BRISTOL - Pitching has been a staple for the Bristol Blues this season but an often overlooked strength of the Bristol defense is the middle infield.
“You’ve got to be strong up the middle the best that you can,” Blues manager Pat Riley said. “With Zach Scott and [Nick] Conti at second base, there’s really no hesitation in terms of who we put in the lineup. Jimmy Titus, he’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s got a lot of potential and things are going to really blossom for him. And then you’ve got Ty Roberts as your horse. He’s your horse. He’s your anchor. We’re excited. The middle play has been great.”
All season long, Riley has been rotating Scott and Conti at second and Roberts and Titus at short and, no matter who he has put out there, the product has been outstanding.
“It makes putting the lineup [together] both hard and easy,” Riley said. “But that’s something that, either way, it’s a good luxury to be put into. We’ve got good depth and not only can those guys play the middle, you can shift them over to third base, and we have at certain points.”
While the frequent flashy plays that each of the four has made this summer do not show up on the stat sheet, the fundamental plays do. The four Bristol middle infielders lead the team in assists and a few even rank highly in the league.
Among shortstops, Roberts’ 75 assists on the season rank third, while Conti’s 55 assists have him third among second basemen. Scott is tied for first in the league with a fielding percentage of 1.000.
“I think it means a lot,” Scott said about the importance of strong play up the middle. “The middle of the field-center field, shortstop, second base-that whole area is just a huge area. A lot of balls are hit straight back up and the fact that we have a ton of guys that can cover a lot of range, even at third base with [Austin] Chauvin and [Christian] Budzik, we’ve got Titus and Roberts at short, Conti and I, we all cover range and can all get to balls. I think that’s just huge for our pitching staff and for everyone.”
The production from the four Bristol middle infielders is a result of both home field advantage and the tireless work they have put in this summer.
“I think that the main contributing factor is the home-field playing surface,” Roberts said. “The thick infield grass is probably the slowest in the league. It allows us to get to balls that would normally be base hits. Our pitching coach, Jordie Scheiner, hits us ground balls until we’ve had our fill. He’s always willing and he wants to see us improve.”
The second basemen and shortstops have been a big reason for both the pitchers’ success and the recent surge for the Blues, and that was recently recognized by the FCBL when they selected Roberts to the All-Star Game.
“Ty’s probably one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met and I mean that on and off the field,” Scott said. “The fact that he’s an All-Star and he plays the way he plays, it’s just showing on the field, it shows in the clubhouse, outside of the field and during off days. It’s just great to have him around, just kind of have him there, hang out with him [and] get to know him. I can’t speak enough about who he is as a person beyond the field and I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s so talented in the field. Just because of who he is.
“He could have a terrible game and I would have no doubt in my mind that he’s one of the best shortstops I have ever seen play.”
All four of the Blues’ middle infielders have been strong this year and they would obviously like to join Roberts but they are proud he will be representing them and the rest of the team in Worcester.
“I’m very happy he’s going [to the All-Star Game],” Scott said. “I wish I could be joining him but if there’s anyone I wanted to send from the team, he’d be my top choice.”
With so much depth at multiple positions, it would not be shocking for there to be some contention or competition amongst the middle infielders for playing time.
But the Blues are such a tightly-knit group and respect each other so much that they are perfectly fine with sitting if it means the job is getting done. And it is getting done.
“Everyone wants to play but if the job’s getting done [and] we’re winning, I said this earlier in the year, it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting or in the field playing if we’re winning. I think that’s the biggest thing for us right now,” Scott said.
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org