On the heels of Tyron Guerrero’s promotion to high-A Lake Elsinore, others in the TinCaps’ bullpen were faced with picking up the slack.
While losing an arm of that caliber could have been crushing, the relievers continue to get the job done.
In fact, entering Thursday, the TinCaps’ bullpen numbers over their past 12 games had been rather remarkable: 53 innings pitched, 50 hits, 15 earned runs.
Last season, the TinCaps had one of their better years in terms of bullpen ERA (3.42).
This group isn’t quite as formidable, but it’s maintaining leads.
After all, Fort Wayne entered Thursday 28-2 when leading after seven innings and 25-1 when leading after eight.
The bridge to closer Nick Mutz appeared wobbly after Guerrero, having a brilliant year, was moved up the Padres’ farm system after his appearance in the Midwest League All-Star Game.
While Mutz and Guerrero earned defined roles early in the season, no one else did.
At the moment, though, two pitchers – neither the world’s most imposing – are allowing the bullpen to become stronger and deeper.
The physiques of Eric Yardley and Justin Livengood fall on opposite ends of the team’s staff spectrum.
Yardley checks in at 6 feet and 165 pounds, while Livengood is listed in the media guide at 6-3, 220.
But the righties are otherwise similar types, each entering his mid-20s, each here from off the beaten path, each suddenly riding a hot streak.
The sidearm-throwing Yardley needed a career epiphany after his sophomore season at Seattle University.
A back injury and the urging of pitching coach Dave Wainhouse led Yardley to try his deceptive submarine delivery.
Anything to keep playing, he said. It’s weird. Nobody wants to be different. I didn’t want to do it, either.
Really the only time you go to it is when your career’s about to end. But it can be a career saver.
Three years later, opponents are hitting .223 against Yardley overall, .175 in day games.
Livengood, who felt burned out after high school and did not play baseball his first two years of college, is pitching admirably in front of Yardley.
In his past 19 2/3 innings entering Thursday, Livengood, finding his niche, had struck out 21 with an ERA of 1.83.
As soon as we lost Guerrero, we spoke about how he might be a guy that can be used in multiple roles now, TinCaps manager Michael Collins said. If we need him early to pitch a couple innings, we can. Or, in a situation in the eighth or ninth where we need a guy to finish us off, he could possibly fill that role, as well.
There is no guarantee it will hold up for the remainder of the season.
But the TinCaps – for now – have had little difficulty patching a bullpen hole.
It’s big shoes to fill, Yardley said. It’s not going to be the same electric fastball (as Guerrero).
As long as we’re getting the job done, that’s all that matters.