It was back on July 23 when Burlington Bees starting pitcher Jose Soriano gave up seven runs and seven hits in 1 ⅔ innings in an 11-3 road loss to Lake County.
Since then, the Bees’ starters have been sharp, and it all comes down to one thing — tempo.
Actually, it’s T-E-M-P-O, an acronym pitching coach Jonathan Van Eaton uses.
“Time, efficiency, makes pitchers offensive,” Van Eaton said.
The Burlington pitchers, with a couple of exceptions, have worked games in an impressive combination of rhythm and pace.
In a 13-game stretch since the Soriano short outing, Bees starters have combined to throw 59 ⅓ innings, allowing 45 hits, 14 earned runs, 23 walks and 55 strikeouts. The starters have a 2.12 earned run average.
What is also important is how deep in the game the starters go. In the Los Angeles Angels’ system, starters can’t go any more than five innings at the Class A lower level. The Bees’ starters have gone five innings in eight games in the current stretch, including a streak of six consecutive five-inning games.
“Jon really wants them to get to five,” Howell said after Sunday’s 16-4 win over Kane County. Bees starter Oliver Ortega went 4 ⅓ innings at that game, but with 78 pitches, he was close to the 85-pitch limit that is also on starters.
“We got him five-up,” Howell said, meaning Ortega started five innings. “That’s important, too.”
A look at the five starters in the current stretch reveals the efficiency:
• Ortega has pitched 13 ⅓ innings in three starts, allowing nine hits, three earned runs, eight walks while striking out 15. He has a 2.02 ERA.
• Denny Brady has pitched 14 innings in three starts, allowing 11 hits, two earned runs, three walks while striking out 14. He has a 1.29 ERA.
• Michael Santos has pitched 10 innings in two starts, allowing six hits, two earned runs and four walks while striking out 11. He has a 1.80 ERA.
• Soriano, after that short start against Lake County, has allowed two hits in nine innings in two starts. He has given up one earned run, walked five, and struck out six. He has a 1.00 ERA.
• Max Herrmann has given up 17 hits in 13 innings, allowing six earned runs while striking out 13 and walking seven. He gave up four earned runs in three innings in an injury-shortened start in Saturday’s 8-6 loss to Kane County, but in his two previous starts gave up just two earned runs in 10 innings, walking two while striking out nine.
Van Eaton’s approach has been simple — get the ball and go.
“There’s been an emphasis on fastball command,” he said. “It starts there. We do value our secondary (pitch) development, but we’ve got to get strike one.”
“Jon really likes them working quickly,” Howell said. “It gets them into a rhythm, and it keeps the game at a good pace. Keep ‘em alive and keep ‘em going.”
Van Eaton said that is especially important for the defense. It showed in Thursday’s 4-0 win at Wisconsin, when in a four-inning stretch the Bees turned three double plays, and almost got a fourth.
“If we don’t have a good tempo, (the defense) is on their heels,” Van Eaton said. “The inning gets long. But if we’re throwing strikes, and the game is moving, those guys are ready.”
Van Eaton credited the Bees’ catchers as well.
“They’ve been stealing some strikes,” he said. “But they also keep the tempo going. It’s a battery thing — pitchers and catchers working together.
“I like what we’ve been doing, and we need to keep doing it.”
BRADY’S BUNCH OF STARTS
Back on June 30, Denny Brady didn’t get an out in a start against the Cedar Rapids Kernels.
Brady allowed five hits, walked one, and hit a batter in the Kernels’ 7-run first inning, a game the Bees would lose, 11-3.
Since then Brady, a seventh-round pick of the Angels in last year’s draft, has allowed four earned runs in 17 innings. He has struck out 15 in that stretch, while walking just three.
If you throw out that bad start against the Kernels, Brady has a 1.80 ERA with the Bees.
“I think he’s just settled in,” Howell said. “He’s really fit into that role we have for him.”
TV STAR — IN JAPAN
Jack Howell was followed by a crew from Japanese TV network NHK during the Wednesday and Thursday games in Wisconsin.
Howell played four seasons in Japan — three with the Yakult Swallows and one with the Yomiyuri Giants — and the NHK crew was following him for a story on former American players who played in Japan.
Howell played in the Japan Series twice with Yakult, winning the title in 1993 after losing to the Seibu Lions in 1992.
“It was a great experience,” Howell said. “We won (the championship) in the second year, which was really nice. First year, we lost in the seventh game, then we won it. Two years of that, the intense playoffs, all of Japan watching, and then to win it all was pretty incredible.”
THE NUMBERS GAME
• Bees catcher Keinner Pina has thrown out 48.1 percent of potential base stealers, tied for the Midwest League lead with Cedar Rapids’ David Banuelos.
Pina has thrown out 37 runners, third best in the league.
• Outfielder Torii Hunter has hit in 14 of his last 15 games. He is batting .359 (23-for-64) in that stretch.
• The Bees have a .294 team batting average in the first five games of August. They also have a team OPS of .800.
• Jahmai Jones (2017) has a seven-game hitting streak at Double-A Mobile. He drove in five runs in Sunday’s 10-1 win over Birmingham.
• David MacKinnon (2018) had two home runs over the weekend at Advanced-A Inland Empire. MacKinnon had a three-run homer and two doubles in Sunday’s 9-1 win over Modesto.
• Simon Mathews (2018) allowed one run in 6 ⅔ innings in Inland Empire’s win on Sunday.
• Brett Hanewich (2018) and Isaac Mattson (2018) each threw two shutout innings in relief in Inland Empire’s 1-0 win over Lancaster on Thursday.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Kane County (6:30 p.m. Monday) — The Bees and Cougars have split the first two games of this series.
• At Wisconsin (7:05 p.m. Wednesday-Friday) — The Bees and Timber Rattlers square off for another Wednesday-Friday series. The two teams played on those days last week, and will play on those days next week at Community Field.
The biggest question is will any Bee ride in the bullpen cart the Timber Rattlers have. Ed Del Rosario did last week, but the rest of the Bees relievers walked in from the center-field bullpen.
• At Kane County (6:30 p.m. Saturday and Monday-Tuesday, 1:05 p.m. Sunday) — The final series between the Bees and Cougars this season.