NEW BRITAIN - Close followers of the New Britain Bees this season would likely point to pitching problems and struggles in close games as the two main culprits behind the team’s first half failures and the current deficit they face in the second half of the season.
After all, the Bees are under .500 in games decided by two runs or less and hold the highest ERA in the Atlantic League. However, these two glaring issues have also masked a considerable strength that often doesn’t get its proper due: the back end of New Britain’s bullpen has been among the best in the league.
Jim Fuller, the Bees’ All-Star closer, has been almost automatic this season. His 1.37 ERA is the lowest in the Atlantic League, and he’s picked up 14 saves along the way.
He and Jose Rosario have flip-flopped bullpen duties at times this season, and whether either one is pitching the eighth or the ninth this season, they tend to get the job done.
In 46 innings so far this season, Rosario holds a very respectable 2.15 ERA, and his success coupled with Fuller’s gives manager Mauro Gozzo plenty of flexibility late in games.
With Rosario being a righty and Fuller a lefty, Gozzo can deploy either pitcher in the eighth or ninth inning depending on what handed hitters are due up for the opponent in each inning. Still, Gozzo has faith in either one, regardless of who is waiting to bat against them that inning.
“We want to get to that point,” Gozzo said. “When we do, they’ve come through. Those are the guys we feel like can get righties and lefties out.”
The challenge for Gozzo hasn’t been figuring out when to use Fuller and Rosario, it’s been getting to them.
The bridge to the late inning arms has been shaky for much of the season, though Gozzo chalks some of that up to bad baseball luck and a smaller room for error with his middle relief arms that don’t share the velocity of Fuller and Rosario.
“The bridge to them have been movement-type pitchers who look for ground balls, and what happens is they sometimes elevate their pitches and get hit hard,” Gozzo said. “That doesn’t mean they’re not capable, it just doesn’t work out sometimes.”
Things haven’t worked out for the starting rotation either, and that group has grown determined to help their bullpen arms by alleviating stress induced from heavier workloads and inherited deficits.
The rotation has been standing on fragile ground since the departure of Christian Friedrich and the struggles of All-Star Devin Burke, but New Britain is hoping that recent outings have shown that help is on the way for the team’s reliable bullpen duo.
“I don’t know if we feel any pressure, but the starting staff as a whole hasn’t been good enough lately, at least the past month,” starter Cory Riordan said. “We have to eat up more innings and go deeper into ballgames. We have to give our bullpen some rest.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com