The RedHawks starting pitching must improve the final 40 games if they’re to reach the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
A month ago, Oklahoma City owned one of the top pitching staffs in the Pacific Coast League and was tied for first place in the American Conference’s Northern division.
Entering Tuesday night’s game against Round Rock, the RedHawks were 52-52 and three games behind the Iowa Cubs.
“We’ve got to get our rotation back in order,” said Oklahoma City manager Tony DeFrancesco. “We’re running out of time. There’s only a little over five weeks left to get this thing going the right direction.”
Since the RedHawks were a season-best seven games over .500 in mid-June (40-33) they’ve gone 12-19 the past month.
Oklahoma City is still sixth in the 16-team Pacific Coast League in team ERA (4.28) but was near the top (3.95) before the staff experienced a month-long slump.
“Every time, we’re hoping our starters give us five-plus innings to give us a chance to win,” DeFrancesco said. “A lot of times lately it’s been the first two innings, trying to get a feel (for their pitches). Once they settle in they’ve pitched better, but we’ve been down a few runs early in games with a young offensive team.”
The glaring stat: Over the past 31 games, OKC’s starting pitchers have combined for a 6.52 ERA with only eight quality starts.
Twenty-three non-quality starts have placed a lot of pressure on an offense with good speed and occasional power but is relying on contributions from players with minimal Triple-A experience.
“(Our starting pitchers) are going through a rough spot, but we’ve got a lot of really good arms and a lot of games left to get things right,” said RedHawks pitching coach Steve Webber. “We’ll just keep working at it.”
Injuries have been a factor.
Asher Wojciechowski missed all of spring training and April recovering from a rib injury. Alex White, a former first round pick, is still building arm strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season.
Rudy Owens missed all of last season with a broken foot. Nick Tropeano, the RedHawks one consistent starter, has been sidelined with a tight forearm, but the PCL All-Star is expected to rejoin the rotation this weekend.
“You have to build all those guys back up to where they have the strength and touch on their pitches,” DeFrancesco said. “Plus, we’ve had guys going up and down (from Houston to Oklahoma City). That can play on their psyche.”