GARY | The RailCats coaching staff took a different approach to their starting pitchers before the season began.
In the past, pitchers in the four-man rotation have been held to a tighter leash in their first outings of the year. Sixty pitches for the first week is the norm, then work up to 70, 90 and 100.
Instead, this season the RailCats pitchers were put on a higher preseason pitch count, allowed to throw 70 or 80 in their first outings.
The result has been three complete games in a week, a pitcher of the week award after the third week of the season and ERAs of below 4.00 for every pitcher in the rotation.
"Guys are just sort of lining up and doing things right," righty ace Morgan Coombs said. "The four-man is never easy, it's a lot of mental preparation in itself and you have to stay confident throughout it. But guys are just staying confident and taking in their roles and staying on the same page with Craig (Maddox) and (Ryan) Babineau and we have a game plan and executing it is the big thing."
Dustin Crenshaw, with a 1.70 ERA, was named American Association Pitcher of the Week after throwing a seven-inning complete game shutout last week against Sioux City, followed by a seven-inning one-run win against Sioux Falls. The win in Sioux City was shortened to seven innings as part of a doubleheader.
Crenshaw is the only starting pitcher still on a shortened pitch count, manager Greg Tagert said, because of his inexperience with the four-man rotation.
"As we get to know these guys a little bit and Dustin adjusts to the four-man," Tagert said, "We're going to give these guys a little breather giving Coleman Stephens a spot start again on Wednesday."
Stephen Hiscock, Monday's starter against Sioux City, threw a complete-game shutout in the second game of the doubleheader last week. He leads the RailCats with 26 strikeouts through six starts.
Coombs threw the other complete game last week, a nine-inning 9-2 win over Sioux Falls. He has spent his entire career with the RailCats, mostly in the four-man rotation.
"I came in this year knowing I wanted to be a starting pitcher, so I put extra work in before I got here so that if I did get in, I'd be ready," Coombs said. "We'd like to save the bullpen as much as we could now so that later in the year, if we need them, when we need them, they're not taxed later in the year. We've been throwing well enough in games to be in the situation where we can throw complete games."
The success of the starters has helped spell a young bullpen, one with five rookies and a sixth player, James Giulietti, who was picked up on the most recent road trip.
"People talk about the word 'ace' in different ways, but (Coombs) pitches a complete game Friday night when we most needed it because the bullpen was completely spent that's what we need from a front-line starter," Tagert said.