Kyle Hendricks = Pitcher of the Year

Kyle Hendricks Has Dominated the Carolina League

Kyle Hendricks should be the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year.  I know it’s only July, but let’s just give the guy the benefit of the doubt and say he won’t completely fall apart the rest of the way.  And hey, even if he gets promoted in the near future there is precedent for a guy like him winning the honor.  Robbie Ross took home Pitcher of the Year last season despite being promoted July 29th.

Yes, Hendricks is only 3-7.  But as we learned from King Felix in 2010, won-loss record really doesn’t mean a whole lot in award stature.  There’s that and Hendricks was named a CL all-star despite his unfortunate record, so it’s already proven that people can look past that mark.

So what exactly is there when you look beyond the record?  There’s a bunch of numbers that indicate arguably one of the best and most consistent pitcher in all of Minor League Baseball.

Here’s the easy stuff.  Hendricks is the active leader (and third overall behind promoted Cody Buckel and Sugar Ray Marimon) in the Carolina League with a 2.53 ERA.  Hendricks is fourth in the CL with 80 strikeouts, ranking third among active pitchers.  He has two complete games, including the Pelicans’ first nine-inning CG since James Parr in 2007.  Hendricks will surpass Gus Schlosser for the league’s lead in innings pitched after his first two outs tonight.  He also leads the league in fewest walks per nine innings (0.81) and is the active leader (2nd overall to Buckel) in fewest baserunners per nine at 8.92.

Those numbers alone should be good enough to garner Hendricks the honor.  But he might need more, considering he’ll need to cut through the hype of stars like Dylan Bundy and Yordano Ventura, both of whom hit 100 MPH on the gun.  Salem’s Matt Barnes is also in that mix along with teammate Brandon Workman.  JR Graham has made his case too this season with a 2.60 ERA.

So what can set Hendricks apart?  How about consistency?  Stop for a second and try to guess the last time Hendricks allowed more than four earned runs.  Don’t scroll down yet…actually take a guess.  Okay, now keep reading.

The last time Hendricks allowed more than four earned runs he was a college sophomore at Dartmouth.  He got hit hard, allowing 11 runs without getting out of the fourth inning against Miami in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.  Hendricks went all of his junior year without giving up more than four earned runs.  Hendricks went all of his first pro season at Spokane and Frisco without giving up four earned runs.  He’s gone all of this season without slipping for more than four earned runs.

Now that’s consistency.  In fact, Hendricks is fourth in all of Minor League Baseball, the whole thing – every team nationwide, in quality starts.  The righty has fired off 12 in his 15 starts.  Only Rudy Owens (AAA Indianapolis), Richard Castillo (AA Springfield) and Edwar Cabrera (AA Tulsa) have more quality starts this year.  Owens has 14 while the other two have fired 13.

Hendricks’ numbers continue to pop up among the Minor League leaders.  After his last start five days ago, Hendricks was the MiLB leader in innings pitched at 99.2.  He has tossed six innings 13 times, seven innings seven times and eight innings four times.

Walks are something pitcher’s hate.  Hendricks then is a pitcher’s best friend.  The Dartmouth product leads the minors with 0.81 walks per nine innings.  He’s tied with New Britain’s (AA Twins) Andrew Albers and at one point went five straight starts without walking anybody.  By the way, six of his nine walks came in two of his 15 starts.

By the way, Hendricks is nicknamed by his teammates as ‘The Dolphin’ (all the Pelicans gave each other animal nicknames).  Is there any better animal than that?

So yeah, assuming he can keep this up, Kyle Hendricks has as good a case as anybody as the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Year.  It’s an exclusive club for Myrtle Beach, with Ross and Trey Hodges to only to win the honor.  Both went on to pitch in the Major Leagues.

The Day Ben Henry Stood Still

So the Pelicans lost on Monday, but there was also a tie at Lynchburg’s City Stadium.  Pelicans reliever Ben Henry and Lynchburg reliever Matt Chaffee entered into a duel before the game even started, one that ended in a truce well after the game came to an end.

The contest was a bullpen standoff, not something unknown to relievers across the Carolina League.  The Pelicans have engaged in these standoffs with several teams, including Wilmington and Carolina, but only once before had one actually carried into a game itself.  So now the burning question…what is this standoff thing?

