Pitch Perfect

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Starter Andy Oliver has struck out 19 batters in his three starts this season.

PITCH PERFECT

Tribe’s Arms Set the Tone Early in 2013

By Manny Randhawa
 

On their way to winning the International League championship in 2012, the Indianapolis Indians finished with the lowest team ERA (3.15, tied with Charlotte), lowest WHIP (1.19), and most shutouts (16) in the league.

As the old adage goes: pitching and defense win baseball games.

That proved true in 2012 when the Tribe posted 89 victories and a .618 winning percentage. And if the first homestand of 2013 is any indication, the Indians want to follow that up with an encore performance.

Indianapolis won five straight games in their opening homestand after starting 0-2, thanks largely to the team’s stingy 2.25 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 65 strikeouts over seven games at Victory Field.

For Tribe skipper Dean Treanor, the pitching sets the tone for the rest of the club.

“Anything we do here, it starts with the pitching,” Treanor said before the first homestand series finale against Toledo.

“It’s a phrase that we use a lot: the pitching staff does set the tone for this team. I think the offense feeds off of that and defense becomes a big part of that also. All three work together but it really starts with the pitching.”

It all starts with pitching, and for the Indians, the stellar pitching began on opening night. Despite a 4-0 Indianapolis loss, starter Andy Oliver shined, tossing six shutout innings while allowing just two hits and fanning six Columbus hitters.

After the contest, the left-hander emphasized hitting the strike zone by practicing good mechanics.

“I felt I was able to repeat my mechanics,” he said. “I had to find a way to make pitches and ended up doing it … I felt like I could throw my secondary pitches for strikes.”

The man responsible for ensuring that those mechanics are sound, Indians pitching coach Tom Filer, says he has some great talent to work with.

“We’ve got guys with good arms,” Filer explains. “I knew going into the season that we should be good, and they’re backing that up right now by their execution of pitches.”

One individual pitching performance that has stood out to Filer so far in this young season is the effort by right-hander Vin Mazzaro on April 6, when he threw four scoreless innings of relief, allowing just two hits while striking out six to record the first victory of the season for the Tribe.

“Mazzaro gave us four innings the other night of stellar relief,” Filer recounted. “Vinny going out there giving us four solid innings enabled us to catch up and actually win that ballgame.”

Mazzaro, much like his teammate Oliver, stressed the importance of throwing strikes, especially on the first pitch.

“It’s very important always to get first pitch strikes,” the reliever explained after his outing. “You become a little bit more comfortable, you can expand the zone a little bit when you’re ahead [in the count] and I just wanted to get that first pitch in there and go from there.”

The pitching dominance continued for the Tribe the next day when left-hander Kris Johnson gave Indianapolis another strong performance, shutting out Columbus for five innings and earning the first win for an Indians starter on the season.

The streak of solid outings continued on April 8 when the Indians welcomed the Toledo Mud Hens to town and right-hander Phil Irwin greeted them with yet another gem, turning in six strong innings while giving up just one run on four hits, striking out five.

The man catching Irwin that night was Tony Sanchez, who loves what he’s been seeing.

“He’s going to be one of the better arms in the system and in the majors when the time comes,” Sanchez said of Irwin. “We’re lucky to have him here.”

Sanchez, who is now in his second season with the Indians, will become more and more familiar with the pitching staff, but he’s already learning something very important about the competitiveness and energy of the Tribe’s hurlers.

“The vibe I’m getting from this staff is that they’re not going to let up,” the backstop said. “They’re going to throw their best stuff and wish you luck, saying ‘this is my best stuff, here, try and hit it.’”

So far this season, all opposing hitters have been able to do against Indians arms has been just that: try.

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