Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Good starters, bad stoppers

Fish bullpen reeling like it has mad cow disease

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It is very much a good news, bad news story for the Winnipeg Goldeyes right now. And both tales concern the club's pitching.

First, the good news. The Goldeyes have been getting exceptional starting pitching through the first 21 games of the season from a five-man rotation that just might be the most formidable in the Northern League at the moment.

Mark Holliman, who gave up just two hits through six innings as the Fish beat the Kansas City T-Bones 2-1 in a matinee affair before 6,134 at Canwest Park Thursday, has struck out 27 and shown the kind of command you seldom see in a Northern League pitcher. Ditto Chris Salamida, who led the league with 23 strikeouts heading into Thursday. Ace Walker, last year's Northern League pitcher of the year, got roughed up in his last one but still has shown the kind of dominating stuff we've come to expect from him through three seasons. Stephen Flake's 10 strikeouts through just 4 2/3 innings against Kansas City on Tuesday was the most dominating pitching performance for the Goldeyes all season -- and we'll all be left to wonder how many he might have struck out if the heavens hadn't opened up and forced the game to be suspended. And Antony Bello has looked nothing like a man who sat out all of last season with a shoulder problem.

Put it together and it's been the kind of rotation that championship teams -- something that hasn't been seen in these parts since 1994 -- are built on.

"I feel with our starting pitching," said Holliman, "that we have the advantage going into any series. We feed off each other. We're always talking to each other, learning new things and learning about the competition we're facing, trying to go out and repeat what the other guys are doing."

So what's the bad news? When the starters have faltered, the relief in the bullpen has been wildly erratic, particularly on the most recent homestand. In seven games, the Fish bullpen yielded 36 hits and 19 runs and have looked overmatched at times, especially rookie Austin Donmoyer, who was released after Thursday's game sporting a 16.90 ERA.

But here's where it gets interesting. For all the batting practice the bullpen threw over the last week, reliever Ian Thomas got credit for wins over K.C. on Thursday and Wednesday and is now tied for the league lead in wins with a perfect 4-0 record.

"I'm not sure how to take all this right now," said Thomas, 22, who was signed by the Fish straight out of college. "I've never been able to get wins out of the bullpen before. But I'm just focussing on throwing strikes and things seem to be working out."

And not just for Thomas. Former big-leaguer Bobby Korecky, after an inauspicious Northern League debut last week that saw him turn a save into a loss, has settled in nicely to record two saves since and has what looks to be the makings of a dominant closer.So put it all together and Fish manager Rick Forney says he's comfortable with his bullpen -- and the rest of his team -- as the club heads back out on the road. "We had some issues, some short starts and the bullpen basically got overused," Forney said Thursday. "But I like a lot of what I see right now."

With Thursday's victory, the Fish and K.C. split their four-game series. The Goldeyes went 4-3 during the seven-game homestand and will carry a 12-9 season record on to a nine-game road trip through the Chicago area that is scheduled to begin tonight in Schaumburg.

FISHLINES: The start of Thursday's game was delayed an hour due to threatening weather...Fish centre fielder Aharon Eggleston went 1-for-2 in Thursday's win and now has 12 hits in his last eight games, with five RBI and five runs...Fish DH Juan Diaz went 0-for-4 Thursday but still has four home runs and nine RBI in his last eight games...Fish outfielder Dee Brown, third baseman Vince Harrison, catcher Luis Alen and second baseman Josh Asanovich were all hitting below .250 heading into Thursday...The Goldeyes committed eight errors on the homestand.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2010 C6

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