There's a magic number Gabe Aguilar has in his head, a goal he'd like to throw past before the Goldeyes' season ends: 35.
That would be the 35 batters that Aguilar would like to strike out this year, at least. Not only does the Fish reliever have potential saves riding on that goal, and some professional pride, but he's got a dinner bill as well.
"I made a bet with Kiss (Goldeyes reliever Chris Kissock) the other day," said Aguilar, 24. "If I get 35 strikeouts, he has to buy me dinner. But if he gets 50 strikeouts, we're even. So keep doing what I've been doing, not have any up and downs."
'We all take a lot of pride in our pitching. We want to put up zeroes'
-- Fish reliever Taylor Sewitt
Right now, Aguilar is well on pace. With a quarter of the season in the books, the rookie has hurled 16 innings and struck out 12 batters. Indeed, he's allowed fewer walks or hits per inning than any pitcher on the team, and opposing batters have hit just .130 against him. It's early yet, Goldeyes manager Rick Forney cautioned, and it is. But hey, better to be early and looking down, than early climbing your way up and out.
And it was early too in Sioux Falls last week, when Aguilar started the first 2 1/3 innings of what would become a no-hitter, in a seven-inning game shared between five relievers. Kaohi Downing, Taylor Sewitt, Brendan Lafferty and Kyle Bellamy finished off what he began. I
n a way, given how much positive buzz has floated around this bullpen, it was fitting the franchise's first no-hitter should belong to them.
"We took a picture with the scoreboard after, so that was pretty cool," said Sewitt, also classified a rookie, who pitched a third of an inning against the Canaries.
"That was the first one I've ever thrown... We all take a lot of pride in our pitching. We want to put up zeroes. Most of the guys, I feel like, even if you give up a hit that inning, that's a bad inning, almost. We try to do that every time."
It helps when you're getting bright performances from so many guys. Consider the case of Aguilar, shining now in his second campaign with the Fish. When he joined the Goldeyes last year, fresh off his college career at the University of New Mexico, he'd already hurled 41 innings. He added another 41 with the Goldeyes, and started off strong, allowing just one run in his first seven appearances. He would finish with a 5.05 ERA in 24 turns on the mound.
On Monday, Goldeyes pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea mused exhaustion might have slowed him down last season. For Aguilar, though, the battle was just as much in the mind, as in the arm.
"The mental side was what was the dealbreaker last year," he said. "I had to figure out I had to keep the ball down. If I was going to miss my pitches, I need to keep it down, so they swing on top of it and hit a ground ball.
"That's what I came into this season trying to do. Everything's got to be down. Not try to blow it by anybody... if I have movement, that's what's going to give me success."
From the sidelines, manager Rick Forney has been watching Aguilar start to come into his own, has seen the way Aguilar has been taking those lessons to heart.
"He pays attention," Forney said. You can tell he's paying attention. And I think he's watching some of the older guys, and kind of implemented some of people like Chris Salamida's game into his own."
Besides, there's the extra little boost being part of competitive bullpen provides. It's not like people usually focus on the bullpen much, right? Sort of like offensive linemen in football, Sewitt laughed, they usually only get discussed when something goes wrong. But this season, there's a good buzz building, as relievers have pushed each other along. "We're real close out there," said side-armer Sewitt, 24, who has hurled for a 1.92 ERA through 9.1 innings of work. "Everyone almost tries to one-up each other. We're all trying to beat each other stat-wise. More appearances, all that stuff. We all got our little competitions going on. So for everyone to be throwing well, it's a good thing, and everyone builds off that."