Perched in foul territory down the left field line in a wooden lean-to, the Big Train’s biggest weapon waits patiently for a nod from the dugout, a proverbial all systems go, before taking over the game.
Under the watchful tutelage of pitching coach Jason Ritenour, the Bethesda bullpen has flourished thus far and, teamed with an above-average defensive front, has made the end of games increasingly difficult for Cal Ripken League opponents.
Tied for the league’s best record with the rival Baltimore Redbirds (11-2), Bethesda sits comfortably atop the South Division, 4.5 games above the D.C. Grays with a perfect record in four divisional contests.
A game shy of the one-third mark of the season, most Big Train success comes from the bullpen’s ability to shut down opponents, allowing the offense to feast on opponents less-than-stellar relievers.
In 50 1/3 innings of relief work this season, the bullpen’s ERA is a menacing 1.61. If you remove 3 1/3 innings of relief from Luis Collazo (Virginia Tech) in a soggy, rain-shortened game – stretched until the fifth inning by umpires to ensure it was an official game – against the Vienna River Dogs, that earned run average drops to 1.34.
The pen has only surrendered a lead twice in the entire season, both coming on June 14 against the Herndon Braves 11 games into the season.
The pitching staff as a whole boasts phenomenal numbers. Allowing just 33 runs in 12 games, the Big Train pitching staff allows on average just one walk or hit per inning, good for tops in the league. Opponents are hitting a ghastly .172 against Bethesda, 16 points lower than the next best staff, and slugging a nearly non-existent .205, some 40 points lower than their closest challenger.
Standouts include senior Tim Yandel (Tulane) who posts a 1.42 ERA after 19 innings of work on the bump, right-hander Drew Strotman (St. Mary’s, Calif.) who is allowing less than a single run per nine innings after two starts, and the sidearm-slinging Walker Sheller (Stetson) who seems to have as many arm slots as the Big Train have wins.
Four other Big Train relievers have thrown at least three innings with an ERA currently at or under 1.80: Mark Nowatnick (Florida Atlantic), Josh Thorne (Stetson), Blake Smith (Mississippi State), Miller Trevvett (Radford).
Yandel’s heroics have extended past the mound to first base where he has became a presence both on defense and from the right side of the plate. On both Sunday and Monday, Yandel stepped to the plate with his team tied in the bottom of the ninth. Both times he put on a show for the fans at Shirley Povich Field, depositing identical doubles to the gap in right-center field, ending the .500 baseball Bethesda had played for the previous four games.
The offense has provided good run support for manager Sal Colangelo, ranking third in the league with 51 runs scored on the season. Logan Farrar, leadoff hitter and starting centerfielder, has returned from Virginia Commonwealth University’s deep trip into the College World Series Super Regionals to provide a spark at the top of the order and boost the lineups .214 batting average. The offense’s brightest star is shortstop Zach Kirtley (St. Mary’s, Calif.) who leads the team hitting .318 with six runs batted in.
At this point in 2014, Bethesda was yet to lost their first game. One year removed, only two losses separate them from a perfect start.
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