SIOUX CITY CLOSING IN ON ST. PAUL

SIOUX CITY CLOSING IN ON ST. PAUL

Independent Baseball Insider by Bob Wirz

With St. Paul winning at a .765 pace (52-16), it hardly seems possible anyone else in the American Association would be close. But with one more week like the last one Steve Montgomery’s Sioux City Explorers could even surpass the Saints, a feat somewhat unlikely when one considers that the top team in major league baseball (St. Louis) is roughly one percentage hundred points below the pair.

Sioux City has won seven in a row and 12 of its last 13, good for an 11-game lead in the Central Division and at 49-18 (.731) overall.

It is easy to pinpoint one major reason for the Explorers’ success with their top three starters a combined 27-3, anchored by Patrick Johnson (pictured) at a perfect 10-0 with a league-leading 1.82 earned run average.

Johnson, who stands only 5-foot-10 and turns 27 later this month, was an all-league selection last season (9-7, 4.59). He has been exceptional this season and seems to be getting better since he has trimmed his ERA by more than one full run from 2.90 in his last six starts, all of which have been victories for the right-hander, who pitched on three College World Series teams at the University of North Carolina.

Improved control has been one reason for the improvement over last season, and he has been very stingy in allowing hits–11 in his last four starts covering 28.1 innings and only 58 in 94 innings for the season. Johnson ranks second in the league in strikeouts with 89.

“He is a bulldog,” praises Montgomery, who was pitching coach at Fargo-Moorhead before taking over the Explorers in 2014. “He competes. He will come right after you.” The manager believes Johnson, who hits 89 to 92 normally on a radar gun and throws four pitches (including an improved change), deserves an opportunity with a major league organization, and thinks the pitcher’s height (he may reach 5-foot-10) may be an issue with some scouts.

Teammate Ryan Zimmerman (9-2) has the league’s second best ERA at 1.97 while second-year rookie John Straka is at 8-1, 2.80.

“I’m young, athletic and fast” says Montgomery, in summing up the Explorers.

A head-to-head series against St. Paul in Sioux City next week should be lots of fun to watch.

Goldeyes’ Carl Outstanding in Comeback Outing

Rick Forney has already used an inordinately high 23 pitchers at Winnipeg this season, but the Sunday debut of Edwin Carl should have the veteran manager hopeful even though the Goldeyes dropped a 2-1 decision to Kansas City that day.

Carl, who had won 14 of 22 professional decisions, had saved another 13 games and had struck out well over a hitter per inning (266 in 224 innings) in his pro career, had not been on the mound for about 18 months. He struck out nine batters in the first four innings–10 overall–and gave up only one run in his six-inning stint. The right-hander did not walk anyone and allowed only five hits.

“It was auto-immune disease,” the onetime New Mexico hurler explained of his absence. “It affected my knees, ankles and feet. They all swelled up and I was in a wheelchair. But after a very long time it improved, thanks to my meds. I still had to get in shape and put on 50 pounds. I was really sick.

“Felt great today. I just wanted to come out and throw strikes. I was able to do that. The fastball was my out-pitch today and I had good command.”

Previously the chief spokesman for Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site as well as writing his blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com.