They lost one ace starting pitcher to a callup by the New York Yankees, then they lost another.
They have nobody on their current staff among the top five leaders in any pitching category.
But as a group, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders keep proving themselves as the best in the International League.
Just before they hit the road this past week, the RailRiders set a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise record when Luis Cessa pitched a seven-inning, complete-game four-hitter for the team’s 16th shutout of the season. A day later, the RailRiders extended that new standard to 17 shutouts when Brady Lail worked seven scoreless frames and Johnny Barbato and Kirby Yates combined to record the final six outs without allowing a run.
“We have a lot of guys who have good arms,” RailRiders manager Al Pedrique said. “(Pitching coach) Tommy Phelps has done a good job with those guys.”
He’s had to work overtime.
The team’s top starter Chad Green was the team’s ERA leader, was among the IL leaders by holding hitters to a .194 batting average and led the league with a 0.90 walks and hits per innings pitched ratio. But he was promoted to the parent Yankees for a second time this season after the All-Star Break and hasn’t been with the RailRiders in nearly two weeks.
That left Triple-A tormentor Luis Severino to serve as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s ace.
But Severino, who was 7-1 with the RailRiders this season and 15-1 through his two Triple-A seasons, was called up to the Yankees after they traded away closer Aroldis Chapman on Monday.
Without their two best starters, the RailRiders barely missed a beat.
Lail returned from an oblique injury that landed him on the disabled list last month to toss a gem Wednesday, Diego Moreno kept picking up wins and piling up a 6-1 record out of the bullpen and Tyler Webb, Giovanny Gallegos and demoted Yankees Nick Goody, Kirby Yates and Johnny Barbato keep throwing solid innings of relief. And all Dietrich Enns has done with the RailRiders is look like the next star starter in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
And while no RailRiders lead the league in any category, together they’re winning the arms race. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre leads the Inernational League with a 2.96 ERA and has allowed a league-low 805 hits with compiling a .635 winning percentage.
“It’s been fun watching the staff,” Pedrique said. “We have pitched well. I’m a firm believer that pitching and defense will win a lot of games for you, win you a championship. It’s fun as a manager.
“It makes my job easier.”
Unloading some pressure
All it took was a doubleheader to snap Donovan Solano out of a peculiar slump.
Before Wednesday’s games, Solano was 0 for 7 when he came to bat with the bases loaded.
That changed twice.
In Wednesday’s doubleheader opener, Solano slammed a single with the bags jammed to score Gary Sanchez in the first inning and start the RailRiders toward a 3-2, eight-inning victory. In Wednesday’s second game, Solano scorched a two-run single with the bases full, again in the first inning.
The RailRiders spent the past week flip-flopping Mason Williams and Ben Gamel between the leadoff and No. 2 spots in the batting order.
And in the field, one of them plays center while the other either switches to another outfield position or spends the game as a designated hitter.
That’s not likely to change anytime soon.
“For the rest of the season, that’s going to be the plan,” Pedrique said, “to platoon those guys at the top of the lineup, hitting one or two. Whether you hit leadoff or second, for me, it’s the same. You’ve got to be patient. Both guys are capable of doing either job.”
Gamel was an International League All-Star this year as the team’s leadoff hitter and regular center fielder, until Williams returned from the disabled list after suffering a shoulder injury with the parent Yankees last year.
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski