Working as a closer in the New York-Penn League doesn't come with a guarantee of big league success. In fact, of the 71 players who've saved 10 or more games in a season since 2000, just seven have reached the Majors, only one (David Bush) has appeared in more than 20 big league games and not one has recorded a save there.
Though he currently ranks third in the NYPL with 10 saves, these facts don't seem to bother Auburn's Derek Self, who's reluctant to apply the closer label to his current role in the Doubledays bullpen.
"There's really no set roles right now, especially here in short-season," said the 22-year-old right-hander. "Who knows? They could try to turn me into a starter next year. I still don't know. But I feel like if you're still performing pretty well at the role they have you in, they will try their best to keep you there."
A ninth-round pick from Cave City, Ky., who recorded seven saves as a senior at Louisville after starting 16 games during his first three seasons at the school, Self was used primarily as a middle reliever to begin the Doubledays season. He struggled in his first few outings, allowing five runs on nine hits in eight innings.
His first save came against Lowell on July 4. Since then, he's allowed five runs on 13 hits in 16 1/3 innings while converting 10 of 11 save opportunities.
"I guess they saw something out of me to make them want to start using me out of the back end of the bullpen like I did in college," said Self before a recent game against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. "I feel like I had more success in the back end of the bullpen."
He's enjoyed that success with a four-pitch repertoire that consists of a fastball, cut fastball, slider and changeup. The fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and is the pitch he uses most often, while the cut fastball has become one of his most trusted offerings.
"I just recently put the cutter in, last year in college, and it really worked well for me," he said. "It's been one of my go-to pitches, or when I'm facing a solid hitter where you can't just throw straight fastballs to him, because anybody can catch up to a fastball."
While it might be considered unusual for a relief pitcher to throw four different pitches, Self feels that having so many options makes him better, especially if one or more of them isn't working on a given day.
"I feel like it's important if you've got four of them you can throw, then you just really have the hitter off-balance," Self said. "Because maybe one day the cutter isn't working, I might go with the slider. Maybe one day both aren't working -- I need an off-speed pitch -- I go with the changeup. Because you can't just sit there and rely on your fastball the whole time."
Despite the variety of his repertoire, his collegiate background as a starter/reliever and his reluctance to call himself Auburn's closer, it's clear that Self is pleased with the path his career is taking.
"I think I like the 'pen a little better because starting, you're more relaxed and you've got to keep your composure a little better. It's a slower tempo," said Self. "I like the fast tempo. I like getting amped up before I go out there to throw. I like to go out there and throw all-out, so definitely [I'm more comfortable in] the 'pen. I like pressure situations."
Former Doubleday reaches milestone: Bluefield Blue Jays manager Dennis Holmberg won his 1,300th career game last Friday with a win over the Burlington Royals. Holmberg won 429 of those games in the NYPL, where he spent 10 years with the Newark Co-Pilots (1977) and Auburn Doubledays (2002-10). He won division titles in his first five seasons with the Doubledays, capping the run with a championship in 2007.
The road ain't so bad: Tri-City leads the league with a 41-14 record, including a 23-5 mark on the road. Since 2005, only the 2005 (26-12) and 2006 (25-12) Oneonta Tigers won at least 25 road games in a season. The ValleyCats play 10 more games away from Joseph L. Bruno Stadium this season, traveling to Brooklyn, Lowell, Connecticut and Vermont.
Challenging history: The last pitcher to lead the NYPL in wins and strikeouts was Hamilton's Dave Oehrlein in 1992, but Brooklyn's Rainy Lara is in position to challenge for leadership in both categories: his seven wins are currently the best total in the league, while his 63 strikeouts are only four behind teammate and league leader Luis Mateo.
Ouch: State College Spikes outfielder Tyler Gaffney has been hit by a league-leading 17 pitches in just 31 games this season. The NYPL single-season record is 24, set by Mahoning Valley's Christopher Gimenez in 2004. Gimenez went on to play the 2005-06 seasons for Cleveland's Class A affiliate in Lake County, where he was hit by a total of 51 pitches over the course of the two seasons.