Relievers enjoy working late shift for Washington Wild Things
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There may not be a tighter relationship on a baseball team than the one between a closer and setup man. That's because the success each enjoys is based on the other's efficiency.
The Washington Wild Things were experiencing that reality this season with Pittsburgh Allderdice grad Ross Gusky in the setup situation and first-year pitcher Nathan Striz as the team's closer.
That, however, changed Saturday when the Boston Red Sox organization signed Striz to a contract. He will be assigned to one of the organization's minor-league teams following a workout Monday at the team's spring training headquarters in Fort Myers. Fla.
Striz, 23, of Lakeland, Fla., compiled some sparkling statistics in his first season with the Wild Things (13-16 through Tuesday). In nine games, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound right-hander had a 2-1 record with three saves. In 12.1 innings, he had struck out 17 and allowed 10 hits, one walk and just two runs -- both earned -- for a 1.46 ERA.
"Nathan is well deserving of this opportunity with the Red Sox, as he was the best reliever in the Frontier League," Washington manager Chris Bando said. "He has the stuff and makeup to help them on their major-league level. It was a blessing to coach him as a Wild Thing."
Late Monday, Bando made up his mind about Striz's successor. "[Steven] Grife is [the] new closer," he wrote in an email.
Gusky, 25, will adjust, just as he did to relief work in 2011.
"Last year was my first in the bullpen," said Gusky, a right-hander who pitched at Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College and Valdosta State University. "I had to get used to high-intensity situations. I'm getting after it when I get called."
Gusky, of Squirrel Hill, started the season well, compiling the team's second-leading ERA at 1.23 in 7.1 innings pitched. But he has struggled recently. In 10 appearances through Tuesday,, his ERA was 5.84 and his record was 1-2. He had pitched 12.1 innings.
Striz had a strange beginning to his career with the Wild Things, which featured tryouts with three teams in 24 hours and a 16-hour drive that was capped May 20 when he pitched a scoreless 10th inning in a 3-2 victory against Evansville.
"That was the most physically worn down I've been, but it was nice because mentally I knew I was ready to go," said Striz, a University of North Carolina graduate. "The [Wild Things] coaches asked me before the game if I could pitch, and that's the reason I signed the contract so fast. They told me if it was a save situation, I'd come in. I was prepared."
Striz also had been a starter. He and Gusky agreed the immediacy of relief work makes the role of a setup pitcher and a closer vastly different than the concerns faced by a starter.
"Preparation is probably the biggest [adjustment from starting]," said Gusky, who may have to pitch two or three innings, while the closer usually pitches one. "It's very different from starting because as a starter, you get one bullpen [session] in and you have your set schedule.
"As a bullpen guy, you don't have a set schedule. It's on the go and you have to get your bullpen [sessions] in before the game and stay sharp even if you don't go for a couple of days.
"There's a stretch where we trailed, so it was tough to get those innings in. You really have to stay sharp before the game and be prepared for big situations during the games."
Now he will work with a new closer -- Grife, who is in his second year with the Wild Things.
In 2011, the 5-11, 190-pound right-hander was 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA. The 25-year-old Sheffield Lake, Ohio, native recorded 38 strikeouts with two saves.
Grife has been pitching better recently. Through Tuesday, he had appeared in eight games and had an 0-1 record with three saves and a 6.30 ERA. In 10 innings, he had 12 strikeouts and eight walks.
In a non-save situation, Grief pitched a perfect ninth inning Monday in an 11-5 road victory against the London Rippers.
Another reliever who may pitch more is Alfonso Yevoli, 22, a 6-2, 225-pound rookie from Palm Coast, Fla. The left-hander joined the Wild Things after pitching at High Point (N.C.) University and at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens.
The life of a setup pitcher and a closer requires a short memory -- no matter the outcome.
"Last year, it took me a day or so to get over [a bad game]," Gusky said. "Sometimes, you have to go two steps backward to go four steps forward. That's just part of the game. Now it might take me 10 minutes [to get past a good or bad performance]. Maybe 10 minutes.
"Bad outings are going to happen, and great outings are going to happen. You forget about them once that final out has been recorded."
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am