Tri-City's 5-2 win over Yakima on Sunday was impressive in a lot of ways.
First and foremost, the bullpen has been pitching out of their minds lately. As the game was coming to a close, I was thinking that it had been at least a few games since they gave up a run. After all, the Dust Devils did record consecutive shutouts in Eugene on Friday and Saturday, so it had to be at least that long.
But as I started to do the math, I realized what the bullpen has done over the last nine games has been nothing short of amazing. Over the last nine games, including Sunday, Tri-City relievers have allowed just one single earned run. That's a stretch of 36 innings.
Now the Dust Devils have gone 5-4 over that stretch, which makes me wonder: If the bullpen has become this dominant, how is it Tri-City isn't at least a little closer to a .500 record?
The answer is offense.
Now the Dust Devils have proved over the last few seasons that you don't have to have to hit .280 as a team to have a great year. Last season Tri-City finished next-to-last in the Northwest League with a .256 team average and still set a Colorado Rockies franchise record for short-season wins.
Don't forget that a quality at-bat doesn't always have to end in a hit. Sometimes it's a right-handed hitter hitting a pitch to the opposite field that keeps an inning alive. Or a batter with a good eye that can foul off a few pitches to stretch a count and get a pitcher's pitch count up.
Sunday, the first inning was a prime example of just that. Yakima hitters were extremely patient against Tri-City starter Josh Mueller, fouling off pitches and forcing him three times into full counts. As a result, Mueller threw 40 pitches in the first inning alone, which forced Dust Devils manager to bring in a reliever the next inning. As it turned out, that was bad news for Yakima, because the TC bullpen has been lights out. But generally it's a very good thing in baseball circles if you can chase a starter early.
On the flip side, Tri-City hitters weren't patient at all in the first inning, allowing Bears starter Miles Reagan to cruise through the first frame on just 10 pitches. The next inning, Reagan only needed nine pitches to get back to the dugout.
I asked some of the players about it afterwards, and they pointed out that sometimes a good pitch to hit is a good pitch to hit, no matter when it comes in the count.
"Sometimes the first pitch is the best one," said Bryce Massanari, who to his credit, knocked an 0-1 pitch into center field for an RBI single in the sixth inning.
Still, three of Tri-City's five runs Sunday came when hitters were ahead in the count, and another had an even count at 1-1. It was a good sign that three of the Dust Devils runs came in the later innings. The offense seemed to be more patient against Yakima's relievers, forcing some deeper counts.
Now, it's true that Tri-City has faced some outstanding pitching this season, and I think Reagan's style made for a good matchup against the Dust Devils hitters on Sunday.
"He did a good job keeping the ball away," said Dust Devils shortstop Jeremiah Sammy, who had three hits on the night. "The ball had a little run away from the hitters."
Still, it would be nice to see all elements of this year's team — pitching, hitting and defense — working together at the same time.
So far, it just hasn't happened.