“We saw a YouTube video of a rain delay,” Henry said.  “Two teams had a standoff and we said, ‘you know what?  We can do that.’”

The two teams in the video stood and stood and stood.  It was a game of endurance not dissimilar to an immunity or rewards challenge on the TV show Survivor.  Cole Hamels’ wife, Heidi, became very famous for how she was eliminated from one of these such challenges on the show.  The way the Pelicans game works is that the bullpens remain standing with relievers sitting down as they tire.  The team with the last guy standing wins pride and whatever reward the two ‘pens may have wagered against each other.

Sunday’s game in Lynchburg featured one of these standoffs.  The rules are:  When the teams line up for the National Anthem the players stand at attention.  You must then remain at attention.  That’s the game.  Sunday’s game ended quickly because Lynchburg’s pen lined up on the foul line and thus very much in the way of play.  But on Monday, the bullpens lined up just along their benches…and the challenge was on!

NOTE: Zach Osborne did not participate in the challenge.  One reliever from each team was left out in order to help warm up their right and leftfielders respectively.

The game lasted at a 6-on-6 deadlock until the fourth inning.  Jimmy Reyes, pretty sure he was going to pitch in Monday’s game, sat down first, wanting to rest his legs.  The rest of the bullpen followed and the same occurred for the Hillcats.  Each side left one man standing.

“Since I threw yesterday I was designated as the guy who would stand the whole time,” Henry said.  Keeping in mind Henry has previously identified himself as the official team comedian, he immediately fessed up that he volunteered for the role.

Now keep in mind, as much as they really are a part of the game (the whole last issue of the Baseball Hall-of-Fame’s magazine was about pranksters and characters in baseball), sometimes antics are frowned upon.  That can be especially true in the minors, where organizations try to instill discipline and a serious approach.  But that’s what makes this particular game great.  Several executives from the Atlanta Braves front office were present…and they were aware of, and okay with, the challenge.  The Pelicans coaches were cool with it too.  In fact, pitching coach Brad Holman passed words of encouragement through the bullpen phone and trainer Jeff Bodenhamer brought water to the pen in the third inning.

“As soon as Brad said that I was like ‘game on,’” Henry said.

Ben Henry still standing long after the game’s final out

Henry and Chaffee stood standing at attention all game.  They stood at attention after the game.  Joe Van Meter brought Henry his portion of the postgame spread to keep him nourished.  The Lynchburg grounds crew even drove Henry, still at full attention, from the away bullpen to the home bullpen once the stadium emptied.

“When you get done,” Henry asked the grounds crew as they manicured the bullpen mound postgame, “can you drive me around to the other pen?”

The grounds crew obliged and drove the Gator right up to Henry.  The righty reliever stepped up onto the cart, which drove him around the warning track and dropped him off next to Chaffee.  The game was more than a half hour over and fans remained in the park watching the duo stand still.

Fans snapped pictures.  Lynchburg’s beat reporter wrote the duel up in his game story.  Players, already dressed and showered, stood watching while chowing down on a barrel of cheese puffs.  The Pelicans even had arraignments set for Henry to get back to the hotel in the event that the bus left while the standoff continued.  That, however, was unnecessary.

“Chaffee looked at me and asked how we were going to end this,” Henry said.

It was at that point that the players decided on a truce.  After three hours and twenty two minutes of standing still, the challenge was over.  Henry and Chaffee both won.  Now let’s just hope Tuesday’s game doesn’t go into extras and require either pitcher to throw an exorbitant amount of innings in a pinch.

Luke Jackson Got a Kiss from Taylor Swift…and other things you didn’t know about the newest Pelican

The Pelicans welcome another new player to the field tonight.  Righty Luke Jackson takes the rotation spot of recently promoted Cody Buckel (who made his Double-A debut yesterday).  If you look quickly it will seem like nothing’s changed.  Both men sport a Bieber-esque hairdo, although Jackson is substantially taller than Buckel.  So…who is Luke Jackson?

