BRISTOL - Injuries and personal conflicts are a part of every sport at every level and the Bristol Blues have not been exempt from either through the first half of the FCBL season. But the Blues are not allowing the losses to get them down and refuse to use them as excuses, preferring to operate under a three-word mantra.
“Next man up,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “Injuries are not going to stop. That’s just part of athletics [and] part of baseball.”
What Riley is preaching is resonating with his players, who realize the opportunity that the losses give them and know that they have to pounce on it.
“It’s huge. It’s huge as a ball club,” Blues infielder Zach Scott said. “Every single guy on the team is fully capable of unreal talent. It’s just a matter of whether they lock in and take advantage of the opportunity.”
The Blues have lost players gradually throughout the first 25 games this summer but the team made it official on Friday. Bristol released pitchers John Arel, John Mormile, Nick Silva and J.R. Hilcher along with catcher Hunter Southerland to make roster room for Matt Iantosca, who is returning from an injury.
“[It’s a] lot of pitchers,” Riley said. “Fortunately, we have good depth and that’s something we’ve been able to adjust. It is what it is. You handle it the best that you can. It just gives other guys opportunities. That’s all it is.”
While the moves were made officially on Friday, they did not come as any shock. Arel had not pitched for the Blues since June 17 and Mormile’s last came on June 22. Both slingers left for personal reasons, according to Riley.
Silva was Bristol’s main closer, making eight appearances for the Blues, all of which lasted exactly one inning. He piled up three saves and also picked up a win.
While the loss of four pitchers certainly left gaps in the staff, the Blues were able to plug the holes and keep a sturdy rotation and bullpen especially through promoting within.
“It just gives more opportunities,” Riley said. “It gave guys chances to start that might not have come this early in the season. [It] changed some guys’ roles around a little bit. I can’t stress enough that that’s just another opportunity for somebody else and that’s just the way we’re going to take it.”
The ability of the Blues to remain steady through the losses and not completely drop off has been noticed throughout the locker room and Scott gives credit to his teammates.
“What I’ve noticed from guys leaving, guys getting injured and that weight falling on someone else is that they carry it like they were ready for it from day one,” he said, “and that’s a great thing to see [and] a great thing to have as a ball club.”
While the losses may have not been debilitating, they certainly have not helped. The Blues are a sub-.500 team as of Sunday afternoon and have been even worse if you look at their record without their 4-0 start to the season. But the main issue for the Blues has been offense, where there has not been nearly as much turnover as on defense.
Despite the slump that the Blues have been in recently, the players are not making excuses and that includes leaning on the loss of players as a crutch.
“We’ve had some rough outings [and] some unfortunate luck but I don’t think it has anything to do with people leaving and us getting shorthanded,” Scott said.
The players on the Blues have had to step up all season long and be the next man up and they have handled it well. Now, with five players officially off the roster, those players need to step into bigger roles on a full-time basis but Riley is confident that his players will rise to the occasion and help the Blues turn things around.
“I don’t see it as much pressure,” Riley said. “Maybe for them [but] it depends on how they handle it.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org