The BlueClaws Year In Review series looks at 2017 BlueClaws starting pitchers.
Let's look back at the 2017 season with another in our Year In Review series.
Editor's Note - We will be publishing a series of "Year in Review" stories that look at each half, position groups, and some of the best moments and promotions from the 2017 season. This is the fifth in this series.
Previously - First Half In Review, Second Half In Review, Infielders, Outfielders.
BlueClaws starting pitching was arguably the strength of the team in 2017. In fact, of the six players that were in the starting rotation when the season opened, three ended the season in Clearwater (JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez, and Adonis Medina), one of the remaining three was an All-Star (Nick Fanti), and the others had ERAs of 2.99 (Bailey Falter) and 3.01 (Adonis Medina).
Fanti, in his third year in the system, threw not one but two no-hitters this year. His first came on May 6th in Columbia, masterfully navigating a Fireflies lineup and coming within one out of completing the first nine-inning no-hitter, in a win, ever by a BlueClaw. Fanti tired, however, and when he walked an opposing hitter on his 113th pitch of the night, he came out of the game. Trevor Bettencourt got the last out to complete the no-no.
On July 17th, two-and-a-half months later, however, Fanti finished the deal himself, throwing a nine-inning no-hitter in a 1-0 win over Charleston. Fanti gave up a walk to the fifth batter of the game, and nothing else. Previously, only Gavin Floyd had thrown an individual, nine-inning no-hitter by a BlueClaw in team history, and he lost to Lexington 1-0 in 2002 (the BlueClaws had thrown several combined nine-inning no-hitters and an individual seven-inning no-hitter by Keith Bucktrot in 2001).
Video: Fanti Tosses No-Hitter
Fanti ended up 9-2 with a sparkling 2.54 ERA on the season. He also became just the second BlueClaw to be the starting pitcher in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, following David Buchanan in 2011.
JoJo Romero, another BlueClaws All-Star, was the BlueClaws Opening Night starter. That day, he gave up four runs in four innings, and he would allow two earned runs or less in 11 of his last 12 starts as a BlueClaw (and three in the other one). Romero threw eight scoreless innings on two occasions with the BlueClaws, including once in the last weekend of the first half, part of the BlueClaws six-game first-half closing winning streak that left them just percentage points shy of the post-season. The lefty went 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA over 13 starts with Lakewood before being promoted to Clearwater. He was named the Phillies #6 prospect per Baseball America.
Fanti led two BlueClaws no-hitters this year, but no BlueClaw has ever thrown a perfect game. Ranger Suarez came the closest, retiring the first 23 hitters he faced in a June 26th win over Greensboro. It would be his penultimate start with the BlueClaws before a promotion to Clearwater for the All-Star left-hander. Suarez finished 6-2 with a 1.59 ERA and gave up just 10 runs in 13 starts, not including a five-run, six-inning start against Greenville on May 11th. Suarez allowed five earned runs in 46 innings over his last seven starts with the BlueClaws.
Video: Suarez Flirts With History
Sixto Sanchez was just 18 years old on Opening Day and was one of just 15 players ever to play for the BlueClaws as an 18-year old. He had a very good year, going 5-3 with a 2.41 ERA over 13 starts. Sanchez missed a month during the season, but after returning on June 11th, he allowed eight earned runs in 43 innings with a 43-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was promoted to Clearwater for the final month of the season. After the season, Baseball America ranked him #2 in the system behind SS JP Crawford.
Video: Sanchez Impressing With BlueClaws
Adonis Medina had a very strong close to the season, allowing just 11 earned runs in his last 50 innings to finish the year with a 3.01 ERA. The right-hander, who Baseball America puts at #4 in the system, threw six scoreless innings in the last game of the season, September 4th against Kannapolis. He was also one of the league's top strikeout pitchers, fanning 133 in 119 innings pitched.
Bailey Falter was another that finished the season very strong, pitching a 2.42 ERA over the final two months of the season and in the process, lowered his ERA to 2.99 to close the year. His best start came on July 29th against Hickory, where he threw seven scoreless innings on just three hits while striking out nine.
The BlueClaws also integrated several others into the rotation during the season. Alejandro Requena came over from the Rockies in the trade that sent Pat Neshak to Colorado. Requenea made two productive starts with the BlueClaws after making 19 starts with Asheville. He was shut down after reaching his innings limit and will likely be in Clearwater next year.
Marucio Llovera (2-4, 3.35 ERA) and Felix Paulino (5-9, 4.53 ERA) both made several starts at the end of the season for the BlueClaws. Paulino finished the year very well, allowing one or no runs in seven innings in three of his last four starts.
All told, the BlueClaws finished third in the league with a team ERA of 3.26, largely on the strength of their starting pitching.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.