Myrtle Beach’s newest pitcher is a first round pick from the 2010 draft, selected after the Rangers took Birds outfielder Jake Skole and Kellin Deglin (in Hickory).  He spent his first pro season as a Crawdad and opened again in Low-A this season, leading Hickory with 71 strikeouts.

A native of Florida, Jackson becomes the third Sunshine Stater on the Pelicans, joining fellow first rounder Skole and pitcher Jimmy Reyes.  The Rangers were able to lure Jackson to a pro contract out of Cavalry Christian Academy near Ft. Lauderdale and away from the University of Miami.

Now, living in south Florida, you figure Jackson’s probably had his brush with celebrity.  I mean, just walking down South Beach or eating at Pinks you have a pretty good chance to rub elbows with somebody notable.  Jackson is no exception to the rule and has had a couple cool encounters to date…although they haven’t come strolling the beaches.

Jackson has three notable pictures with celebrities: one each from Nashville, Capitol Hill and Cooperstown.  We begin with country music sensation Taylor Swift, whom Jackson laughing joked he had love at first sight.  “I never got a phone number so I never followed up,” Jackson followed.

Pelicans pitcher Luke Jackson with POTUS 43

“When I was a junior in high school I was at a country music concert,” Jackson said.  “I was just walking down the hallway and [Taylor Swift and I] came face to face and she kissed me on the cheek and it was pretty awkward.  I got a picture of that.”It was through baseball Jackson snapped his other photos.  The first is pretty conventional — a shot with Rangers President Nolan Ryan.  Sure it’s cool because he’s in the Hall-of-Fame, but it’s also business as usual because he’s also the boss.

The final picture is with a former President not of the Rangers, but of the United States, George Bush 43.  Then in high school, Jackson had just been drafted by the Rangers and was getting a tour of the Ballpark at Arlington.

“I walked in the bathroom and he was standing there so it was kind of awkward,” Jackson explained.  “There were like five secret service in there.  I asked if he minded getting a picture.”

Pictures are cool, yes, but Jackson is more than just a star struck 20-something.  He’s also a pretty well rounded kid, having gone on mission trips with his family to places like Russia and Africa, working to help orphan children around the world.

“My parents really showed me what’s outside of the United States and what poverty really is,” Jackson said.  “Ever since my senior year baseball’s kind of taken over a bit but I’d love to get back out there.  You realize ‘I’m playing baseball for a living.’  You have a meal after I finish.  We have a pregame meal where there are kids hoping they get a meal every week.”

Tune in to FOX Sports 1050 and 101.9 tonight to catch Jackson’s first Pelicans start, or follow online at MyrtleBeachPelicans.com.  And we’ll have to follow up with Taylor Swift.

Times They Are A Changin’ :: Buckel and Hoying to Frisco

I’ve been sitting on the idea of writing a blog about shortstops recently.  After all, the Pelicans might have the most in Minor League Baseball.  Myrtle Beach’s roster, as of this morning, was comprised of no fewer than nine guys who can or have played short.  The list includes Odubel Herrera, Eddy Garcia, Christian Villanueva, Tomas Telis, Josh Richmond, Jared Hoying, Joe Van Meter, Cody Buckel and Randy Henry.

There might be a point in time when that blog still happens, but as of now the list has shrunk by two.  The Pelicans found out last night that Hoying and Buckel are headed up to Double-A Frisco.  The duo have a 4:30am taxi to Washington Dulles, making their way to Frisco by way of Charlotte.  It’s a bit of a juggling act as far as packing goes with the fact that the Birds are in the midst of a seven game roadtrip, but that’s a good problem to have.

“Thinking that it might be possible to get called up on the road,” Buckel said, “I did actually pack up my entire wardrobe into my suitcase and I have my car packed up just expecting the unexpected.”

Buckel’s been on the road since Monday, spending the early part of this week in Winston-Salem for the California-Carolina League All-Star Game.

“I’m actually in a very good situation clothing wise,” Buckel continued.   “I have every single one of my Puma shirts and I have every single one of my 22 Puma hats ready to go.”

It’s a bit of a contrast for Hoying, who packed in haste for this roadtrip.  The outfielder has three shirts with him.  His car, he said, will probably stay in Myrtle Beach with Mike Olt picking up his chauffeur duties in Texas.

