When many fans think of effective pitchers, they envision high strikeout totals while limiting the opportunities the opponent has to hit the ball. Asheville right-hander Ben Alsup
, meanwhile, employs a simpler philosophy, one that includes all eight of his teammates on the field.
"We have a great team here, and basically as a pitcher, your main goal is to go out there and throw strikes," Alsup said. "I want to throw as many strikes as I can and let the defense work behind me. I've given up my fair share of hits, but when the defense has the opportunity to make a play, they always come through. Add that with the offensive production our team has been able to put together and there's a reason why our pitchers have been doing well."
That approach produced some impressive results during the first three months of the 2012 campaign. Alsup won his first four decisions and is currently tied for third in the South Atlantic League in wins with an 8-4 record. He also is tied for the top spot with Lexington's Michael Foltynewicz with 96 2/3 innings pitched despite allowing 106 hits.
In many ways, Alsup uses his mind as much as his arm to retire hitters. In addition to pitching to contact, he places the ball in areas of the strike zone that are more likely to result in outs. He looks for weaknesses among opposing hitters, particularly if they have a tendency to chase pitches in particular parts of the zone. Even if the batter makes contact, more often than not the ball will be hit where the Tourists have a defender.
"With wood bats, I'm learning every single day how to pitch effectively, and the hitters are learning about their swings every single day too," Alsup said. "I guarantee the hitters are getting a lot better with the wood bats as the season goes on. That's why I have to do everything possible to learn from my mistakes and do what it takes to be the best pitcher I can be."
Alsup has had to employ that philosophy throughout his days on the mound. He was not heavily recruited out of high school but had options between LSU and nearby Louisiana Tech. He considered staying close to home and following in the footsteps of his brother, Wes, a current member of the Mariners organization who had played for Tech. In the end, Ben could not turn down the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream in Baton Rouge.
"I knew I could probably go to Louisiana Tech and get more innings and play more often and play sooner than I did at LSU," Alsup said. "But in 10 years, was I going to look back and say, 'Man, what if I had gone to LSU and been a part of that program and that 2009 National Championship team, how cool would that have been?' I didn't want to look back and have any potential regrets.
"Going to LSU is the best decision I ever made. Things didn't go my way the first two years. I pitched five innings my freshman year and something like 20 innings in relief my sophomore year. My junior year started off slow again, although I did end up pitching 50-some innings, including 35 innings in the last third of the season. That's what turned everything on and made everything worthwhile."
Alsup wound up going 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA in 18 games, including three starts, in 2010 for the Tigers. Bypassed in the Draft, he returned to school for his senior season and became a part of the LSU weekend rotation. Starting 12 of his 14 appearances, Alsup went 6-5 with a 4.66 ERA, which led to the Rockies drafting him in the 18th round last June.
Shortly after signing with the Rockies, Alsup reported to Tri-City in the Northwest League and split six decisions while posting a solid 3.23 ERA, good for seventh on the circuit, in 13 games, including 11 starts. Alsup says pitching in the Southeastern Conference and meeting the high expectations at LSU prepared him to make such a seamless step to the professional ranks.
Despite his early success in Asheville and at Tri-City, Alsup is not content to rest on his laurels. He knows his career is a work in progress, which will continue throughout the current campaign as well as for seasons to come. At the same time, he is looking forward to the challenge, especially since he will make the adjustments along with some of his newest best friends.
"This is a great league -- there are lots of guys who can swing the bat," Alsup said. "There are also a lot of great pitchers in the South Atlantic League. But the best part so far has been being on this team and winning the first half [in the Southern Division]. We have a great group of guys. We all hang out together and we play hard while playing the game the right way. Because of that, I believe this team is destined to win a lot of games."
Not built in a day: The Rome Braves have made a remarkable turnaround thus far in the second half after posting an 18-52 record (.257) in the first half, by far the worst mark among leagues using the half-season format. The R-Braves entered Wednesday's games in first place in the Southern Division with a 10-3 record, two games ahead of Augusta and Charleston. In the Northern Division, Hickory is also 10-3, including an impressive 7-2 record on the road.
Duffy hot as the weather: Lakewood's Chris Duffy extended his hitting streak to 19 games on July 3, which represents the longest string in the SAL this season. Duffy is 32-for-73 (.438) with 16 runs scored, six doubles, four home runs and 18 RBIs since the streak began June 11. He also had back-to-back game-winning hits on June 28-29.
Howard back home: Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard returned to his old stomping grounds by suiting up for Lakewood on June 28, marking his first return to action since suffering an Achilles tendon tear during his final at-bat of the playoffs last year. Howard, who played for the BlueClaws in 2002, said afterward, "It felt good. Being in my first game this year where it counts for something was big. It was fun to be part of it and get back into game-on-the line situations. And from there I let Big Duff (Chris Duffy) take care of the rest."