The phrases "pitchers' duel" and "All-Star Game" aren't frequently associated with one another.
This year's South Atlantic League edition, though, makes for strange bedfellows.
When the best of the circuit's North and South Divisions go head-to-head Tuesday night at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C., it's easy to imagine a scarcity of runs, thanks in large part to two left-handers.
Savannah's Mark Cohoon of the South and Hagerstown's Daniel Rosenbaum of the North are each likely to have at least six days' rest on their shoulders when they step to the mound Tuesday, and each of them is tough enough to hit without extra help from scheduling coincidences.
Rosenbaum is among the league leaders in ERA and is tied for the league lead in starts -- an impressive combination -- and he made three straight scoreless starts in May. Only twice in 14 starts has he allowed more than three runs to score, and his changeup, which he developed during the offseason instructional league, is only getting more consistent.
Cohoon comes into the All-Star break on an unbelievable streak. He's thrown three consecutive nine-inning shutout games, first striking out 10 and allowing just three hits to the Asheville Tourists on June 4, then three-hitting the Grasshoppers in Greensboro on June 10 and most recently beating the Rome Braves, allowing four hits, on June 16. The 2008 12th-rounder hasn't allowed an earned run since May 22, and no team has been able to cross the plate against him more than twice in any one game.
Ignoring the presence of Cohoon and Rosenbaum -- something most hitters are hard-pressed to do -- both pitching staffs are still stacked with seriously stingy hurlers. Nick Hernandez, who spots a 1.61 ERA and has 52 strikeouts to compare with his eight walks, joins Kannapolis' Joseph Serafin and Hickory's Robbie Ross on the North Division staff.
The South Division has Savannah to thank for the bulk of its pitching power -- Cohoon will be among teammates Brandon Moore and James Fuller, who started for the Sand Gnats on Sunday and isn't likely to see much action in the All-Star Game. They'll have help from, among others, Rome's Cory Rasmus and Chris Masters.
What if, though, Tuesday turns out to be a hitter's kind of day? With frequent changes on the mound, a disruption in the everyday routine and the fear of being injured in a game that's just for fun, it's likely that some of these hurlers won't have their best stuff. Those who can't get their rhythm aren't likely to last long, and making a single mistake against the hitters in these lineups can be very costly.
Just ask Kody Hinze, the Lexington first baseman who wrapped up the first half with nine more RBIs than his closest competitor, or his teammate J.D. Martinez, whose batting average hasn't dipped below .350 since May 17 and was as high as .375 at one point this month. Martinez and Hinze are aligned with Cohoon on the North Division team, but the South has plenty of bats, too.
Rosenbaum and company can realistically hope for some run support out of Kannapolis' Ian Gac, who is tied for the circuit lead with 13 longballs, and Hagerstown's Steven Souza, who knocked in 50 runs in the first half of the season.
If the sluggers from either division start to get good wood on the ball, both lineups could prove difficult to stop.
But with these pitchers, that's a pretty big if.