Warming Up in the Bullpen

For this week’s edition of Mayflies & Big Flies, we head out to the right field bullpen at Metro Bank Park to find two of my favorite stories on the season. Relievers Chuck James and Rafael Martin have taken two very different journeys to find themselves here in Harrisburg battling for their dream of pitching in the major leagues. One is a reclamation project and the other is a Rocky-esque longshot.

Off the Scrap Heap

Chuck James knows what it takes to make The Show and he’s doing all he can to get back there. He was an effective pitcher for his hometown Atlanta Braves during 2006 and 2007 when he won 11 games each season (I’m pretty sure I even owned James on my fantasy team during one of those years). However, his 2008 season was derailed by injury and led to rotator cuff and labrum surgery in November of that year which caused him to contemplate retirement after he missed all of 2009. In this off-season, the Nationals signed the left-hander and originally assigned him to Triple-A Syracuse where he started five games before demoting him to Harrisburg and the bullpen in the middle of May.

The changes of scenery and his role on the pitching staff have made a huge difference in James’ performance since arriving in Central PA. Whatever Harrisburg manager Randy Knorr has needed from James, he has delivered. Spot start? Long relief? Lefty specialist? Closer? James has done it all and has been dominant in his 15 appearances. James has only logged 35.2 innings, but compiled a perfect 7-0 record with a miniscule 0.76 ERA while allowing 18 hits and striking out 38. James has easily exceeded expectations and hopefully has earned himself a much-deserved shot at another go-round in the majors.

Beer Leaguer to Major Leaguer

On the other hand, Rafael Martin’s path to the midstate sounds like something out of a Bruce Springsteen song. After graduating from high school, Martin spent his days working construction and his nights reliving his glory days with beer league softball. And much like my brethren in the local PMBL, Martin would lace them up once a week on Sundays to pitch in an adult baseball league. I’m sure pitching in the major leagues seemed as far away as flying to the moon or starring on the silver screen for the native Californian.

But then Martin caught the eye of the Tecate team owner during a pickup game and was urged to attend an upcoming tryout. Martin impressed and was signed to Saraparos de Saltillo in the Mexican League where he would play for three seasons before the Washington Nationals bought his contract out this past February. Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo has listed Martin as the organization’s #1 ranked international signing of the past year and clearly feels the 26-year old can be a productive major leaguer some project as a possible set-up man for Drew Storen in the future.

This season in Harrisburg, Martin has been Knorr’s workhorse out of the pen appearing in 40 games and almost 60 innings with a 2.56 ERA (including the win in the All-Star Game). What might be more impressive is that Martin’s numbers on the year aren’t that much different from his first three professional seasons in Mexico. All of his metrics across the board are similar to his career numbers which means this year’s performance isn’t a fluke. He’s the real deal and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his chance at the major league level.

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Banking on 300,000

Through 55 home dates, the Senators have drawn 223,966 spectators and are averaging 4,072 per game which puts them solidly on track to crack their single-season record but 10,000 fans short of the optimistically expected 300,000. There is still hope though. As the Senators’ play heats up and they make their push for the playoffs, the excitement surrounding the club could boost attendance like last weekend’s series and they could average the needed 4,753 per game for the remaining 16 home dates.

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