Lancaster isn't exactly a field of dreams for the young players who pass through the Astros organization. Since Houston took over the JetHawks affiliation prior to the 2009 season, Lancaster has an 84-138 record, including its current 28-54 mark.
Left-handed pitcher David Berner came in to save the day this season. There isn't much to save in Lancaster, but Berner has been the man in the ninth inning for the JetHawks with nine saves in 11 chances. Houston selected him in the 14th round of the 2009 Draft and molded him into a fine closer.
Berner was a seven-game winner for San Jose State the year he was drafted, leading the Spartans to their best regular-season finish since 2002. They went 41-20 and ended up with the best record in the Western Athletic Conference at 15-7, but the unranked team did not make it to a College World Series regional.
Berner led the WAC with three complete games, 84 strikeouts and a 1.03 WHIP. He walked only 15 batters over 95 2/3 innings and tied for the team lead with seven wins. Houston selected the southpaw and moved him to the bullpen, first for Tri-City in the New York-Penn League in 2009 and now in Lancaster.
He threw only six innings for the short-season ValleyCats because of a heavy college workload.
"My arm was pretty dead," he said of his reduced innings. "The Astros were really good getting me back into shape so nothing bad would happen to my arm. I just went out there for the experience more than anything."
Berner wasn't always closing, but the way he's pitching makes it look like he's done it all his life. He leads the JetHawks bullpen with 30 appearances and 26 games finished.
The left-hander was Houston's organizational Pitcher of the Month in April, logging a 1.17 ERA with 16 strikeouts and one walk over 15 1/3 innings in eight appearances. He also earned three saves.
Berner has adjusted well to the differences between starting and closing.
"[It's] night and day, but at the same time you have to keep the same mentality," he said. "When you're starting, you go out there and try to give your offense the best chance to win a ballgame."
He said closing is about getting it done in the key situations, and he thrives there, too.
"I love going out there trying to close ballgames and try to get the win," he said.
Berner worked with a fastball, changeup and slider as a starter but has pared that repertoire down to the fastball and slider as a closer. He uses those two pitches to reinforce his strong ground-ball tendencies.
"I pitch to contact. I'm not looking for strikeouts," he said. "I'm looking to get the guy out early in the count."
Berner can take a lot from his days as a college starter. In the Cal League, he faces former WAC foes like Modesto's Tim Wheeler (Sacramento State) and Bakersfield's Tommy Mendonca (Fresno State), who went in the first and second rounds of the 2009 Draft, respectively.
"I know how to pitch them pretty well because I pitched against them for two years," he said. "So far, I've done pretty well against them."
Berner also was excited to pitch in San Jose last week when the JetHawks made their only trip north during the regular season. He earned the win June 1 in a comeback victory, throwing two innings of one-hit ball. A rousing cheer even went up from the third-base bleachers at San Jose Municipal Stadium when he entered the game.
Hit and RBI parade: Hitting streaks are fairly common in baseball. How about an RBI streak? Visalia LF Marc Krauss drove in a run in all seven games last week, totaling 18 RBIs. The hot hitting won him Player of the Week honors. He started the week with a bang, putting up four hits and five RBIs against San Jose on June 29. Krauss is riding a 16-game hitting streak, leads the Rawhide with a .332 batting average and is second with 61 RBIs, one behind teammate and league home run king Paul Goldschmidt, who hit his 21st and 22nd of the season Tuesday night against Lake Elsinore.
Bakersfield's best bet: Bakersfield's Wilfredo Boscan was dominant in two starts last week, posting 17 strikeouts without a walk while allowing one run over 15 innings. He's been a road warrior for the Blaze, going 2-1 in his last four starts, all as the visitor. Boscan threw a gem June 28, going eight scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts. The Venezuelan right-hander was named Pitcher of the Week.
Low pressure: Lake Elsinore snapped a season-high five-game losing streak Monday with a 12-6 home win over Visalia. The Storm won a league-best 51 games in the first half but have fallen on hard times to open the second half and are in third place in the division at 6-7. Eric Gonzalez earned the win in a bullpen game, throwing two scoreless innings after Nick Schmidt started for the Storm. Schmidt was roughed up for five runs on three hits in two innings. The left-hander has allowed 14 runs over 10 innings in his last four starts.
Slam-bang baseball: Rancho Cucamonga entered the Cal League annals by scoring in all nine innings in a 23-8 rumble with the High Desert Mavericks on Monday. The Quakes became the second team to achieve the feat in league history. They chased Mavericks starter Andrew Carraway after 2 1/3 innings, scoring 10 runs against him in his shortest start of 2010. Carraway has bad luck against the Quakes this year. He surrendered 11 runs over four innings in a June 10 loss to the Quakes. Rancho Cucamonga DH Gabe Jacobo had a monster game, driving in six runs and slugging a homer and a triple. Every Quakes starter had at least two hits and one RBI. High Desert tried to respond in the blowout loss as Dennis Raben put up two homers and four RBIs. He's hitting .377 since his May promotion from Class A Clinton.