In 142 Thunder games last season, relievers made 368 combined appearances. Lefty Wilkins Arias led the way with 57. Twenty-two different pitchers were called on to relieve. Four notched saves, led by righty Ryan Pope’s 17.
“There always are a lot of guys coming and going, and we give them all a chance,’’ said Thunder manager Tony Franklin. “Some find a role, others struggle. It’s obviously an important part of every game.’’
All eyes will be on switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, who spent most of 2010 at Tampa setting up for Jon Ortiz, who signed with the Chicago Cubs organization a few weeks ago. After going 4-1, 1.73 in 41 appearances with Tampa, Venditte was 1-1, 9.00 in a brief stint with the Thunder.
Venditti has more velocity from the right side, more deception from left. There is debate as to whether he will continue to switch-pitch, or, in some corners, how effective he might be in the upper minors.
“I have confidence I can get guys out pitching from both sides,’’ said the 25-year-old native of Omaha, who will turn 26 June 30. “This will be a key season for me.’’
The talk of spring training a year ago, Venditte is not concerned if that attention continues or not.
“I’m just trying to get better, become more consistent,’’ he said. “We’ll see how it goes this season.’’
With Ortiz gone, who will have the inside track to closing for the Thunder is a major question mark. If righty Ryan Pope returns to the Thunder – which he may because he has been closing for just one season, the job will be his with Venditte likely setting up. If not, several, including Venditte, could get a shot.
The Yankees selected lefty Robert Fish (Angels) and righty Daniel Turpin (Giants) in the Rule 5 Draft. It’s doubtful either will stick with the Yankees out of spring training, and thus will be returned to their original teams for $25,000, but, especially with Fish, who throws in the 95-96 mph range, the Yankees could arrange a trade and assign Fish to the Thunder.
Fish, like 2010 Thunder reliever Noel Castillo, dazzled in the Class-A California League, but was hit hard at Double-A Arkansas, going 3-5, 8.93 and allowing nine homers in 42.1 innings.
Turpin, who was 7-6, 4.30 combined with Richmond and Portland in 2010, is a ground-ball specialist who could fill a spot with the 2011 Thunder as well, but cannot be assigned to Trenton without an arranged trade. He is 24.
There are also several question marks surrounding various veterans not listed below, who could end up with the Thunder, that will be sorted out in spring training.
KEY BULLPEN POSSIBILITIES FOR THE 2011 THUNDER
- Switch—pitcher Pat Venditti. Aims to show he can compete at upper levels of the minors, Throws three pitches overhand from the right side, two from the left sidearm. Will get some chances early.
- Righty Craig Heyer – Started 2010 season in bullpen at Tampa, making 14 appearances before making 12 starts. Has three solid pitches and put together a strikeout/walk ratio of 66-6 with T-Yanks. Looms as potential swing man for club.
- Righty Cory Arbiso – Another swing possibility. Made 21 relief appearances and 11 starts last year. Is a battler. Could be starter, reliever or swing man, depending on makeup of staff.
- Righty Noel Castillo – Might be better as a one-inning pitcher. Was most effective in first inning during time in Trenton. Has blazing fastball, but needs to spot it better.
- Righty Sean Black – Was 8-8 combined as starter at Class-A stops Charleston and Tampa. Fastball tops out at 92 mph as starter, but he has had spurts up to 94. Many think his future is as a reliever. Pitched collegiately at Seton Hall.
- Righty Chase Whitley – Closed at Staten Island, going 4-2, 1.31 with 15 saves. Yankees’ 15th-round pick out of Troy (Ala.) who could, with a 95 mph fastball, move quickly because he is a player with college experience.
- Lefty Trenton Lare – Lefty was 1-2, 4.00 at Tampa with a strikeout/walk ratio of 73-19. Needs to keep the ball down, but has stuff to be effective. Former Detroit draft pick.
- Righty Adam Olbrychowski – Has looked good in two brief stints with Thunder and should stick in Double-A in 2011. Was 3-2, 4.02 at Tampa in 2010. Gets a lot of ground balls.
Certainly there will be some others vying for a spot as spring training moves along.
FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: The Akron Aeros are planning May day Fireworks when the Thunder visit Canal Park May 6 … Altoona will feature former Pittsburgh Steelers players, now broadcasters, Craig Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin at their Spring Training Festival Jan, 28 … Binghamton still does not have a manager or staff, with Wally Backman mentioned as manager in several reports … New Portland skipper Kevin Boles had winning teams at lower levels with many of the prospects making up the 2011 Sea Dogs .