned runs being scored.
However, the starters were not living up to the hype. They had yielded 32-runs in 43.1-innings pitched for a 6.68 ERA and only Brian Keller and Albert Abreu had lasted long enough in games to earn a victory. The staff was in a slump and needed to turn things around.
With support from Manager Pat Osborn and Pitching Coach Justin Hope, that is what they have been able to do. Through the first 11-games of the season, the RiverDogs were near the bottom of the SAL with a 4.54 ERA, but they have since turned this around, shaving better than a run per game off of their average to end April with a 3.20 ERA, sixth in the 14-team league.
Early on it was the bullpen that was holding this team afloat, giving the Charleston offense a chance to battle back in games. Through the first 11-games the bullpen ERA was 4.01, and they owned four of the teams seven wins. However, since April 16, the pitching staff has become a true force once again, and it has been the starting pitching staff that has led the way.
The biggest turnaround has come from righty Nick Green, the team’s opening day starter. He was 0-1 with a 9.95 ERA through this first two starts, but has yielded just 4-earned runs over his last three outings, posting an impressive 2.07 ERA during that span. That has helped him to shave better than five runs off of his overall ERA, and moved him to a game under .500 (2-3).
Two of the team’s hurlers have remained solid through the first month of the season. Albert Abreu left April behind with an impressive 2.92 ERA and was absolutely brilliant in an April 12 start where he shutout the Augusta GreenJackets through 5.2-innings while striking out 11. In his last start he yielded 4-runs in just 3-innings, but in his four previous starts he gave up just 4-earned runs in 21.2-innings pitched, including yielding 1-run in 7-innings against West Virginia.
Also leading the way has been right-hander Brian Keller, who is tied for the team lead in wins by a starter with two. Keller has gone at least 5-innings in every one of his four starts, and is second to Green in innings pitched at 22.2. He has also posted a respectable 3.18 ERA and has two quality starts to his resume in his second professional season.
To see how well this group is maturing, no one need look further than the last 11-games of April. During that span, the team yielded just 30-runs, and held their opponents to 3-runs or fewer in eight of those games. That included a four-game series against Delmarva, the league’s hottest team offensively at the time, where they gave up a total of 8-runs in the series. Clearly, the team is seeing the fruits of all of those highly prized prospects and as the calendar has now changed to May it should not be long until a few of these arms are moving up the chain.
Charleston RiverDogs Player of the Month for April: Hoy Jun Park
In his second season in Charleston, Hoy Jun Park is having a great start to the 2017 campaign. Through his first 20-games, the infielder is hitting .321 with 3-homeruns and 13-RBI. His homerun total already surpasses his total for all of last season and his OPS is an impressive .905.
While his offensive numbers have been impressive, it is the sudden surge of power that has caught the attention of the Yankees organization and opposing pitchers throughout the league. The Charleston RiverDogs have struggled to hit homeruns through the first 25-games, posting just five total. Park has three of those, an impressive feat for a guy who hits first or second each night.
He has also shown a keen eye at the plate, drawing 12-walks and posting a .418 on-base percentage. Last season Park walked 67 times in 116-games and he looks to eclipse that number this year.
Charleston RiverDogs Pitcher of the Month for April: Trevor Lane
With the starting staff struggling early on, Manager Pat Osborn was forced to lean on his bullpen and Trevor Lane proved to be up to the task. Until the last game of April, the left-hander had gone 13.1 innings without being scored upon and earned 4-victories.
He would suffer the loss on his last appearance of the month, but finished with a 4-1 record and a 1.76 ERA. His 4-wins is tied for second in the SAL, and his 6-appearances is second most on the team. In 15.1-innings pitched, Lane has allowed 12-hits and 7-walks, while striking out 14.
By Robert Pannier