The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers kept their recent hot streak alive on Monday afternoon, beating Kane County 7-3 to improve to 14-6 in May and 28-17 overall, the best record in the Midwest League Western Division.
Today they struck early, scoring three runs on three hits and an error in the first inning. Jason Rogers plated the first run with an RBI triple, starting off a 2-for-3 day with two extra base hits and a walk.
Those runs gave an early cushion to 19-year-old starting pitcher Will West, who made his Midwest League debut. West was an undrafted free agent out of high school, went to college briefly at Georgia Tech, transferred to a community college closer to home and was nearly out of baseball when the Brewers signed him last season. Brewerfan.net has much more on his unusual journey.
"Last summer I was pretty close to not even playing baseball. I was just working," West said. "And I was playing on a summer baseball team and there happened to be an area scout who was at the game. And he called me and I took a few days to think about it, talked it over with my parents and made the decision to do it. And it's been awesome, being able to play the game I love and go out there and pitch, it's pretty awesome. I'm glad to be here."
West is the youngest player on the Timber Rattlers this season and the first pitcher to start for Wisconsin before his 20th birthday since Nick Bucci in 2010. He pitched five innings today and allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits over five innings, walking one and striking out three.
Manager Matt Erickson said West might have been a little nervous for his first start at this level, but credited him with giving the team a chance to win the game.
"Before we went out there I walked by his locker and asked him 'Are you nervous?' and he said, 'Yeah, a little bit.' And that's to be expected, that's a good thing because it means he cares a little bit," Erickson said. "He was a little elevated at first, and I think the elements helped him out a bit on some of his fly balls. But ultimately he got the job done. He left the game in the fifth, was up by a run and had a chance to win the ball game."
Jacob Barnes and Stephen Peterson combined to pitch the game's final four innings to get West his first Midwest League win.
"I think I did all right. I think I pitched well enough to get the win," West said. "I definitely have a lot of things work on, executing pitches, keeping the ball down. But I think if you go out there and you execute your pitches and throw strikes you can give your team a good chance to win."
West pitched today in place of Andy Moye, who was called up to Brevard County last week. Moye picked up the win in his first Florida State League appearance on Sunday. Erickson broke the news of his callup to Moye after his start on Wednesday night.
"I just told him congratulations on a well deserved callup," Erickson said. "You're in the game long enough, sometimes some of the higher round picks get all the chances in the world. He was definitely deserving of that callup. It was his spot in the rotation here and it fit the best there. I told him to do the same things he was doing here, because how he was pitching here is going to get people out at any level. He was getting ahead of hitters, he was mixing his pitches well and throwing strikes."
Today is Wisconsin's last home game for over two weeks, as they depart on a four-city road trip that starts on Wednesday. Aside from dividing up the meal money to help players resist the urge to blow it all in one place, Erickson said the long trip doesn't really change much.
"We'll mix it up, and that's really the goal all season long in a long season," Erickson said. "Obviously you have to adapt to what's going on but we try to mix our pregames up and our preparation. We try to work on some of the same things but in a different way to keep it fresh for our players so it doesn't get stale."
Wisconsin's win Monday gave them a 1.5 game lead in the Western Division, but Erickson said it's too soon to start looking ahead.
"We still have about a month, four weeks to go (before the end of the first half)," Erickson said. "We've got to take care of our own house, so to speak. And the game is so day-to-day. You have to look ahead, and you can't be satisfied with what you've done in the past. The game will humble you in a hurry if you think you're pretty good or get complacent but we've done a pretty good job. Our clubhouse has done a nice job so far of getting their work in day-to-day and understanding that each day is a new opportunity for these guys."
Will West wasn't the only non-drafted pitcher making headlines today: During the game it was announced that Mark Williams won the Midwest League's Pitcher of the Week award. Williams made two relief appearances this week and pitched nine scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and walking two while striking out seven. Both outings were against Kane County. Despite the impressive results, Williams said his last effort wasn't easy.
"Actually I would say the first time we faced these guys earlier in the week, my stuff was pretty good then, but the other night I, honestly I was all over the place," Williams said. "I just tried to really just work with (catcher Rafael) Neda to mix and match to throw strikes because I was kind of up in the zone all night and we finally figured it out in the ninth inning, which was my best inning. But I had to work really hard just to keep the ball down and not get hit out of the ballpark, especially with the wind blowing out like it was that night."
