July 7, 2017
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- Next to having gloves, bats and balls, there are three other things that top the list of importance in baseball:
2) Pitching. And lastly ...
3) More pitching.
Because no pitching = no fun.
It's not that the Jefferson City Renegades have no pitching, but it's fair to say they could sure use more of it.
After starting the season 7-3, the lack of pitching depth has caught up with the team --- the Renegades lost 14 of 19 as they hit this week's mid-season break in the eight-team MINK League.
"I knew we wouldn't be a dominant team," Renegades head coach Mike DeMilia said, "I thought we'd be a solid team and at times, we have been. Offensively and defensively, we're about where I thought we'd be --- a little streaky, but that's baseball.
"The frustrating part has been our lack of consistency on the mound; I thought it would be better. But we've thrown so many different guys, it's been really hard to be consistent."
Throwing different guys? Get a load of this number ... if you're sitting down, good --- but you may want to lay down.
The Renegades have used 35 pitchers this season.
"No," DeMilia said, "I've never heard of anything like that. Ever."
How has it happened? A few pitchers have developed some degree of arm soreness, some need time off, and others have just left the team for whatever reason.
"A lot of guys are worried about getting hurt, which I understand," said DeMilia, a veteran coach of more than 20 years that includes stops as an assistant coach at Truman State and head coach at Lincoln. "But I'm a firm believer that we baby pitchers too much --- I think sometimes, the more we baby them, the more they get hurt. That's my theory, but a lot of coaches disagree with me.
"It's been frustrating, to try and dig around every night to try find a few guys in the bullpen. It's been a struggle."
There have been a few constants on the mound, however, and topping that list is Taylor Thompson (2-0), who's pitched a team-high 35.2 innings sports an ERA of 3.53 --- nearly four runs under the team's ERA.
"He's been unbelievable," DeMilia said. "When we first started, we thought he'd have to start a couple of games to get us by. But with all the things that have happened, he's stayed in our rotation and without a doubt, he's been our best guy.
"He's not overly dominant, but he fills up the zone and he hits his spots. We feel really good when he's on the mound."
Jacob Voss has appeared in a team-high eight games and is 2-0 with two saves and a sparkling ERA of 1.59. He also earned a save in the MINK All-Star game Wednesday night in Chillicothe, a game won by the South, 6-4.
At the plate, the Renegades (13-17 entering Friday night) don't hit for a big average (.264 team), but they have some of the best power numbers in the league, including 19 home runs and 41 doubles.
Among the offensive stars:
** Hunter Swift is hitting .316 with a team-high 25 runs scored;
** Cole Evans is at .315, he's tied with Swift for the team lead with eight doubles, and is second on the team in RBI with 17. In addition, he finished second in the MINK's Home Run Derby prior to Wednesday night's game;
** Mike Million is at .296 with a team-high five home runs and 16 RBI, and he belted a home run in the All-Star Game;
** and Tyler Cunningham is batting .259 with a team-high 19 RBI.
One notable player missing from the team is shortstop/pitcher Grant Wood --- a recent graduate of Jefferson City High School and the Gatorade Missouri Player of the Year --- who's been shut down for the summer by doctors with shoulder inflammation.
Also, the team has lost its leading hitter (.357) and starting shortstop, Tanner Wetrich, who's done for the season due to commitments at the University of Iowa. This, however, would be considered a good reason to leave--- the Hawkeyes are off to Taiwan for a baseball trip.
Nothing against road trips to Sedalia or Joplin, but when you have a chance to go to Taiwan, well, ...
"It's something we knew would probably happen," DeMilia said. "You just have to keep doing the best you can."
It's been a season full of adjustments for DeMilia --- other than a roster that rotates faster than a NASCAR tire, that is.
"Dealing with the promotions, you don't see a lot of that at the college level," he said. "Like between innings, having kids doing a sack race, it's definitely something I wasn't used to. It's more of a minor league thing than a college thing."
As in taking a school bus for road trips ... and other Bull Durham moments.
"There are some funny, funny things said in the dugout, especially in the middle of the summer because it's so hot," DeMilia said. "They're pretty comical, I just can't repeat a lot of them. But if we were making our own movie, there would be some good moments."
Win or lose, playing at Vivion has supplied plenty of good moments from the fan base and the support they've offered the first-year team.
The Renegades have been welcomed with open arms.
"We knew the first game, we'd have a lot of people," DeMilia said, "but after that, you just weren't sure. Most nights, we've had what I would consider good crowds and I think if we win more, that will help, too.
"I've been really happy with the support we've been getting, I'm just hoping we can build on it."
DeMilia wants to return next year and priority No. 1 will be pitching. Not just more of it, but knowing who will be there and just as importantly, when they'll be there.
"If we know they're going to be there from June 1-20, we can plan after that," he said. "But to get bombshells dropped on us --- like, 'I know I was going to be in your starting rotation, but now I'm out for the year' --- we have to figure that out.
"But overall, it's been a neat experience and I'm having a lot of fun. If we can figure it out on the mound, swing the bats the way we have been, and keep playing solid defense, I think we can do some good things the rest of the season."
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The Renegades' Cole Evans is batting .315, he's tied for the team lead with eight doubles, and he's second on the team in RBI with 17.
At the break, search for consistent
pitching continues for Renegades