Next Man Up

Not Since 1903 Have Pirates Called-Up So Many First-Time Starting Pitchers

starting_pitchers

By Mike Lopresti

There is happy noise in the Indians clubhouse. The team is gathered around the television, watching a Pittsburgh game, and most especially the young pitcher on the mound. Tyler Glasnow. Yesterday, he was one of them. Today, he is the latest to have taken the pipeline to the Pirates.

“Everybody’s watching it, everybody’s yelling, everybody’s clapping,” manager Dean Treanor would say later of his team. “I love that. You don’t expect anything different from these guys. It’s genuine.”

And who might be the most heartfelt rooter of them all? That’d be the man with the newly-repaired eye. The pitching coach, who has seen so many of his flock pack for Pittsburgh this summer.

“It’s like sitting at home, watching your hometown team in the playoffs or a big game, football or baseball or anything,” Stan Kyles was saying later. “You’re not sitting there evaluating and analyzing this and that – you’re doing some of that, too, because it’s just the coach in you – but for the most part, you’re sitting back and you’re proud and you’re rooting and you’re hoping. You’re trying to will as much positive energy any way you can.”

So it’s gone for him this season, and often. In early May, the Indians had the finest starting rotation in the International League. Glasnow, Wilfredo Boscan, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, Jameson Taillon (pictured above). Kyles sent them out nightly, and watched the earned run averages shine.

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Rated by Baseball America as the Pirates top prospect in its mid-season report (No. 6 overall), Tyler Glasnow was called up to Pittsburgh on July 7. (Courtesy of Pirates/MLB)

But there was trouble in Pittsburgh with starting pitching. Injuries here, ineffectiveness there. So the parade to Pennsylvania began. All of those Indians starters have been called up by the Pirates to help the cause, though Boscan and Brault are back. All have started at least one game for Pittsburgh. The Pirates staff has been replenished by a steady leak in Indianapolis.

Treanor: “I’ve never seen that before. I don’t think you’ll ever see it again.”

“We can laugh about it, but it takes an hour and a half each day just to plan out the lineup, and what our pitching’s going to be. It’s not easy. But it’s why we’re here. Our job is to get these guys ready. I couldn’t be happier for all of them.”

Kyles: “The only surprise is that I thought the group of guys we had on the big league level would give us more time here. I’m just surprised we had to go to these guys as soon as we have.”

Larry Broadway, director of minor leagues operations for the Pirates: “I think the ‘Next Man Up’ mentality has been in for the past three or four years in Indianapolis. That mentality is certainly celebrated and owned there. We have been waiting for this wave of young pitchers to progress through for a while, and all have been given an opportunity in a relatively short window of time, which is very rare but lined up right for them.”

Brault, Glasnow, Kuhl and Taillon even made a little history. According to the stat gurus at Elias, the last time the Pirates had four rookie pitchers make their career debuts as starters in the same season was 1903. Halley’s Comet is a more common sight.

Meanwhile back in Indianapolis, Kyles still has a staff to lead, even as the biggest names come and go.

“Our same basic plan is solid, whoever’s out there,” he said. “We’re interested in producing great talent at the big league level. We like to think the system is just as good as the talent. Nothing will change in that aspect of it.”

Glasnow, Tyler_Kyles, Stan_001_June 27, 2016_Adam Pintar
Stan Kyles coaches Tyler Glasnow in the days leading up to being called up to Pittsburgh. (Adam Pintar)

Behold, the eternal duology of Triple-A. On one hand, get the prospects ready for the big club. On the other, there is still a game to try to win each day. Good thing Kyles — and Treanor — know how to use both hands. To lead at this level, a man has to be ambidextrous when it comes to perspective.

“We’re trained as coaches to always think of the big picture,” Kyles said. “Obviously we’re trying to train guys to be winning, productive players on the big league level. But there’s a process to it. Winning is a great deodorant. It makes it easier coming to the ballpark, it’s great for morale. Everything is better. Your food tastes better, you sleep better. But you have to make sure the process is the most important thing. The main thing always has to be the big picture with us.”

The big picture will show the Indians who have made the jump this season were usually ready to contribute, and not just the pitchers. In his second day as a Pirate, Josh Bell crushed the Cubs with a grand slam.

