Friday, May 15, 2009


How can such terrible things happen to such wonderful people?

If I was having a dinner party, I couldn't think of five finer people to have come by than the Rock Cats starting rotation. Jeff Manship, Matt Fox, Ryan Mullins, Jay Rainville and Cole DeVries have all been very accommodating, pleasant young men who respond candidly when they pitch well and accept responsibility when they don't.

Unfortunately, with the very notable exception of DeVries, they haven't, and it's taking a hideous toll on the Rock Cats during the present homestand.

Without counting Thursday night's suspended game in which the Rock Cats trailed 8-1 in the Portland fourth, the team ERA over the previous five games was 7.16. The only victory during that stretch was a 12-11 win.

Talent is not the issue. Manship was of All-Star quality at the high-A level in Fort Myers and there is no reason why it shouldn't translate here and beyond. He's 2-3 with a 6.31 ERA.

Fox and Rainville have eerily similar track records.

Both were first-round sandwich picks in the 2004 draft, Fox chosen 35th overall and Rainville 39th. Both suffered shoulder injuries that wiped out full seasons.

Rainville, 23, a powerfully built 6-foot-2-inch, 234-pound right-hander from Rhode Island, had a nerve injury and missed the entire 2006 season after posting a 3.29 ERA and striking out 110 in 142 1/3 innings at Fort Myers the season before. Counting the suspended game where he was lit up for six earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, his ERA is at 6.14. He yielded seven earned runs in 3 2/3 in his previous outing -- the 12-11 game -- when he had a 10-2 lead with which to work.

Fox, 26, a Baseball America first-team All-American at the University of Central Florida in 2003, missed all of 2005 rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Command (16 walks in 33 1/3 innings) has abandoned him. He's 1-2 with a 4.32, and has a respectable ratio of hits (32) to innings pitched.

Mullins' Double-A inauguration in 2007 has some stirring moments. The 6-foot-6-inch southpaw out of Vanderbilt displayed a deception that had hitters off-balance. But the Eastern League caught up to him last year, hitting .287 against him over 30 games (24 starts). He's currently 0-5 with a 5.79 ERA and the league is hitting .339 against him.

DeVries has been sensational at 2-2 with a 2.23 ERA. He's gone through his last three starts (18 innings) without surrendering an earned run.

There's nothing I'd like better than to see the other four pitch their way back to prospect status, and they should all consider the case of former Rock Cat turned Cardinals multi-millionaire Kyle Lohse (3-18 with a 6.04 ERA with New Britain in 2000), but the turnaround absolutely needs to begin now. Although it hasn't been a particularly cold spring, June is on the horizon and the warmer weather is setting in.

The starters cannot continue to fall short of six or seven innings of quality work. The bullpen has been stretched beyond its limits. Something has to change with the pitching and the leaky defense or a team with outstanding offensive abilities will be hopelessly buried in no time.

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