BRISTOL - Opponents know when the Bristol Blues take a lead into the ninth, it usually means one thing - it’s Neal McDermott time, never a good sign for opposing hitters.
The Blues closer has been as shutdown of a pitcher early on as can be. McDermott is 6-for-6 in save opportunities this season and has yet to give up a single hit. He has also struck out 10 batters in six innings of work and has a 0.67 WHIP.
“It’s just a matter of going in, trusting my stuff and trying to dominate the strikezone,” McDermott said. “I have had a couple of walks, so I’ve also had to make sure that doesn’t snowball on me. Also, I know I have to trust my teammates behind me and not just try to strike everyone out. It’s just keeping a calm, relaxed mindset on the mound.”
With the sophomore from Leechburg, Penn. closing out games, Bristol has gone 8-1 in games decided by two runs or less entering Friday. The Blues have a 1-4 record in games decided by three runs or more.
McDermott believes the close games have helped him stay ready at all times, a key to coming out of the bullpen.
“The good thing about being a relief pitcher is that you’re always focused on the game,” McDermott said. “I’m always up stretching, getting prepared, just in case. You never know what is going to happen in the game, so you have to always be ready.”
Blues manager Ronnie Palmer his closer’s quick adjustment to summer ball has a lot to do with the work he puts in at a Seton Hill program that has been to eight consecutive regional tournaments, even going to the Division II World Series in 2014.
“You hope it continues because he’s certainly off to a fabulous start,” Palmer said. “[Marc] Marizzaldi does a phenomenal job over there with his entire program, particularly with his pitchers. Neal was prepared for the position we put him in this summer because of the college program he plays in.”
McDermott not only credited Marizzaldi, but also Griffins pitching coach DJ Cannon on the work he puts in to help develop the pitching staff, both physically and mentally.
“There are few people, that I know of, that work as hard as we do [at Seton Hill] training or watching film or lifting,” McDermott said. “My pitching coach, DJ Cannon, is phenomenal. He applies his knowledge and gives it to us. He really teaches us how to actually pitch, instead of just throwing on the mound. He’s a great asset to have for our program.”
It’s still early in the season, but the Blues have found someone they can have at the back of the bullpen and continue to win games for them. After all, every team needs a pitcher to seal wins.
“We’re just really reaping the benefits of what he does throughout the spring,” Palmer said. “We’re just hoping he keeps this going.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org