Z's staff finds familiar place atop PCL

Zephyrs enter All-Star break leading the league in team ERA

By Emmanuel Pepis / New Orleans Zephyrs | July 15, 2013 10:15 AM ET

The New Orleans Zephyrs' pitching staff entered the All-Star break in a familiar position: atop the Pacific Coast League's leaderboard with a 3.69 team ERA, which would be the third-best in team history, trailing only the 1997 and 2002 clubs.

This year's totals may be more impressive considering the amount of starting pitchers they had to go through.

Take, for instance, that the Zephyrs had used nine different starters by the end of the first month of the season. They used only eight last season. To date, 14 different pitchers have started a game for the Zephyrs.

Or consider with an impending bullpen day already in place on May 22 at Sacramento, the scheduled starter for the night prior (Brad Hand) suffered an injury in warm-ups. The Z's won what turned out to be back-to-back bullpen days.

"Guys have done a great job," said pitching coach Charlie Corbell. "They're good pitchers, they've executed well. We as a staff have communicated the philosophy that helps them succeed and they've taken it and ran with it."

For Corbell, a successful pitching staff is nothing new. In 2012, his second year with the Zephyrs, Corbell guided the team to a PCL-best 3.96 ERA and tied for a league high with 12 shutouts. The previous year, Corbell's staff hurled a league-best and franchise-record 13 shutouts.  

A couple of examples are manifested in guys who weren't even in the Marlins organization on Opening Day. Duane Below was claimed off waivers after Elih Villanueva went on the disabled list. Through 11 starts, Below boasts a 2.39 ERA and has limited the opposition to two runs or fewer nine times.

"It starts with a lot of meetings we have and (manager Ron) Hassey having caught so many games in the big leagues and the things we really work in doing," Corbell said. "Our philosophy matches up real well with what we ask our pitchers to do, and we basically keep them working to their strengths."

In the bullpen, Adam Reifer was brought on in late-May. Reifer pitched 17 consecutive scoreless innings over his first 11 appearances, the longest streak of his professional career, and opponents were batting just .063 against him.

Add that all in with the Minor League Baseball saves leader in Chris Hatcher, who enters the break having already tied Jim Mann's franchise record with 27 saves in a season, plus an experienced set up tandem of Jonathan Albaladejo and Zach Phillips, and the Zephyrs have been able to weather a slew of injuries and the losses of Jacob Turner and Tom Koehler to the big league rotation.

"We have a number of guys that have been at the Major League level," Corbell said. "Their ability to execute pitches and stay consistent, that's what a manager looks for in pitchers when he calls their number. He just wants to know what he's going to get out of them."

The Zephyrs have hung around the division race all year despite not going on an extended winning streak. The offense, which has ranked at or near the bottom of the league all season, showed signs of awakening in the final week before the break, averaging 6.6 runs per game. Unsurprisingly, the Zephyrs won six of seven contests, but not to be overshadowed, the pitching staff racked up four shutouts in the last 10 games.

With the bats coming around, and the arms currently in their arsenal, the Z's have shown the capability of being a factor in the season's second half. 

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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