With veteran leadership and young up-and-comers, the RailRiders pitching staff was expected to be a strength this season.
However, with unexpected occurrences, including call-ups and injuries, the unit turned into the opposite during a road trip to Durham and Norfolk as it allowed 52 runs in a seven-game stretch through the International League South Division.
The potential came back last week. The turnaround started in the series finale at Norfolk and continued in a series against Indianapolis that could have been disastrous because the Indians are the top-scoring team in the entire I.L., averaging 4.6 runs per game and having scored five or more runs in 17 games this season.
But the pitching staff stepped up in a big way.
Chase Whitley, who allowed three runs in four innings prior to his 4 2/3 perfect innings on Tuesday, picked up a win in a combined shutout.
“It’s not rocket science out there, you just trust your eyes a lot of the times. Chase did a great job out there and I just trusted what I saw out there. He really set the tone for this series,” said Brian Gordon, who followed Whitley’s gem with one of his own the next morning.
Gordon, who had been really struggling lately giving up 16 runs in his previous 15 2/3 innings, followed in Whitley’s footsteps by pitching a career-high seven innings allowing just one run.
“It’s been a grind up to this point,” Gordon said. “Anytime you’re scuffling, you’re searching for something and don’t know what you’re gonna get.”
In the game before Whitley’s gem, and in the same contest that Gordon pitched, closer Matt Daley, who had his share of struggles too with three blown saves before converting three in a row beginning with one in the Norfolk series, got back on track.
Daley had two saves in the Indy series and has allowed just one run over his last 5 1/3 innings after a previous stretch when he allowed five runs in 7 1/3 frames that were sandwiched around an outing in New York when he was roughed up for six runs in 1 1/3 against Tampa Bay on April 19.
Zach Nudig wasn’t about to be denied either. He got the start Thursday night and gave up just one run in five innings. This coming off his last outing when he allowed 10 runs in just three innings against Norfolk.
One hitter the RailRiders had problems containing in the four games against the Indians was Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco, who began Friday batting a league-high .389.
In the four-game set, Polanco reached base 10 times, including a .467 batting average after going 7-for-15 consisting of three doubles and triple. In addition to that, the 22-year-old outfielder scored two runs, drove in three and stole a base.
However, the RailRiders proved more than capable of minimizing the uber-prospect’s bat as Whitley struck him out twice and he was held hitless in Thursday’s series finale.
“Don’t me wrong, he’s a great hitter, and there’s a lot of great hitters in this league,” Gordon said about Polanco. “You gotta think out there with those types of hitters. For the most part, you execute you change speeds, give them different looks (and) those good hitters can go down just as easy.”