The Vancouver Canadians may normally spend their time underneath the media radar, being as they’re a short-season club, north of the border, and run on a shoestring budget. But this year the North American press has taken a real interest in the going on in Vancouver. The reason why? Perhaps it is because their parent club, the Oakland A's, is winning. Perhaps it is because they’re one of the few remaining minor league teams in Canada. Or perhaps it’s the fact that this team currently possesses one of the strongest pitching line-ups in all of minor league baseball.
In fact, since August 5th, the Vancouver bullpen has pitched 24 innings of ball and conceded just one single earned run.
Check it out (W-L, ERA, BB:K):
Michael Madsen: 4-0, 1.38, 7:31
A 21st rounder from Ohio State, Madsen is the epitome of his namesake’s character in Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Blonde. He’s all business, no nervous energy, just takes the ball, picks a spot, and delivers it there with great speed, strength and determination. Madsen’s results are coming not from overpowering stuff, but from overpowering efficiency and control. In his own words; “I didn’t think my pitching would hit this level this fast. I’m only throwing two pitches right now, but I’m working on a slider, and once that begins to move…”
James Shull: 2-1, 2.91, 6:44
A 4th rounder out of Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo, The Shullacker started the season with total dominance, then suffered a couple of shaky outings before grinding his way out of a slump with better stuff than he’s had all year. A walk to strikeout ratio of better than 1:7 speaks volumes for the talent Shull brings to the organization, and he hasn’t even started to fill out his 6’2” frame yet.
Trey Shields: 3-1, 2.57, 18:40
6’7” of plain old mean. Shields, a 9th rounder out of the University of Alabama, tends to hurt teams early, and but gets distracted around the second out, yet that’s the only criticism anyone could level against a guy who owns the mound so entirely when facing down the league’s best hitters. At times this season, Shields has simply over-matched the opposition, and even when the hitters he’s throwing at know his stuff, there’s still a large amount of luck involved in getting his stuff away. If Trey adds a pitch to his repertoire and finds a few MPH of velocity, look out.
Jeff Gray: 3-2, 1.88, 4:14
A 32nd round draftee from 2004, nobody really expected Jeff Gray to come in to 2005 firing cruise missiles at the plate, but that’s what he did, pitching with ruthless location and a mature head, until an oblique injury sidelined him late last month. He’s been replaced in the rotation by call-up Joe Piekarz, who has gone 2-2, 4.36 during his time with the team, but the return of ‘One Way’ Gray is very much looked forward to.
Joe Newby: 3-4, 5.85, 18:32
Every rotation needs a number five who can keep the team on a streak, and that sums up Joe Newby to a T. The non-draft free agent signing from Colorado State, Pueblo, has managed to scratch 94 MPH on the gun a few times this season, and though he’s been tagged a couple of times -- most notably when he gave up 7 ER in 0.2 innings a few weeks back -- he’s also come back strongly with games that demonstrated that his velocity is matched by his ferocity. A Joe Newby with a point to prove is a Joe Newby to be feared. And right now, he’s got a point to prove.
Brad Davis: 3-1, 0.00, 7:31
Two words: Lights out. 14th rounder Davis is in the odd position of having registered a loss without having conceded an earned run this season, but for the most part, when Brad Davis comes to the mound, Vancouver fans know that they have an almost unfair advantage for the ensuing innings.
Ron Madej: 0-0, 1.08, 7:17
‘Mayday’ has been a revelation this season, with the 26th rounder having come from back of the bullpen obscurity to set-up and middle relief duties. His stuff isn’t going to shock the world, but he knows how to pitch, and has enough confidence in what he throws that he’ll stare a hitter down and get the important out.
Stephen Bryant: 1-1, 1.93, 5:17
Bad News Bryant has struggled a touch the last week or so, or perhaps he’s just averaging out after being near unhittable early in the season. A 20th rounder from the University of Hawaii, Bryant has served as calm and assured mid-game relief at times when the Canadians needed a calm head to keep them in games.
