Sensational Six: Tribe Rotation Peaking at Perfect Time

Indy's rotation has been among MiLB's best

Tyler Glasnow's 113 strikeouts ranks 10th in the International League and are the most in all of Minor League Baseball since June 15. (Photo by Adam Pintar)

By Mike Lopresti / Indianapolis Indians | August 22, 2017 11:06 AM

Indianapolis - They've gone to the mound, one starting pitcher after another, and most times, good news has followed. In a season where the Indians' rotation has blazed a trail to first place, maybe we should get to know these fellows better before summer ends.


Introducing the six who have done the heavy lifting.


-- Let's see, there's the guy who went to the same college - Regis University in Denver -- as comedian Bill Murray.


That'd be Steven Brault. Whose favorite Murray movie, by the way, is "Caddyshack."


-- The optimist who proposed to his future wife the same day he was drafted by Pittsburgh.  


Tyler Eppler said yes to the Pirates, and Marissa said yes to him.


-- The 6-8 flamethrower with size 16 shoes.


If you think that's a big number for Tyler Glasnow, you should get a load of his strikeout totals.


-- The high school class valedictorian.


Suffice it to say, Clay Holmes' 4.0 GPA was a lot higher than his ERA.


-- The former Toronto Blue Jay, who once went 13-5 for the season, even with a 5.57 earned run average.


That, by the way, gave Drew Hutchison the second best winning percentage in major league history for a pitcher with an ERA over 5.00. Only Ed Wells had better. Ed Wells doesn't ring a bell? No wonder. He pitched in 1930.


-- And finally, the control artist who needed only 85 pitches the other night in a complete game win over Syracuse.


Nick Kingham came within one out Monday night of his second complete game of the month. That would have been more than 18 major league teams have had all season - including the Dodgers, Astros, Cubs and Yankees.


There they are, the dandy half-dozen who at the close of business Monday had a combined record of 48-33, taking turns vexing International League hitters.


As manager Andy Barkett said this week, "To have this much depth in a starting rotation this late in the season in Triple-A or Double-A is unprecedented. Whenever we've teetered as a team . . . we'll get a big start and they'll change the whole momentum of our team."


And as pitching coach Stan Kyles mentioned, "It's been nice to sit back and watch every game, where I know the guy's that starting the ballgame for us has a chance to pitch in the big leagues."


One night it's Kingham throwing strikes, as he did Monday. He's averaging under 2.5 walks per nine innings in an eight-year professional career, and has had only five in his last 45.1 innings.


The next night, it's Glasnow tossing more Ks on his pile of strikeouts - 113 in his 75.1 innings since he returned from the Pirates in June, more in that time span than any other man in minor league baseball.


The night after that, Hutchison with one of his 13 quality starts.


Holmes going 5-2 with a 2.16 ERA over his last nine games.


Eppler not giving up a run in 2017 until his 13th inning.


Or Brault, whose numbers positively glow in the dark. His 1.94 ERA is the best in the International League among qualifying pitchers, and he might become the first Indianapolis starter to lead the league with a sub-2.00 since 1916. At home, it's positively microscopic - 0.64.


It is a rotation fueled by various incentives - Hutchison eager to regain the form that once made him a Toronto mainstay, Glasnow and Brault hungry to return to Pittsburgh, where earlier stints were not always happy, Kingham on the road back from Tommy John surgery.


Take Brault. For him, 2017 has been a summer of personal growth.


"It's not necessarily been the season I was hoping to have as far as big league time," he said. "But as far as learning how to pitch and getting as much as I can out of where I am, it's been really helpful. The difference for me is mostly mental. A really big part has been learning to be confident all the time, being able to attack in the zone and not nibble.


"At the beginning of the year I thought I was right for the choice to be in the big league rotation, but looking back on it, I don't think I was. I don't think I was ready, I needed some growth down here."


The man to put all six into context coaches them every day. We have here Stan Kyles' pitching postcards.


Kyles on Brault . . .


"Incredible season. Last year he had a chance to go to the big leagues and really learn a lot about what he had to get better at, and getting a better identity of what he wants to do, and how he sees himself in the big leagues. He's been a pleasure to watch the whole season, he's so much more athletic than he was last year, so much more aggressive getting after the hitters. He's still got some things he's trying to hone, but he's really close to being a very good starting pitcher."


Kyles on Eppler . . .


"He's taken a few lumps lately. Sometimes he doesn't realize the growth that he's made this season, which I think is going to bode well for him next season. The best thing for me about him is he's not backed off, he continues to compete. He's got the type of demeanor and mindset that I think is going to make him a pretty good big league pitcher. He got off to a tremendous start the first month of the season, but this is a game of adjustments. As the league catches up to him, it's up to him to make the adjustments. He's making those adjustments now."


Kyles on Holmes….


"Here's a guy that came here very analytical about a lot of things. He's always been a guy that thinks a lot on the mound. We tried to get him to understand he's got to let the animal out in him. It's been really nice to see that animal. He has tremendous stuff and he's learned how to harness it. The sky's the limit for him. He's one of those rare guys that can get the ball on the ground consistently and he can get swings and misses. If he continues on this pace, I expect to see him a good frontline starter on the big league level."


Kyles on Hutchison . . .


"He's been the stabilizer. He came here, I wouldn't say with a chip on his shoulder, but he came here to prove to people what he could do and show everybody he's a horse. He's proved that. He's pitched some big games. The guys on the team playfully call him Big-Game Hutchison. He's just steady, consistent, bounces back well, and he's got pitches to get you out with, and he knows that. He's really been the spearhead to all this thing."


Kyles on Kingham . . .


"He went through the Tommy John thing, and I think he came into the season expecting to be another Taillon, and hit the ground running. He got here and threw a couple of good games but then got knocked around a little bit, and I think he lost a little confidence. But we sat him down and reminded him how good of a pitcher that he is, and is going to be. You can see the eye of the tiger return to him. It's been really nice to see a guy turn his mindset around and turn his season around because of it."


Kyles on Glasnow . . .


"He's another guy like Brault; he got up there and had a chance to see that maybe he wasn't quite ready for that experience. He came back down here with a determination that, `I'm not just going to be trying to get to the big leagues, I'm going prepare myself for when I get back there.' There's so much more of a focus and an awareness that he has now that he didn't have before. It's elevated his stuff. He's throwing the ball so much better than he threw it last year. He is where his feet are now, and he understands that this is the pro game, and he has to prepare himself the right way. He has probably shown the most growth that I've seen in one season as any pitcher I've been around."


Put all that together, and the Indians took a 4 ½-game lead over Columbus out of Monday night, with 15 games to go. But the September callups are imminent, and the rotation the Indians might take into any potential postseason will likely be down some familiar faces.


"At the end of the day, our job is to get guys to the big leagues," Barkett said. "So if in September, we've won our division and they take half our team and give us guys from Double-A and A ball to fill in, we did our job and we won our division with our players, and sent them on their way. That's what we get paid to do."


So it goes in Triple-A. But the journey has been fun, especially for Stan Kyles.

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

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