By Nathan Mayberg
Sun Sports Writer
If the old adage that pitching wins games in the postseason is true, then the Stone Crabs should be in good shape for a September run.
“Only time will tell,” said pitching coach Jeff ‘Doc’ Watson.
What is clear is that Charlotte’s pitching is the best in the Florida State League and that the team is headed to the playoffs largely on the basis of that strength.
This season’s staff has boasted an unfathomable five starters with sub-2.00 ERA’s, technically seven with the recent conversion of Cristopher Sanchez to a starting role.
On Tuesday, Stephen Woods Jr. threw five scoreless innings, striking out eight against the Florida Fire Frogs to lower his ERA to 1.88. He was the fourth Charlotte starter in the past five games to throw at least five scoreless innings, following Tommy Romero, Michael Plassmeyer, and Tobias Myers.
When Myers threw five scoreless against Clearwater to clinch the second-half South division title Saturday, it was the fourth time in his last six starts that he did not allow an earned run. Two months earlier, Myers was on the sidelines with elbow discomfort. The 21-year-old Winter Haven product, who was acquired from the Orioles in a 2017 trade, has a 1.22 ERA in his last 10 starts and a 2.31 ERA overall.
That’s how well things are going for the Stone Crabs.
This season, they lost Joe Ryan (1.42 ERA), Shane McClanahan (1.46 ERA) and Joe O’Brien (1.59 ERA) to promotions, and the staff has kept stepping up.
Charlotte pitchers are excelling under Watson, who helped develop last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell when he was here in 2014.
“I knew he would win a Cy Young. I didn’t think he would get it that quick,” he said.
Watson also guided screwball thrower Brent Honeywell, the Rays’ top pitching prospect, when he was with the Stone Crabs. Watson sees comparisons in this year’s staff to Charlotte’s 2015 rotation, which featured Honeywell, Jake Faria, Taylor Guerrieri, Ryne Stanek, Hunter Wood and 21 innings from Snell.
This year’s Stone Crabs have been led by Romero’s league-leading wins (12). Among qualified starters, Romero has the best ERA (1.89), WHIP (1.02) and opposing batting average (.205). Those numbers lead all three Class A-Advanced leagues.
Meanwhile, Watson said Woods “has made the most strides of anybody I have had in recent memory.” His ERA has gone from 2.56 in the first half to a miniscule 1.48 ERA in the second half. All of this after missing the entire 2018 season following shoulder surgery.
Plassmeyer, who had a 2.97 ERA in the first half, has thrown to a 1.71 ERA since the All-Star break, including a 1.21 ERA in August, which Watson attributes to moving him to the middle of the rubber to hide his arm more. Plassmeyer has also developed a lethal sinker.
For Myers, who committed to the University of South Florida before being drafted by the Orioles in 2016, the development of his cutter has contributed to a dominating August.
“My body works better late in the season,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep up with the other pitchers. We help each other out a lot.”
Wilson stresses to pitchers the importance of keeping their poise.
Myers has gotten the lesson. “There is never a big pitch, game, at-bat. It’s the same game.”
Same game but different pitchers with different weapons, deliveries, velocities and personalities all pitching lights out for the Stone Crabs.
“They are individuals. You can’t clone them,” WIlson said.
The Stone Crabs will play their last two regular-season home games in a doubleheader today against the Fire Frogs before returning Tuesday for their playoff game against the Fort Myers Miracle.