Jason Ray: 0-0, 3.06, 18:28
Owns the filthiest fastball in the league, which sits at about 94 MPH, but this 8th rounder is only just now discovering how to rein that fireball in and use it to hit the right spots. If Ray starts to hit the strikezone with regularity, as he has over the last two weeks, he’ll zoom through this system in short time.
Jose Corchado: 3-1, 5.02, 9:19
An 8th rounder in 2002, Curveball Corchado has some of the most wickedly moving stuff you’ll see at this level, and when his head is in the game, he’s just plain nasty. His problem -- and it’s what sees him back down here after being demoted from Kane County -- is that he plays the game entirely in his head, and that head doesn’t always believe in his arm. Right now, however, Corchado is delightfully hard to hit, and if he can keep up the dancing curveball routine a little longer he might well get back to the level he should be playing at – high-A.
Brad Kilby: 1-0, .180, 6:24, 10 saves
When the game is on the line, often a minor league crowd will grow concerned when their closer is brought in to the game. Let’s face it, minor league closers aren’t always ‘lights out’, but Killer Kilby brings the crowd to its feet whenever he takes the mound. He’s a 29th round draft pick out of San Jose State, which doesn’t sound too ominous at first, but when he delivers his first sizzleball past the flailing bat of the hitter, you can tell from the thwack of ball on glove that it’s doing exactly what he wants. Kilby is a great example of why major league teams need to take care with their post-20th round draft picks, because how this kid wasn’t grabbed ten round earlier is baffling to those who have watched him mow down NWL opponents this year.
Steve Kleen: 0-0, 0.00, 0:1
Okay, he’s probably more known for his .261 batting average, 20 runs scored and 5 stolen bases, but it’s nice to be in a bullpen jam and be able to send in the first baseman for 2/3 of an inning of scoreless relief.
Two weeks ago, as the Canadians watched their lead in the NWL West go from 8 games to 1, pundits wondered whether the early season Vancouver pitching performance (they at one time had a team ERA of just 2.30) was down to nothing more than luck. But in the last week, the C’s pitching came back in a big way, and against the very team that had been previously closing in on their lead.
August 5: Mike Madsen and Brad Kilby combine for a two-hit shut-out of the Spokane Indians as the C’s win 2-0. Madsen pitched 8 innings of two-hit ball with no walks and 6 K’s on the night.
August 6: Jimmy Shull pitches 6 innings of two-hit ball before Danielin Acevedo, Brad Davis and Stephen Bryant combine to close the game out with just one more hit, in a 5-1 victory where Haas Pratt went 4-4 with the bat.
August 7: Joe Newby gets tagged for five earned runs over 5 innings, but the bullpen effort of Corchado, Madej, Ray and Kilby shuts down the Salem-Kaizer bats long enough for the hitting to outscore them in a 9-5 win. Chad Boyd and Jeff Bieker go 3-4 on the day with the bat, each scoring two runs.
August 8: Joe Piekarz gets a little worked and the bats can’t do much to help. Vancouver loses 5-2.
August 9: Trey Shields surrenders just one earned run over 6 innings, as Bryant and Davis shut down the last three, allowing the bats to cruise to a 6-1 win. Steve Kleen, Chalon Tietje and Justin Sellers go 2-4 on the day, with Kleen also scoring 2 runs.
August 10: Mike Madsen starts strongly, but gives up two earned runs in 5 innings against the league’s leading offense. Madej, Corchado and Kilby blank Salem-Kaizer for the rest of the game, as Jeff Baisley hits a 2-run dinger and V-Town wins, 5-3.
August 11: Jimmy Shull eats world as he allows just four hits and one earned run in 7 innings against a team boasting the top three hitters in the league in their 3,4,5 slots. Acevedo pitches strong middle relief, and Bryant shuts it down in extra innings, as Vancouver wins 3-1 in the 10th inning. Wilber Perez goes 3-4 with the bat.
As the C’s look to sweep the second place Salem-Kaizer Volcanoes on the road, it will again be the bullpen they look to for a little late inning steadiness. With a four-game lead now in the NWL, another month of more-of-the-same should see Vancouver ideally poised to take their first NWL championship, and will mean Oakland has yet again drafted players far superior to those recruited by the competition.