For a minor league manager, one of the most fun parts about the job is getting to give the news to promoted players.  For Jason Wood, he got to deliver the news twice Thursday.

“I wasn’t in the lineup and I didn’t know what was going on,” said Hoying, the first position player involved in a Pelicans transaction since Andrew Clark’s day three retirement.  “It was either A) there was a lefty starting so I wasn’t playing, or B) I was getting called up.”

It turned out both were the case.

“You hope it’s the best thing.  Hopefully years from now it’s not the opposite where I’m getting released,” Hoying said with a chuckle.  “I’ve never had that feeling before and it feels pretty good.”

For Buckel the news came as something of a surprise, if not for the news itself, definitely the timing.

“I had just gotten out of the shower and I was at my locker with a towel wrapped around me,” Buckel said.  “Brad’s [Holman] like ‘Cody get in here.’”

“Do you want me to change,” Cody replied.  “‘No you look fine,’ Holman countered.  “I was shirtless and had a towel around me and I’m lucky when I got the news I didn’t put my hands on my head.”

The duo of Buckel and Hoying getting promoted on the same day provided an interesting dichotomy.  While Hoying leaves Myrtle Beach after a full season and a half, Buckel departs after only a handful of starts, spending one half with the Pelicans at just 19 years old.

“The goal I set for myself in the offseason was to get to Double-A by the playoffs,” said Buckel.  “I’m very pleased to get there this early.  The pace of the game is going to change, the hitters are going to be better, the zones are going to be tighter, so I’m going to have to be a little bit more efficient at that level.”

“You get comfortable with everything and that helps a lot,” Hoying said of his Grand Strand time.  “The newness has worn off and you stay mentally focused.  You just go about your business and keep playing hard and keep doing what you’ve been doing to get to this point…Fortunately for me something good did happen today.”

The roster spots of Buckel and Hoying are filled by Hanser Alberto and Luke Jackson.  Both players will be promoted from Low-A Hickory.  For Jackson the move is a return to where he just left.  The pitcher spent his all-star break with several members of the Pelicans staff at the beach before rejoining Hickory Thursday.

Reliving History: 23 Innings Was One Year Ago

This week saw the anniversary of the longest game in Carolina League history.  Tuesday, June 12th, marked one year since the Kinston Indians beat the Pelicans in 23 innings.  The game bested a 21 inning affair between the Wilmington Blue Rocks and the Danville 97′s (who would go on to become the Pelicans) in 1998.

There are four current Pelicans players that were involved in that game: Vin DiFazio, Jared Hoying, Santiago Chirino and Zach Osborne.  Of course Jason Wood, Brad Holman and Julio Garcia were there too.  So in honor of the longest game in CL history, I figured it might be fun to reflect back on the history that was one year ago.

For starters, the mere mention of 23 innings made Chirino roll his head back in groaning pain.  Chirino is the only current Pelican that played the entire game.

“For me I don’t want to be in another game like that,” Chirino said.

The second baseman did laugh at the notion that the marathon was partly his fault, however. After all, Chirino did get thrown out trying to score on a Mitch Hilligoss hit in the top of the ninth.  The same play tied the game at two, sending it to extras.

On the flip side of Chirino was Hoying, who played only briefly in the game, going 0-1 with one pinch hit at-bat.

“It was horrible,” Hoying said.  “I got bleacher butt so bad from sitting there.”

But at least Hoying got in the game at all.  By count of the Kinston Free Press, 120 fans were left at Grainger Stadium when the game was over.  There’s one story of a couple that came to the game and left to go out to dinner.  They then went to church and returned to the park for the final three innings.  The dedicated few saw more than 650 pitches.

“It was a Sunday and we’re playing at two so we’re thinking we’re going to get on the road at a decent hour,” Pelicans trainer Jeff Bodenhamer said.  “The next thing you know, it keeps carrying on and carrying on.  Is this ever gonna end?”

There were a couple, albeit few, times when the game almost did end.  For starters when Chirino was thrown out in the ninth trying to score.  Then there was Zach Osborne in the 16th, who put the first two Indians runners on before striking out the side.  The most tenuous situation for Myrtle Beach came in the 22nd inning, when Chad Bell loaded the bases with nobody out.

