The Alexandria Beetles know their pitching will have to get a lot better over the season’s final few weeks if they want to have any chance of making a second-half run like they did last season.
The Beetles finished the first half yesterday with the second worst record in the North Division at 13-22, and it’s not hard to understand why. They enter the second half against St. Cloud tonight with a team ERA of 6.54. In comparison, the first-place Mankato MoonDogs have a team ERA of 3.39 on their way to winning the first half with a 28-7 record.
“With our offense, if we can keep it around 4.0, 4.50 [ERA], I think we would be just fine,” head coach Drew Saberhagen said. “I think yesterday (an 8-7 win over Willmar) was hopefully a big step in the right direction. Our bullpen allowed only one run in six innings. That kept us in the game. Hopefully some other guys can build off that.”
The Alexandria pitching staff is last in the Northwoods League in runs allowed after giving up 278 through the first 35 games. Included in that are 57 unearned runs allowed with a defense that has 62 errors.
The biggest problem for this team through the first half was finding the strike zone. Alexandria has allowed a league high 223 walks already. That’s 13 more than the Beetles allowed all of last summer. Rochester has the second most walks through the first half with 189 and no other team has more than 171.
“As a pitching coach, you definitely take pride in that and to lead the league with the most walks allowed is frustrating,” Saberhagen said. “Especially in a park like ours where you’re going to give up a few cheap home runs just because of the dimensions. By giving them free base runners, it puts that much more pressure on your staff.”
The Beetles are still trying to find out where guys fit best. Ali Simpson (Bethune-Cookman, 1-0, 3.94 ERA), Steve Weber (Eastern Michigan, 1-3, 3.60 ERA) and Jon Reed (Walters State, 2-1, 3.72 ERA) are the only three guys who have solidified themselves in the rotation. Shawn Reisgraf (St. Cloud State), Scott Sanderson (St. Cloud State) and Michael Reed (LSU) will also continue to get looks as starters as they try to work through a tough first half of the season after all three posted ERA’s above 8.30.
Brandon Johnson is one of a couple additions Alexandria will be getting into town that it hopes can help with this team’s pitching problems. The left-hander was scheduled to arrive this afternoon after making a deep run into the College World Series with Florida State. Saberhagen said he would like to use Johnson as a starter but will start by using him to solidify the bullpen after he allowed just two walks and posted an ERA of 2.87 through 15 2/3 innings this past season.
Johnson’s catcher with the Seminoles will also be joining him in Alexandria after starting all 67 games for one of the top programs in the country. McGee hit .230 for Florida State but it’s his ability to call a game that could benefit the Beetles the most.
“He will be a huge asset when we get him on the ninth, probably his first game on the 10 [of July],” Saberhagen said. “Anytime you can catch every single game for Florida State, a team that was No. 1 in the country for much of the season, that says something about you defensively. I think he might be able to take control of this pitching staff and get them to figure some things out just by working with him. He’s a big guy who really receives the ball well.”
Alexandria doesn’t need much from McGee offensively. The Beetles are already fourth in the league in runs scored with 212. That’s why they feel like they still have a chance to make some noise if they can get things figured out with their pitchers.
“I kind of talked a little bit about it before the Willmar series,” Saberhagen said. “I just kind of said, ‘Let’s start fresh, win the series going into the second half.’ We did that at home. The guys are excited. I think we’re starting to come together a little more on the field, and if we throw strikes, I like our chances.”