Saturday, April 26, 2008


Mediocre is the best adjective to describe the New Britain Rock Cats' pitching situation to date.

It's too early to pass out report cards since the season is in its infancy, but when I was in school and we were in academic trouble, the teachers would give us interim notices that would have to be taken home to our parents, signed and returned.

So with 15 percent of the season in the books, here are some interim notices.

While the top of the rotation -- Anthony Swarzak, Ryan Mullins and Yohan Pino -- has been sensational, the back end is in dire straits. Interim notices go out to right-handers Jay Rainville and Oswaldo Sosa.

Rainville, at 1-2 with a 9.53 ERA, obviously has not shown that he can get Double-A hitters out. The Eastern League is battering him at a .392 clip with 29 hits in 17 innings.

Rainville, a Rhode Island native, missed the entire 2006 season due to a nerve problem in his pitching shoulder. He has not regained the velocity he had when he was posting big numbers in low Class A. Rainville, a supplemental first-round choice by the Twins in 2004, is still only 22-years-old, so a return to high-A Fort Myers may be in order.

Sosa, the only Rock Cat on Minnesota's 40-man big league roster, has been unable to command his fastball. He's falling behind in counts and paying the price with an 0-2 record and 7.04 ERA.

Even more eye-popping is 13 walks in 15 1/3 innings. When you issue that many free passes and the league is hitting .333 against you, questions are sure to follow. Sosa was outstanding at Fort Myers last year and his late-season work in New Britain showed some promise, but he'll have to start showing some command to avoid a return trip to the Florida State League.

Sosa, 22, is a product of the Twins' Venezuela Baseball Academy.

As always, there are candidates at Fort Myers putting up the kind of numbers that warrant consideration for promotion.

Right-hander Jeff Manship, 23, has been remarkably consistent in his two-plus pro seasons. He dominated low-A last year (7-1, 1.51 ERA, 9 walks, 77 strikeouts, 77 1/3 innings) and
competed well at Fort Myers (8-5, 3.15 ERA in 13 games).

The Notre Dame product could have well been among Rock Cats starters on the opening day roster but was sent back to Fort Myers where he is 3-0 wth a 3.38 in his five starts.

It's only a matter of time before Manship and right-hander Deolis Guerra get their Double-A indoctrinations. Guerra, perhaps the plum in the Johan Santana trade with the Mets, is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA with the Miracle.

Guerra, however, won't turn 20 until next April and rushing him along may not be the best choice.

Both the Rock Cats and Miracle have gotten outstanding bullpen work. In New Britain, Ben Julianel (4 saves, 2.84) has been an effective closer. Lefty Jay Sawatski had some tough outings but appears to be settling down (2 hits, 7 strikeouts in last 5 innings).

Righty Zach Ward, primarily a starter last year, was lights-out until suffering a slight lapse of control Saturday. Righty Armando Gabino (8 games, 1.50 ERA) has also been exceptional as has lefty Kyle Aselton (6 games, 1.64 ERA, .179 BA against him).

And right now manager Bobby Cuellar has the added advantage of having former big-league closer Danny Graves around. That's not likely to be the case for very long.

Some of the numbers coming out of the Fort Myers bullpen are equally gaudy.

Former St. John's star Rob Delaney, 23, has an 0.77 ERA, five saves, two walks and 13 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.

Anthony Slama, 24, is also a college guy from the University of San Diego. In seven games (11 1/3 innings), he has yielded just four hits, saved three games and has a 0.00 ERA.

Danny Vais, 23, is 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight appearances with FSL hitters batting .104 against him.

At this writing, the Rock Cats are 10-11, so it's too early to pull the plug on Rainville or Sosa, but with some quality arms knocking on the door to Double-A, they'll have to put some positive innings together soon or they'll be headed back to Class A come June.

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