“I looked at Brad [Holman] and he looked at me and said “What do you got Woody?,” Pelicans manager Jason Wood said.

Well Woody channeled his inner Joe Maddon and brought a fifth infielder in.  Centerfielder Ryan Strausborger played up the middle and sure enough, the Pelicans got out of the inning with a strikeout and doubleplay.

“It was a groundball hit to Leury Garcia’s right,” Woody said.  “He turns flips to second and we get the guy at first base for a double play.  Momentum had swung there for a second.  Then we come in and 1-2-3 we go out.”

On the offensive side things were tough.  The K-Tribe struck out 32 times in the game!  The Pelicans bats were not nearly as Swiss cheesy, but there were a grand total of 18 half innings in extras alone where there was not a hit recorded between both teams.

“They were so tired they couldn’t get the bat through the strike zone,” Pelicans hitting coach Julio Garcia recounted.  “I think guys on both sides were trying to end it with one swing and the harder they swung the softer the ball went.”

But the Pelicans did have an ‘excuse’ to lean back on.  Myrtle Beach had lost the DH in the ninth inning.  For the rest of the way the Beach’s pitcher’s had to hit.  Needless to say they didn’t exactly hit…but they did swing.

“That was funny,” Garcia said, thrown back in his chair with laughter.  “We told them to stand in the deepest part of the box in the back and don’t swing at all.  They went up there and took some swings, albeit bad one…mostly bad ones.”

“Chad Bell’s up there at the plate with an arm protector,” Bodenhamer said, “because he bats right handed and throws left handed.”

Keeping in mind that the Pelicans are an American League affiliate, pitchers don’t ever focus on hitting.  National League affiliates do sometimes take pitcher’s batting practice and begin hitting in games at Double-A.  Zach Osborne had the most memorable at-bats.

“I struck out one time and in my other at bat I hit a ground ball and thought it was a foul ball,” Osborne said.  “I stood there until the whole dugout was yelling ‘run’.”

Osborne did pitch well though, and after all that is what he’s really there to do.  He ate up four scoreless innings, but had noting on Chad Bell who went five scoreless to follow.

“There’s a point in time in a game like that where you have to leave guys out there to get everything out of them that you possibly can,” said Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman.  “There’s really no way to prepare for that.  The next move would have been a position player and put a pitcher out into a position.”

It never did get to that, with Kinston’s Casey Frawley singling to score a run off Kasey Kiker in the 23rd.  The game finally ended…with Pelicans catcher Zach Zaneski behind the plate for the whole thing.  By the way, Kinston centerfielder Tyler Holt was ejected in the 17th, a fact that will likely become the subject of a Big Dog Shirt (i.e. If You Can’t Play With the Big Dogs for 23 Innings….).

“It gets to the 15th, 16th inning and it just becomes funny,” Pelicans de facto first baseman Vin DiFazio said looking back.  “It became a comedy routine.”

Welcome Freshman…Randy Henry Starts Tonight

The Pelicans welcome their first new starting pitcher tonight in Carolina.  For the first two months of the season the Birds had used the same five pitchers to start every game, save Joe Van Meter and Randol Rojas – who made spot starts in the backend of doubleheaders. Well, with Roman Mendez heading to the disabled list, Randy Henry has been tabbed to start in his place.  Believe it or not, this will actually be Henry’s first start in five years…since he was in High School at Arnett High School in Oklahoma.

Randy Henry Gets the Starting Nod at Carolina

Here’s the back story: Henry was a Texas Tech recruit coming out of high school, but required Tommy John surgery.

“In high school it definitely scared me,” Henry said.  “I’m from a small town and I hadn’t really heard that much about [Tommy John].  I thought that it was going to stop me from pitching and I heard I might now be able to pitch again and I could probably play a position.”

With the injury occurring about a month before the signing date, Henry said most of his major college interest fell of the table and he headed to Junior College at South Mountain CC in Arizona.

“When I went to college it was close to 14 months [since the injury],” Henry said.  “I hadn’t even been on the mound because I didn’t want to push it…It feels pretty much like you’ve never thrown before.  I starting throwing at four months and started playing second and shortstop about a month after that.”

