— The main story here is that Ryan Pope pitched his butt off tonight. Eight innings, two hits, no runs, no walks and 11 strikeouts.
Pitched. His. Butt. Off.
It turns out, a simple adjustment suggested by Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps made all the difference tonight for the struggling righty, who knocked his ERA down to 5.06 thanks to his stellar performance.
“I just sped up my tempo,” said Pope, when asked what the adjustment was.
“Speed up the tempo, speed up the game. It worked.”
Thanks to a nearly equally solid outing by Senators starter Jeff Mandel, the game ended in a crisp 1:58, just six minutes away from tying a club record for fastest nine-inning game played.
Thunder manager Tony Franklin agreed that Pope’s change in tempo made all the difference.
“Phelpsy told me before the game, ‘Tell me if you notice anything different,'” Franklin said.
“And it didn’t take but two batters into the game that I saw his tempo was much quicker. He got the ball, got on the mound and wasted no time. The fingers were down, and boom, he made the pitch. Consequently, what happened was hitters get a little anxious.”
Franklin was nothing but complimentary after the game, comparing Pope’s outing to the one future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez spun against the Thunder in Reading on Wednesday.
“That’s exactly the way Pedro pitched,” he said.
“Good tempo, up tempo, fastballs in, get you thinking, changeup, change of speeds, get you swinging. It was great. He did an outstanding job tonight.”
This outing gave Pope some confidence that his remaining few starts this season could go like this one did.
“If I keep working and not think too much and just throw the ball, hopefully I can keep repeating performances like this,” he said.
— Chris Malec sent everyone home happy with a walk-off win in the ninth, driving home Austin Krum with a one-out single up the middle.
After the game, I asked Malec what his approach was in a situation like that.
“To me, basically I’m just looking to stay in the middle of the field right there,” he said.
“If I start to go to either side of the field, I’ll either get late or get early. So I want to stay in the middle and kind of elevate it. Basically, my approach is look for something up and elevated in the zone that I can hit hard through the middle of the field and then just kind of react and adjust from there. If he goes in, I’m going to trust my hands. So I just want to get started early and trust my hands and let them do their thing.”
— Jesus Montero was, to my surprise, in attendance. I’d have thought he’d gone home by now. He showed up with his entire left arm in a sling, which sure seemed a bit extreme for a broken finger.
Turns out, Montero’s finger required surgery, so it wasn’t just something that could heal on its own. Franklin said after the game that Montero has a doctor’s appointment coming up, and that he is expected to remain with the team through the week. If that’s the case, I’ll try to speak with Montero and see exactly what happened and how badly broken the finger was.
— Zach McAllister will pitch Game 1 for the Thunder, Jason Stephens will pitch Game 2. Harrisburg sends Matt Chico — who I’ve been dying to see — out for Game 1, and Luis Atilano for Game 2. McAllister told me before the game that he didn’t feel like he was going to be limited in any way, but I’d be willing to bet his outing is pretty short…the Yankees take it nice and slow with their prospects, especially such a prized arm like Mac’s.
— Congratulations to Thunder trainer Tim Lentych, who was named the 2009 Eastern League Trainer of the Year. Depending on his schedule, I may try to do a feature on him…the trainer position is somewhat high profile, I suppose…but I kind of think most people view them as behind the scenes sorts, so I’d be curious to talk to him and maybe a few of the guys about what kind of job he does and what his job entails. Like…what makes a trainer a good trainer? I don’t know, just stuff I don’t think a lot of people put much thought into.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com