Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goldeyes' big 'rookie' has all the right stuff

Thomas has been dynamite out of bullpen

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The first thing you notice is his size.

Ian Thomas, the 'rookie' pitcher for the Winnipeg Goldeyes, looks unmistakably like a professional athlete. Even more impressive than the 6-foot-4, 200-plus pound lefty's imposing physique, however, is his record.

"Four and one, man. It feels good," Thomas said. Good enough, in fact, to the lead all Fish pitchers in wins, despite his coming out of the bullpen.

Although the right-hander still has rookie status the 24-year-old has been with the Goldeyes since August 2009, and last season was named the Northern League Rookie Pitcher of the Year with a 1.64 ERA, tops for the team, and five wins, the most by any Goldeyes reliever.

He pitched 15 innings in 2009 and 55 last season, not enough to shed his rookie status for this season.

This year, No. 19 is picking up right where he left off, and playing like anything but a rookie.

"I don't expect anything less," said Thomas, as he stretched before Monday night's opening tango of a three-game series with the the Sioux Falls Pheasants (11-18). "We're all here to win. That's it."

The Goldeyes were out to impress Monday night in their series-opener against the Sioux Falls Pheasants at Shaw Park, especially on defence. The Fish won without a sweat by a score of 4-1.

Starting pitcher Ace Walker saw just over six innings of efficient play before being relieved by lefty Kevin Light. Walker gave up only one run despite allowing seven hits and recorded three strikeouts in the process.

Kody Kaiser's two-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning put the Fish up by three runs, while Louis Ott also recorded two RBI.

Some 4,229 fans were in attendance for the island-festive "Jamaican Night". The series continues tonight at 7:00 p.m.

For Thomas, winning begins with a regimented routine. He works out vigorously in the off-season in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., where he does a combination of weight-training, running and swimming at least five days a week. When it comes to how Thomas prepares when the season is in full swing, however, he won't reveal his winning techniques.

"I can't give away my secrets," he said with a laugh. "But basically, the real key is staying fresh. You never want to get that dead arm in the middle of the season."

So far, that hasn't been a problem for the big guy. He's posted a 2.94 ERA in 15 innings of work this season, recording 16 strikeouts in the process, but Thomas, a picture of modesty, will tell you the credit belongs to his teammates.

"You get in certain situations where the bats really get going and guys really start bringing 'em in, and I just happen to be the guy on the mound."

That is one way to look at it. However, pitching coach Brendan Sagara thinks Thomas' work ethic and aggressiveness have plenty to do with his impressive stat sheet.

"He's worked really hard on improving his velocity and we count on him to pitch in big situations," Sagara said.

As for a rookie leading the team in wins, Sagara noted, "It obviously means Ian's doing his job, but clearly we'd like to see our starters with similar success. Ian is pitching with an extra edge right now, though."

Thomas's play has evidently rubbed off on Chad Benefield, another rookie pitcher and one of Thomas's friends on the team. Benefield, just 23, has similarly been impressing the club with stellar play, posting an ERA of 1.42 and chalking up 10 strikeouts in 12 innings. "We just try to go out there and do what we're taught," Benefield said. "And that's play baseball."

While neither of the dynamic rookies are scheduled to start this series, as both still get their work out of the bullpen, Thomas stressed the importance of this series against Sioux City. "They're in our division," he noted. "We should sweep."

Especially if they call on Thomas.

robby.frankel@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2011 C4

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