When asked about Williams, Matt Erickson pointed out that he also pitched the back half of Wisconsin's combined no-hitter earlier this season.
"He's been a non-drafted guy, again, that's been really big for us. He's done a nice job pretty much every time he's been asked to take the ball on the mound," Erickson said.
Williams, however, knows he needs to keep working hard.
"I just keep doing what I'm doing. Working hard, getting after it in the training room and the weight room, working on mechanics," Williams said. "Just got to keep working hard. I can't rest on my laurels on this. If I rest now there's going to be nothing to look forward to in the future. So keep working and nothing's ever good enough until it's all done."
Follow the jump for stories from earlier today on Tommy Toledo, who leads Wisconsin with six wins out of the bullpen, infielder Brandon Macias and Wisconsin's upcoming road trip to make way for the NCAA Division 3 World Series. We'll also add the audio from today's interviews later today.
Tommy Toledo and the scoreless streak
Wisconsin entered play today with 27 wins as a team, and six of them have been credited to reliever and 2011 eleventh round pick Tommy Toledo. Toledo hasn't allowed a run since April 15, a string of 15 scoreless innings over seven appearances. He told me he hasn't been tracking his numbers.
"I just try to go out there and throw strikes, let the defense work," Toledo said. "I honestly don't even know, I don't really try to keep track of all that."
Toledo says his fastball has been working for him lately. "Fastball command is what they're really trying to get me to work on right now," Toledo said. "And then working on fastball command and off-speed for strikes too. I'm usually just a fastball-slider-changeup guy, so I'm just trying to work on everything."
At one point in the middle of the streak Toledo went ten days without pitching, then pitched four hitless innings in his first game back. He said the long layoff wasn't an issue.
"Just staying in routine. I didn't really think anything of it, I just went out there and threw every day, and threw a bullpen in between," Toledo said. "I just try to go out there every day and keep a routine going."
Entering play today Toledo had a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 innings with eight walks and 15 strikeouts.
Getting hot at the hot corner
Wisconsin third baseman Brandon Macias is on a bit of a hot streak lately. The infielder is hitting .288/.417/.458 in May with a pair of home runs. He credits pitch selection for his recent performance.
"I've just been working on some things, been trying to work a lot on my plate discipline lately and it's been paying off for me," Macias said.
Macias was an undrafted free agent out of Kansas last season, and is excited to be continuing his career professionally.
"I guess there's a little motivation there but I just want to play," Macias said. "So it doesn't really matter to me as long as I got a chance to play. That's what really counts for me."
Macias has played 31 games at third base this season, but has also appeared at second base and shortstop during his time with Wisconsin.
"I like to try and take pride in my defense and play all of them as well as I can," Macias said. "I like all three positions equally pretty much. I like defense, it's fun to me."
Hitting the road
Today's game is Wisconsin's last home game for over two weeks: They open a 13 game road trip on Wednesday that will take them to Quad Cities, Peoria, Cedar Rapids and Beloit before returning home on June 6. The first leg of the trip coincides with Fox Cities Stadium hosting the NCAA Division 3 World Series from Friday-Tuesday.
"It's great for the organization to be able to have it," Wisconsin Media Relations Director Chris Mehring said. "The NCAA has been coming here for years, they love it, they think we run the tournament just right. The teams that come in love doing it."
Hosting the tournament, however, means the Timber Rattlers have to go on their longest road trip of the season.
"For us it's just, everybody's got to make sure they've got their laundry done and meal money signed for, they're not going to get it until Wednesday when they leave. It's a regular road trip, it's just a little longer than the rest of them," Mehring said.
Despite the long time away from home, hosting the tournament is good for the Timber Rattlers and the Fox Cities.
"The organization loves it. The Fox Cities Convention and Visitor's Bureau loves it because it gets people coming in. And it's a tradition now, after so many years of coming here. And the NCAA thinks we do it right, and we like to think we do it right too," Mehring said.
Wisconsin pitcher Mark Williams was on the mound when Marietta won the championship in Appleton last season.
Here are today's interviews, in the order they were recorded:
- Infielder Brandon Macias (0:52)
- Media Relations Director Chris Mehring (1:29)
- Pitcher Tommy Toledo (1:02)
- Pitcher Will West (2:09)
- Pitcher Mark Williams (1:09)
- Manager Matt Erickson (4:46)