BRISTOL - At the heart of the Bristol Blues’ success early this summer has been their pitching, but more specifically, pitching under pressure. The pitching staff has frequently faced situations where the team desperately needed an out or two outs and they have been able to rise to the challenge, whether they created the mess or not.
“In terms of pitching out of jams, our bullpen’s been pretty strong so far,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “We’ve kind of figured out what guys can do, what roles they’re best suited for. The bullpen’s been strong.”
The Blues have not been shy about bringing in help from the bullpen in later innings when they are in dire need of outs. Michael Nocera, Sebastian DiMauro and Mike Munson are a few of the Blues pitchers who have come in recent games in the middle of an inning and have been able to pick get out of trouble.
Starting pitching has also been able to handle jams for the Blues. Riley has been a proponent of keeping his starter in to work through the situation, and so far, it has paid off.
One example of his strategy working came Wednesday night against the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks. Starter Teddy Carey struggled early, as the Sharks were seeing his pitches and put three quick runs on the board. But he buckled down and didn’t allow another run while he was on the mound.
“An underlying story is Teddy Carey,” Riley said. “He gave up three runs in the first inning and then he dominated for five. That’s a really big performance. I really can’t speak to that enough. I was very happy with that.”
According to Carey, making adjustments in-game is one of the steps toward working out of a jam.
“I just went out in the first inning and I was leaving a lot of balls high,” he said, “and I just made the adjustment of trying to get on top, and once I was hitting my spots, I was throwing a lot of strikes and getting ahead early.”
After allowing the first three runs of the game, Carey threw four-straight 1-2-3 innings for the Blues, allowing them to tie the game in the fourth and take the lead in the fifth.
Carey’s ability to bounce back so seamlessly and get the defense off the field so quickly gave his team a boost.
“When the pitcher’s going out there and working and getting back into the dugout quickly, that keeps the momentum up for us in the batter’s box,” Blues shortstop Jimmy Titus said.
The Blues ultimately won Wednesday’s game 5-4 on a walk-off hit by Titus in the bottom of the ninth, and the Blues were in a position to win, in large part, thanks to the recovery by Carey and his teammates recognized that.
“Pitching was a little rough to start out but he kept us in the game,” Blues infielder Austin Chauvin said. “He’s battled the whole time. He gave us a chance to win the ballgame.”
An added benefit of the Blues’ starting pitchers being able to work under pressure is they can stay in the game longer and allow Riley to dip into his bullpen later in games.
“When you get a pitcher that runs into trouble and they find a way to keep getting outs, it saves the bullpen for the whole year, especially for a starter,” Carey said. “You want to try to get some quality innings out of them, and if people learn to work out of jams like that, it just helps our bullpen, saves our arms and keeps people fresh. For down the road, it’s a good thing.”
Pitching under pressure is primarily about mental toughness and being able to stay calm and focus. While a lot of that is on the pitcher, it doesn’t hurt when his team gives him some run support, as the Blues did Wednesday for Carey.
“It’s a lot easier to pitch when the team starts hitting,” Carey said. “You’re just attacking guys and you don’t have so much pressure on you on the mound. You can just go out there and do your thing. When they started scoring for us, that just helped me a lot and I was able to calm down and kind of relax a little bit and just find my rhythm and my tempo.”
The starters and relievers for the Blues have kept the team in nearly every game this season and that is all Riley can really ask of them.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Runners are getting on base, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting zeros.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or jkestenbaum@ centralctcommunications.com