AFTER cleaning up on a free-agent market flush with quality pitchers, Winnipeg Goldeyes manager Rick Forney felt mighty pleased with how he made out in the American Association arms race.
Now, with a few brisk field practices in the bag and the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in town for a pair of exhibition games tonight and on Tuesday, Forney is ready to find out which of his 15 pitchers came to camp ready to really throw. By the time the season starts on May 17, Forney must wrestle the pitching roster down to 11 or 12. So half the pitchers will get into game action tonight, the other half on Tuesday.
Forney knows the games -- which start at 7 p.m. at Shaw Park -- might not look too pretty. That's OK -- perfection isn't the point. "Mistakes will be made, I'm sure," Forney said, easing behind his desk before batting practice on Sunday. "Both teams probably won't be up to speed, won't be running well. I just want to see the new guys play for the first time."
He won't just watch for success, but also for adversity: In these early pre-season days, batters are still working at getting their swings up to speed, and can sometimes look a little overmatched -- a temporary imbalance that may not last.
"You can see a guy go through training camp and pitch great, then all of a sudden these (hitters) get their timing in, and pitchers start to struggle a little bit," Forney said. "To be quite honest with you, I maybe like to see a pitcher struggle a bit right now so I can see them pitching in some troublesome situations."
One of the pitchers Forney will be watching closely tonight is newcomer Patrick Keating, who is slated to serve as closer. The Illinois righty signed on with the Fish this spring, after he couldn't squeeze his way into AAA. Here, he's been reunited with former Kansas City Royals organization teammates including pitchers Brendan Lafferty, Allen Caldwell and Edgar Osuna and outfielder Tim Smith.
"Everybody up here just seemed like good people," Keating said. "Rick told me how we played in front of a lot of fans, and people really like to come out and support the team."
Keating has a knack for high-pressure situations: last year, he led the AA-level Northwest Arkansas Naturals with nine saves, and in 2010, he led all Royals minor-leaguers with 15 regular-season saves.
As those numbers suggest, the 25-year-old is eager to prove he can be the Goldeyes' ninth-inning guy. It's a role he's known since high school. "(Being a closer) has always kind of fit me, because I'm a pretty intense guy," Keating said, before strolling onto the Shaw Park field for Sunday practice. "The game's on the line with every pitch. It's the position I like to be in."
It's good that Keating digs the pressure, because cuts are looming -- and as the pitchers strut their stuff tonight, Forney is looking for who comes ready to compete. "All I ask of any of my pitchers is find out how good you are, and throw it over the plate," he said.