“We all know at the next level it’s more cerebral, it’s more of a mind game, it’s a man’s game,” Kyles said. “So you try to get them to understand those things here. You try to prepare them for that. That’s what we like to think we’re doing here. We allow guys to get better, to trust themselves more so when they get there, they have that inner strength that tells them, ‘Whatever battle I’m going to have, I’m going to be prepared for it.'”

Broadway: “It’s incredibly rewarding for everyone involved to see our homegrown young men making their major league debuts and having an impact on games right away. There are countless numbers of coaches, coordinators, scouts, support staff, grounds crew, etc. that have poured a time of time, energy and resources into each of our players, and there is definitely a sense of connection and purpose when they make it to Pittsburgh.”

Indeed, on days like this, as Glasnow pitches for the Pirates in St. Louis, Kyles is a proud papa bird, having watched another fledgling leave the nest.

“You get a chance to watch them perform at that level and you realize all the reps that you watched them go through down here, you have had those moments with them. Whether it’s teaching or personal, whether you’re laughing with them or you’re screaming at them. When you get a chance to watch them go up there and do the things they want to do, you wouldn’t be human if you said it didn’t touch you in a good way. Hopefully, you’ve added to that in some small way that allowed them to go up there.”

It should be noted the Indians’ landscape keeps changing not only for Kyles, but his pitchers, too. Often, one man’s ticket north is another man’s ticket south. Take July 7. Kyle Lobstein woke up in St. Louis as a member of the Pirates, thinking he would be at Busch Stadium that night.

Nope. Glasnow was promoted, so space was made by returning Lobstein to the Indians. He jumped on a plane, got to Victory Field barely two hours before the game, found out for sure he was starting, and went out and threw six shutout innings. Another day in the life of Triple-A baseball.

“It’s funny, some of my better games have been when I’ve had less time to think about it,” Lobstein said that night. “Obviously when I woke up this morning, I wasn’t thinking I was going to be starting a baseball game.”

Not the easiest thing to do, though.

“As long as I keep it in the perspective that I’m still getting these opportunities to play baseball, not a lot of people get that,” Lobstein said. “You’ve got to make sure and tell yourself that you’re still having fun. At the end of the day we’re still getting to play a game for a living. It really helps me to stay mentally sound, especially with the situation I’m in, getting called up and sent down quite a bit already this year. It has been a little frustrating, but at the same time, I’m still here.”

So is Kyles, after a brief absence. About that . . .

July began with him in eye surgery, the delayed fallout from taking a baseball to the face last August in Charlotte, while sitting in the dugout. “Glasnow was pitching well, throwing a shutout in the seventh inning, and a loose ball from the bullpen got away,” he said. “One moment I was watching the game, having a good time, and the next moment, the lights went out.”

A cataract developed in his injured left eye this summer and he finally needed surgery on July 1. He missed three games with a patch over his eye, and didn’t much like being away.

“I wanted to get back but my wife was saying, ‘We’ll have none of that.’ She knew what the doctor’s orders were, because she was there with me.”

Duncan, Frank_003_July 04, 2016_Adam Pintar
Despite all of the call-ups from the starting pitching staff, the Indians still sent Frank Duncan to the July 13 Triple-A All-Star Game. (Adam Pintar)

Now he’s back, as the Indians rotation carries on, with such names as IL All-Star Frank Duncan. But this is an organization that has a big club with ever-changing needs, and a farm system with lots of options. There may be other Pirate moves, and other days Kyles sits before a television in the clubhouse, and roots for one of his own. He said this is as much fun as he’s had in a long time.

“I would say that it is far more rewarding for (Treanor and Kyles) than challenging,” Broadway said. “I just have to make sure I supply them with enough pitching when we pull guys up.”

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Mike Lopresti is a Ball State University graduate and Richmond, Ind. native and resident. He was a sports columnist for Gannett newspapers and USA Today for 31 years, and covered 30 World Series and 33 Major League Baseball All-Star Games. He is a voter for Baseball Hall of Fame. When he retired he was 16th in the nation in seniority within the Baseball Writers Association of America.

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