Sager carrying great expectations into seasonWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to baseball, A.J. Sager is a realist.
The third-year pitching coach for the Mud Hens has seen quite a bit in his time in professional baseball, including 12 years as a player in the San Diego Padres and Detroit Tigers organizations.
That’s why it came as no surprise the pitching staff that started the year in Toledo in 2009 looked different by the season’s end.
“It comes with the territory,” Sager said. “Your job first and foremost is always getting guys ready to play at the big league level. It’s hard to make long-term plans for any guys at this level because the next day they could be called up or sent down.”
When it comes to pitchers, much of it is a lesson in mathematics, according to Sager.
“Every major league team carries 12 pitchers, but you always figure that around 20 will play at some point in Detroit during the season. So when you think of it that way, it is expected to happen at some point.”
While there is still some uncertainty surrounding the final version of the Hens roster, Sager said on paper this might be the strongest Toledo has been in a few seasons.
“When you look through the guys who have a chance to play in Toledo this season, you can’t help but think this is going to be a good team,” he said.
Sager’s pitching staff looks solid with several veterans with major league experience scheduled to be a part of opening day.
The starting rotation, which has yet to be finalized, has shown a significant amount of potential during spring training, Sager said.
Armando Galarraga, Ruddy Lugo and Scot Drucker will be candidates to fill at least three of the spots in the starting rotation.
The biggest name of the three is Galarraga, who is only two years removed from a 2008 season where he was 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA. But after struggling through last season (6-10, 5.64 ERA) and a poor showing this spring (11.57 ERA in two starts), the native of Venezuela was optioned to Toledo.
Sager said Galarraga has many of the qualities that made him a 13-game winner a few years ago, but he needs to use his time in Toledo to retool.
“Armando is a guy who is a very talented pitcher,” he said. “But he has kind of lost his way, and I think a stint in Triple-A might help him regroup a little. I have no doubt if he can do that, he’ll be back in Detroit in no time.”
The remaining rotation spots are somewhat set, but one roster move could change that. Alfredo Figaro and Ryan Ketchner seem to be the leading candidates at this point, but it is still up in the air whether or not Eddie Bonine will make the major league club.
The bullpen is still in a state of flux as well, but three hard-throwing arms should be available to start the year in the Hen Pen. Casey Fien, Daniel Schlereth and Jay Sborz are three names to watch.
Fien, who has had a wild spring after being signed and released by three teams, will be back as the team’s closer this year. Fien had 14 saves with a 3.41 ERA for the Mud Hens in 2009.
Youngster Daniel Schlereth, who was acquired from Arizona as part of a three-team trade between Arizona, Detroit and New York, is one many fans will want to watch in the bullpen, too.
Jay Sborz was a 2009 midseason call-up to Toledo from Erie, and he pitched well in two outings for the Hens, prior to suffering from an oblique strain that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
“We are going to have some guys who have some big-league experience in our pen this year,” Sager said. “I am excited to see how the rest of the bullpen comes together.”
The Hens were plagued by offensive woes in 2009, especially the team’s .236 batting average with runners in scoring position.
That should change this season with a young group of players ready to lead the way for the Mud Hens.
Looking at the outfield, there is the talented trio of Casper Wells, Brennan Boesch and Wilkin Ramirez.
Wells and Boesch played last year for Double-A Erie and were offensive threats when healthy. Boesch hit .275 with 28 HR and 93 RBI, while Wells hit .260 with 15 HR and 41 RBI during an injury plagued season.
Ramirez should be a familiar face to Toledo fans. Ramirez played in 113 games for the Mud Hens last season, and he hit .258 with 17 HR and 51 RBI.
Ryan Strieby is a newcomer with a lot of potential. Strieby has been seeing time in the outfield this spring, but he might split time between left field and first base, depending on whether or not Jeff Larish makes the Tigers’ final cut. Strieby played with Boesch and Wells in Erie, and he had similar success to his counterparts. He hit .303 with 18 HR and 58 RBI in 2009.
The rest of the infield looks set and will be led by shortstop Brent Dlugach, who was an all-star last season with the Hens. Dlugach hit .294 in Toledo with 36 doubles.
Second base will more than likely be occupied by Will Rhymes, who hit .260 in 404 at bats in Toledo in 2009.
Kory Casto will take third base for the departed Mike Hessman, who signed with the Mets and will play for Buffalo this season. Casto played for Syracuse last season, hitting .272.
Catcher Robinzon Diaz will take up the backstop duties for the Hens this season. The 26 year old Dominican hit .279 with 19 RBI in 41 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Diaz will be backed up by Mike Rabelo, who was with the Tiger organization prior to being traded to Florida in 2007.
When Sager looks through the offense, he sees a team that should be able to score runs.
“I always joke with LP [Larry Parrish] and Bull [Leon Durham] that if you guys can score eight runs, the pitching staff should be able to hold the lead,” Sager said. “This year, looking at this team on paper, it actually might be a realistic goal.”
But that is when the realist in Sager starts to reemerge. He said while it is always great to win a championship, there are more important goals.
“Certainly, we want to be champions,” he said, “but we are just looking to get these guys ready for the show. We want to win and be competitive, but our first goal is to make sure we are providing the big league club with quality players.”
Tags: Mud Hens