Mudcats Notebook: Karsay talks about first half pitching
The Carolina Mudcats closed out the first half of the season on a sour note, going only 1-3 on the week, with one game being canceled by rain. The Mudcats enter the All-Star Break at 29-38 and finished the first half in a tie for third with the Winston Salem Dash.
The Mudcats had three players named to the All-Star team in outfielder Anthony Gallas, shortstop Erik Gonzalez and left-hander Ryan Merritt. Gonzalez and Merritt both got the start for the Carolina League.
When the record reset on Thursday, the Mudcats will start the second half with a six-game homestand, facing the Frederick Keys and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans for three games apiece.
At times during the first half, the Mudcats have struggled to manufacture runs, but the one thing that has been able to keep the team in most games has been the pitching.
Led by pitching coach Steve Karsay, the Mudcats own a 3.80 team ERA. Even though that is only good enough to rank in the middle of the league, almost every team would be okay with a staff ERA that low.
Karsay has done a good job of getting the most out of a pitching staff that at the beginning of the season was not viewed as dominant by any stretch of the imagination.
The one thing the pitching staff does have is a willingness to learn and get better as the season goes along.
“I think leaving spring training, with the group of guys that we have, have a lot of aptitude and they are willing to learn,” Karsay said. “They are trying to learn things, where they want to try to get better each and every day as the season goes along.”
While it is difficult to work with the entire staff on one thing, Karsay says he focuses on the way the staff approaches the game mentally with everyone.
“The mindset is the main thing,” Karsay said. "Being able to and knowing when to attack the zone, change speeds, be able to pitch in as well as elevate the ball.
While focusing on each pitcher’s mindset and mental approach to the game is important, Karsay also has to work with everyone on their physical performance.
“We’re working on a lot of different things,” Karsay said. "Each guy has their own individual part of their game they need to work on. Some are better than others at things, but sequencing is a big thing.”
When asked what he meant by sequencing, Karsay said it is about patterns each pitcher has in their game.
He used the example of in a 3-2 count, a pitcher always attacks the hitter with a fastball outside. This would lead hitters to look for that pitch in that situation, giving them the advantage.
“You don’t want to fall into a pattern and having a scouting report on guys as you play them multiple times throughout the year,” Karsay said. "You have to be able to make adjustments and that’s what these guys are learning at this level.”
Karsay has done a good job in the first half of the season in making the adjustments necessary in his teaching of the pitching staff to get the most out of everyone.
Player of the Week
Shawn Morimando (LHP): 1 GS, 6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 6 K
Morimando’s hot stretch continued this week in his last start of the first half. In six innings against the Blue Rocks, he kept the team off the bases, allowing only three base runners. Though he ended up with a no decision, Morimando closed the first half with a 6-2 record and is arguably the hottest pitcher in all of the Carolina League, having allowed two or fewer runs in all of his last five starts, all of which lasted at least six innings.
Adam Plutko (RHP): 1 GS, 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K
I’m sure when Plutko walked off the mound at the end of the sixth inning on Friday night, he thought he would have just had the best start of a Mudcats pitcher this week. Morimando might have put up better numbers the very next night, but Plutko continued his quest to prove he belongs in the Carolina League. This was the third of his four starts Plutko lasted six innings, but the first start he allowed fewer than three runs. With more starts like this one, he will quickly prove he belongs.
D.J. Brown (RHP): 1 GS, 5.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K
As he continues to make the transition from reliever to starter, Brown has struggled at times controlling lineups the second and third time through. This week’s start showed a big step in the right direction, as he allowed only one hit to an admittedly struggling lineup and did not walk a batter for the first time all season. It was the third consecutive outing by a Mudcats starter that held the Blue Rocks to no runs and three or fewer hits. Having not made a start in 10 days, it would have been reasonable to assume Brown would struggle, but he showed exactly what he can do on the mound.
Joe Sever (1B): 6-12, 1 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
Having missed nearly all of the first half with a broken hand, Sever has come out of the gate strong since returning to the lineup on June 5. This week, he led the team in hits, though it did not go very far in helping the team score some much needed runs. If the rest of the team can follow Sever’s lead coming into the second half, the offense should really put up some big numbers.
On the Hook
Elvis Araujo (LHP): 1 G, 0.2 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
The Mudcats were well on their way to a victory against the Blue Rocks, leading 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning when Araujo came on to try to close it out. Araujo couldn’t harness his control and allowed his first runs in five outings. Luckily, Grant Sides relieved Araujo to limit the damage and helped the Mudcats pick up the win. Hopefully this was just a bump in the road for Araujo, who has made great strides as a reliever and possible closer this season.
Yandy Diaz (3B): 0-15, 0 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K
Any week you are unable to collect a hit, you know it’s been a rough week. The Indians love Diaz’s offensive potential, but many weeks like this, and the team will begin to have second thoughts about keeping the Cuban defector around. Hopefully, it stems from the nearly two months spent on the disabled list with a broken wrist and he will turn it around as the second half rolls around.
Benny Suarez (RHP): 1 G, 0.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
The generally reliable Suarez was anything but reliable in his lone appearance this week. In just 0.2 innings, Suarez allowed four runs on four hits. The outing was reminiscent of his outing in Triple-A earlier in the year, when he allowed seven earned runs on five hits and two walks in just 1.1 innings. All pitchers have rough outings, and this was just a rough outing for Suarez.
Erik Gonzalez (SS): 0-9, 0 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K
The 2014 Carolina League All-Star struggled at the plate this week, and saw his batting average dip below .300 to close out the first half. Gonzalez has been Mudcats most consistent hitter outside of Anthony Gallas, and this week was the opposite of how his season has gone so far.
Left hander Ryan Merritt and Gonzalez represented the Mudcats in the All-Star Game against the California League. Merritt started the game for the Carolina League, pitching a perfect inning. Gonzalez played the entire game at third base, going 1-for-4, but did commit an error. The California League emerged victorious, winning 3-2.
Fish Swimming Around
Star outfielder Anthony Gallas’ amazing first half paid off on Wednesday as he was promoted to Double-A Akron. Gallas had spent parts of four seasons at the Advanced-A level in the Indians farm system before his promotion. In a corresponding move, catcher Ryan Battaglia was received from short-season Mahoning Valley.
Fish on the Line
At the halfway point of the season, only one player is on the disabled list. Right hander Dylan Baker, who suffered a fractured ankle before his second start of the season is still recovering from the injury. There is still no timeline for his return, but he is not expected to return to the Mudcats this season.
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.