At South Mountain Henry was mostly an infielder, batting .349 with 36 RBI, the third best total on the Cougars.  In fact, Henry threw only 11 outings and 12.2 innings in junior college, albeit allowing just one earned run the whole time.

But Henry was good enough to catch the eyes of the Baltimore Orioles, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.  He began in Short-Aberdeen and finished in Low-A Delmarva, getting hit to the tune of a 5.64 South Atlantic League ERA.

The 2011 season presented a different Henry, however.  Last year the righty had a 1.67 ERA in Delmarva and moved up to Frederick, where he finished the season on the Mills Cup Championship team.  The Rangers acquired him in a trade for Taylor Teagarden this past offseason.

Henry made the Pelicans out of Spring Training and assumed the primary closer’s role as the season progressed.  The thing is he was stretched out in Spring Training to be a starting pitcher, and he’s now getting that chance.

“I can definitely be a starting pitcher,” Henry said.  “I was a starting pitcher in high school  and then I had surgery so it kind of limited my innings.  I think I can be a starting pitcher.  It’s just all about the preperation of getting ready for it.”

As for what changes when he starts tonight….

“I’ll definitely probably work off my normal fastball more compared to the cutter like I have been, Henry said.  “I’m going to try not to change it up too much.”

That includes his ERA, which sits at a team best 0.35 on the season.

“That’s something I don’t really wanna talk about,” Henry said.

But it’s success that’s giving everybody else something to talk about for sure.

So Jason Wood’s Got a Bobblehead….

Happy Jason Wood bobblehead day to all of you Albuquerque Isotopes fans.  The first 3,000 fans to today’s ‘Topes game will receive a Jason Wood bobblehead.  Woody starred for five years in New Mexico while playing in the Marlins organization, ranging from 2003-2006 and again in 2008.  So we figured it was only fitting that we checked in with some of Wood’s Pelicans players to get their thoughts on the giveaway.

“They got his nose,” said Pelicans first baseman Brett Nicholas chuckling.  “He’s got some pretty lips on here too.”

Woody’s bobblehead

“Woody, can I play right field?” Nicholas asked jokingly. The doll shook its head, with some prompting, no.Nicholas was, of course, speaking partially tongue in cheek.  He must have been confused though.  The doll was only a bobblehead, not a Magic 8 Ball.

“It’s pretty cool to have a bobblehead,” Pelicans reliever Ben Rowen said.  “It’s definitely on the bucket list.”

The honor makes Jason Wood the first of the current crop of Pelicans to have a bobblehead, not counting Splash Pelican.  The sheer fact of the doll’s existence did catch some people off guard.  Odubel Herrera stared at the Woody replica for several seconds before realizing who it was…breaking out into a brief hysterical fit when he made the connection.

“Woodrow’s got a bobblehead?,” said Jared Hoying.  “Wow!”

The players did compliment the doll itself too, noting how it looked pretty much like Woody.

Woody’s grip

“I like when the head’s rocking back and forth,” clubhouse manager Stan Hunter said.  “It looks like him the other night when he got tossed from the game [Wood was ejected against Lynchburg on Thursday].”

Wood’s grip of the ball did catch a few players off guard though.  An infielder, Woody has a unique position on his bobblehead.  Instead of hitting or standing still — you know the same old same old — Wood is playing defense, balanced on one foot as he prepares to throw to first.  Honestly, this is the first bobble I’ve seen that has that pose, making it pretty cool and different.

“He’s the only middle infielder that throws changeups across the infield,” pitching coach Brad Holman joked.

“I think he needs to find a four seem grip,” Josh Richmond said.  “He needs to find the seems a little better.”

And thus ends the roast of Jason Wood.  Congratulations to the Pelicans manager on his success as a player and his time with the ‘Topes.  Also, if you’re on the west coast, it’s not too late to head out to the park and grab a Woody bobblehead of your own.  In all seriousness, Woody seemed genuinely happy about the bobblehead.  He stared at it a good minute when he first took the thing out of the box.  It is after all, pretty cool to see yourself forever immortalized in clay.