Wisconsin's streak of great starting pitching in the postseason continued today, but unfortunately the bats were quiet in the Timber Rattlers' 5-1 loss to Fort Wayne to even their best-of-five Midwest League Championship Series at one game apiece.
Fond du Lac native Chad Pierce was the latest Timber Rattler to have a solid outing today, allowing three runs (two earned) on just four hits and no walks over seven innings. Wisconsin starting pitchers have allowed three earned runs or less in all seven postseason games.
"Chad's been great, another solid performance today, he gave us a chance to win today," Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said. "I'm excited for him because he really made a name for himself this year and put himself on the map in the organization."
Today was likely Pierce's final start as a member of the Timber Rattlers, who play their home games about an hour down the road from his hometown.
"It was great. I was looking forward to hopefully coming here this year, but being able to play here all year was fantastic," Pierce said. "The fans are awesome, the city, you've got so many young kids here that look up to you and you make a mark on their life just like they make a mark on yours. I can't say anything but high praises for this place."
Pierce was a tough luck loser today, though, when the Timber Rattlers bats could not pick him up. They scored a run on a Nick Ramirez solo home run but had just one other hit, a fourth inning double for Cameron Garfield. Fort Wayne starter Colin Rea pitched seven innings and kept Wisconsin off balance all afternoon.
"He was locating his fastball pretty well, he had a pretty good curveball," Ramirez said. "He was getting some inches off the plate and he was consistently putting it there. Nine times out of ten, put a ball on the black and tell the hitter it's coming and you're not going to make good contact. He did a good job tonight, and they swung the bats better than we did."
Wisconsin is batting just .185 as a team in the playoffs, and managed to split the two games in Appleton despite collecting a combined 6 hits over 19 innings. Ramirez said the postseason atmosphere is a factor in the drought.
"The pitching shows up a lot. It's not another game in August. They've got some adrenaline going and they can locate their stuff and not try to do too much. And that also makes it tough as a hitter," Ramirez said.
Wisconsin is off tomorrow and will spend the day making the seven hour bus ride to Fort Wayne. They're not expected to work out once they get there, but Erickson said they'll likely have a short meeting at the team hotel to prepare for the pitchers they expect to face in the series' final three games. Fort Wayne is expected to send lefthander Frank Garces to the mound on Saturday.
"We're going to have to shake up our lineup a bit and that may be the best thing for us. We'll figure that out tomorrow, who we're going to put in there, and we'll see what happens," Erickson said.
Despite a tough loss today, the Timber Rattlers are still confident in their ability to turn this series around.
"All year we've been able to come from behind," Pierce said. "We're 1-1, it's a tight series and we're going to go play three games over there but we've got to take two out of three. So now it's a best-of-three series. The whole year our offense has stepped up with clutch hits and everything, our defense has been phenomenal and our pitching right now is doing pretty good. So we have a recipe to win, and we're going to go out there and battle and hopefully get two out of three wins."
"There's definitely a belief we can get this done. We've won a lot of series this year and we've been all right on the road as well. So that's what it boils down to. It's a three game series now and we've got to go on the road and take two out of three. But there's no loss of hope by any means from losing this ballgame," Erickson said.
David Goforth is scheduled to pitch for Wisconsin in Game Three on Saturday. Chad Thompson will pitch Game Four and Mark Williams will take the mound in Game Five if necessary. Today was the season's final game at Fox Cities Stadium, where renovation work is already underway. The ballpark will add a club level and have improved restrooms, clubhouses, offices and more for next season.
Follow the jump for a story I posted earlier today on the lack of activity in the Wisconsin bullpen.
Waiting For The Call
One of the key players in last night's game was an unlikely hero: Reliever Brent Suter pitched three shutout innings last night in his first game since September 3 and his fourth as a Timber Rattler, picking up the win when Wisconsin walked off in the bottom of the tenth.
Wisconsin starting pitchers have pitched deep into games throughout the postseason, so most of the relievers out in the bullpen haven't seen much work. Suter's outing yesterday was just the sixth relief appearance Timber Rattlers pitchers have made in six postseason games.
"Obviously as long as we're winning we're happy," Kevin Shackelford said. "It's for the team. When the relievers don't have to pitch that much it's usually a good thing because the starters are dealing like they have been."
With that said, it creates an interesting challenge for the guys waiting in the bullpen: How do you stay sharp when you're not getting into games?
"You play catch and work with your pitches," Michael Strong said. "Yesterday I threw a little off the mound to try to stay sharp. We're basically throwing day in, day out and working with your pitches."
Wisconsin strength and conditioning coach Christian Polega works with individual players to help them stay prepared.
"Right now it's just a lot of mobility and flexibility. During the last couple of weeks of the season I really worked on pushing the conditioning to push for the playoffs and get ready for this position," Polega said. "So for the most part I have the guys, if they feel they need to get a little extra running in, go do that, otherwise it's all flexibility, mobility and making sure they're ready to go at all times."
Polega is confident that the pitchers have been working hard and will be ready when called upon.
"These guys worked hard all season. Their work ethic has been unbelievable, so they're ready to go. I know they're ready to go, and they know they're ready to go," Polega said. "As you saw last night Suter hadn't pitched in a week or so, goes three innings and does an amazing job. That's just a testament to every one of their work ethics. Everyone works out like them, and they'll be ready to go at any time."
In the meantime, everyone out in the bullpen will be happy as long as the team continues to win.
"I'll help contribute any way I can, even if that means cheering. It's fine with me as long as we win," Kevin Shackelford said.