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Clippers continue to play well even with roster challenges

Clippers continue to play well even with roster challenges
Roberto Perez and Scott Barnes (Photo: Brittany Chay)
June 22, 2014
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What makes a winning streak happen? There are many answers to that question, and typically it’s simply a combination of a few factors.

At the moment, those elements are falling into place for the Columbus Clippers. Manager Chris Tremie’s team won 14 of 18 from May 31 to June 17. Three losses in the past three days still don’t hide the fact that the team is in the middle of a confident stride.

But it hasn’t been like this all season. For the most part, the Clippers have performed in a series of extended streaks. The losses come thick and fast, and then suddenly everything is clicking. This isn’t necessarily surprising. In the constant shuffle of players accompanied by any Triple-A season, there are bond to be peaks and valleys.

Before their current run, the Clippers were on an equally impressive downhill slide. They won just five games during a nineteen game stretch in late May, including a six-game losing streak.

When one examines the changes around the ball club at the time it’s easy to see why things took a turn for the worse. Saying that pitching is the most important part of a team’s success may be obvious, but it was most definitely the case for Columbus in the beginning of the season. One of the Columbus Clippers’ best performers in the beginning of the season was starter Trevor Bauer. In his six seven starts with the team Bauer went 4-2 with a 2.15 ERA, pitching into the sixth inning all but once.  

That kind of production meant he was never going to stay very long, and so it proved when the Indians called him up on May 16 having already made a spot start in early April.

He wasn’t even the first Clippers pitcher who made it to the big leagues – Josh Tomlin made the jump up on May 6, and T.J. House became the third hurler to be recalled on May 17.

Without that trio a lull was expected. But now the team has seemingly turned a corner. Why is that?

Naturally, other pitchers have had to step in. In their recent winning stretch, 10 different pitchers have earned wins. Tyler Cloyd has three, Kyle Davies and Gabriel Arias with two each. Cloyd has also been the standout performer statistically. He’s issued just three walks in his last four starts, and he had his only complete game of the season against Louisville on May 31.

There has even been some positive signs from Danny Salazar. After coming off a stint on the DL at the beginning of June, Salazar made a solid comeback start against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: just two runs and four hits in five innings. His start on Friday wasn’t great – four runs in five innings – but his strikeout rate went back up to nine, just the third time he’s reached that mark all year.

Pitching has also been stellar on the back end. Just as the Clippers winning streak began, Nick Hagadone was rewarded for his terrific month of May with a major league call up. Another reliever who spent time in Cleveland, Kyle Crockett, has continued to be consistent. He hasn’t allowed a run, hit or walk in any of his last three appearances.

Middle reliever Scott Barnes should be highlighted too. Over his last eight appearances opponents have only recorded eight hits, and his 1.08 ERA speaks for itself. Despite surrendering three runs against Charlotte on June 8, Frank Hermann has only allowed one run to score in his other four starts. And the recently called-up J.C. Ramirez has impressed in his first four appearances.

Finally, there’s the terrific resurgence of veteran Vinnie Pestano. For whatever reason, the set up man hasn’t been the same over the past few years, resulting in his demotion to Columbus early this season. But ever since getting tagged with the loss in a May 14 game against Rochester, Pestano has been fantastic. He’s pitched 13 innings and surrendered zero – yes, zero – runs. His return to the Indians lineup on Friday night was a heartening one for all fans in Northeast Ohio.

When it comes to hitting, the absence of another key player certainly had a big effect on the team’s overall performances. Before hitting the disabled list in mid-May, catcher Roberto Perez was far and away the Clippers best hitter. He drove in 17 runs during his first 25 games, hitting for a solid .342 average.

His two-week stint out of the lineup coincided directly with his team’s losing streak, as evidenced by his .286 average in his first dozen games back.

When Perez arrived from the treatment table, outfielder Tyler Holt arrived from Double-A Akron, and since then has probably been the Clippers best player. During the successful 18 game stretch Holt hit .318 with an OBP of .453, and he recorded a hit in 15 of his first 16 games with Columbus. Holt hasn’t just survived his move up the ladder, he’s thriving in it.

The powerful Jesus Aguilar has spent the season yo-yoing on I-71 between Columbus and Cleveland, and since returning from his latest big league stint he has shown why he’s the Clippers strongest bat with 11 hits in his first nine games back, highlighted by four homers and 15 RBI.

Other than those two, Columbus has benefitted from solid numbers in the .250 range put up by players like Audy CiriacoTim Fedroff and Elliot Johnson. Outfielder Carlos Moncrief – another player tipped for big things in future years – has continued to be a consistent bright spot in the lineup: he’s hit nearly .300 with five homers and 17 RBI over the month of June.

However, as mentioned before, the Clippers have lost their last three games, so maybe there’s another losing streak to be endured. And even though there have been some decent performances at Huntington Park over the past month or so, the unpredictable nature of the highest level of minors highest level means there’s always a surprise or two around the corner.

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