AVON — The Lake Erie Crushers failed to make the playoffs last season, as a pitching staff that led the Frontier League in 2016 failed to get the job done.
In ’16 the team ERA was 3.77, tied with Traverse City for the league lead. Last season that ERA ballooned to 4.32 and the Crushers failed to qualify for the postseason for the third consecutive season.
This year things have been different. The pitching staff is keeping the team in the playoff race as the All-Star break approaches. Lake Erie was rained out Thursday but entered the night third in the East Division at 25-22, two games behind division-leading Washington and a game behind Joliet. The team ERA is back down to 3.65, third in the league.
Starter Sean Renzi, named a Frontier League All-Star earlier this week, is third in the league with 62 strikeouts in 561⁄3 innings pitched. Closer Justin Sinibaldi is fourth in the league with nine saves and has a sparkling 1.92 ERA.
Teams are hitting just .244 against the Crushers and slugging a minuscule .351 — the second-best number in the league.
Manager Cameron Roth said the pitching has been successful for a few reasons, including the guys the pitchers are throwing to every day.
Catchers Bryan De La Rosa and Mason Brown have worked well with the staff this season, according to Roth, because the hurlers trust them. Roth said third-year assistant Emmanuel Quilles has done well with De La Rosa, who’s in his third year with the team, and Brown, a first-year player.
“Emmanuel helps the catchers figure it out,” Roth said. “That gives them the confidence during the game and the pitchers can see that confidence. We need a guy when the pitcher is in a tight spot and coming out of the stretch, he can look up and see a guy that knows what (sign) he wants to put down, and that he’s going to be doing the right thing.”
Quilles joined Roth’s staff in 2016 after three seasons as the team’s primary catcher. The San Diego Padres’ sixth-round draft pick in ’07 works closely with De La Rosa and Brown.
“Emmanuel has been really great at giving me advice as far as what the situation is in the game, which pitches we should use in what counts and what adjustments we should make,” De La Rosa said. “He’s a really great guy and I’m lucky to have him next to me every day.
“He’s been in every situation and has seen everything. He’s very good at letting me know what I should expect in pretty much any situation.”
Roth appreciates how Quilles has taught the catchers to control the game.
“They have learned that no matter who is in the game, they are going to be in charge. De La Rosa and Mason Brown are going to be the generals out there,” Roth said. “Those guys control the game and put down what the pitcher should want to throw. Everybody’s stuff is pretty similar up and down. They’re all going to be 88-89 to 93-94 miles per hour. The key is to get the ball down in the zone.
“The key is to have my catchers in there understanding what our approach should be, being able to talk to Quilles and learning and watching how we want to attack hitters.”
De La Rosa and Brown have helped with their bats, as well. De La Rosa is hitting .248 with three home runs and a team-leading 22 RBIs. Brown is hitting just .222 in limited at-bats, but four of his eight hits have been doubles.
“They’ve done a great job,” Roth said. “I can’t say enough about the two catchers. I’ve been fortunate since I’ve been here. The catchers are young and learning. I couldn’t ask for a better couple of guys.”