BRISTOL - Pitching has been strong all season for the Bristol Blues and one huge part of that success has been Paul Versteeg. The lefty out of St. Mary’s College of California has been a rock coming out of the bullpen for the Blues.
“He’s been great,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “He’s been doing exactly what we’ve needed out of him.”
Versteeg has made five appearances in relief and has picked up an FCBL-leading 3-0 record, despite only pitching a total of eight innings over those five showings. Over that span, he posted an ERA of 2.25 and struck out seven.
This summer’s success is a good sign for Versteeg, who is returning from an injury that forced him to miss his freshman season. He has rarely been used in the reliever role but his ability to pick up wins has been a confidence booster.
“It’s been exciting to start throwing again,” he said. “I ended up redshirting this year because of an injury. I’ve never worked out of the pen before really so it’s kind of new for me. But I’m happy with what’s happened so far and I was able to sneak in a couple of wins.”
With his recent success out of the pen, Riley made the decision recently to move Versteeg into the starting rotation where he is most comfortable and familiar. The change was made necessary by the recent loss of a pair of Blues starters and Versteeg’s hard work convinced Riley that he was ready for the responsibility.
“He’s worked hard and he’s obviously been an asset out of the bullpen and we’ll see what we get out of him as a starter,” Riley said. “He’s worked hard for that and he’s wanted to get out there in that role so we’ll see. “We’ve lost some starting pitching the past week. We lost two starting pitchers so that gives an opportunity for somebody to step up and he’s done a good job and hopefully he’s that guy.
“I know he’s excited for [his first start] tomorrow. That’s been his goal to hopefully work his way into the starting rotation.”
While coming out of the bullpen has treated Versteeg well, he is very excited to get the chance to get some starts for Bristol.
“I’m super pumped,” Versteeg said. “I’ve been trying to work out of the pen and [I’m] excited to get a start finally. It’s been a long time, since I was injured, so I’m just excited to get back out there.”
Riley got his first chance to see Versteeg in a starting role on Friday, as he took the mound for the first time in the first inning this summer against the Pittsfield Suns.
Versteeg was solid in his first start of the summer, pitching a full six innings but taking away a no-decision. He sat down the Pittsfield batters in order in each of the first three innings, keeping the Suns off the board and protecting the 1-0 lead the Blues grabbed in the top of the second.
In both the fourth and the fifth, Versteeg picked up the first two outs on the first two batters, gave up a walk but then got the third out before the walk could do any damage.
He gave up a third walk in the sixth inning but this time it came back to bite him, as the Suns got their first run of the game two batters later and sent Versteeg to the dugout with a no-decision.
In all, the RBI single was the only hit given up by Versteeg but, after he left the game, the Blues gave up four runs in the next two innings and the offense could not keep up.
After Thursday’s game, Riley predicted what he would see from Versteeg in his first start and it was spot-on accurate.
“Lot of strikes,” Riley said. “He’s a lefty [so he’ll] keep guys off-balance and, honestly, just give us a shot, keep us in the ballgame. That’s really what you look for out of your starting pitcher, at least I do.”
Versteeg threw 55 of his 93 pitches for strikes and, ultimately, gave the Blues the chance to leave Pittsfield with a win.
After his success in the bullpen, Versteeg was able to transition it into a starting role and that is a great sign for an already-strong Blues pitching staff.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org