We’re getting into the final days before the September call-ups, and if it seems like half the River Cats’ roster has already done time in San Francisco this season, it’s because it pretty much has. A double-digit number of Cats have played with the Giants, and it’s very likely another one will find himself on the I-80 shuttle next month when big-league rosters expand to 40.
Left-handed starting pitcher Ty Blach sure has earned his chance. As of Friday, he led the Pacific Coast League with 13 wins, 149 2/3 innings pitched and three complete games. He was tied for shutouts with two, third among starters in walks and hits per innings pitched at 1.15 and sixth in ERA at 3.49.
The season did not start so hot for the 25-year-old from Denver who pitched at Creighton. As of June 27, Blach was 6-5 with an ERA of 4.67. Then he got hot, and in Las Vegas, a town where most things go wrong for most people who visit. . Have you ever heard of a gambling capital that made good on winners?
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Superficial City, however, is where Blach turned his season around. Maybe his career, too.
His winning night in Las Vegas, Blach threw a six-hitter in a 6-0 win over the 51s, with six strikeouts and no walks. Since then he’s gone 7-2 with an ERA of 1.86 with a formula of simplicity.
“Just executing pitches,” Blach said. “Being able to get ahead of the hitters, limit the free bases, let the defense make lots of plays behind me.”
Blach does not exactly burn the chips out of the speed gun. His fastball rarely exceeds 90 miles per hour. But he puts it in tight spots and isn’t afraid to throw it under the hitter’s elbows. He can also cut the corners with his curve.
“The biggest thing for him is he’s throwing strikes with all his pitches,” said River Cats pitching coach Dwight Bernard. “He’s learning hitters a whole lot better – learning to read bats – and pitching inside much better. His curveball has gotten a lot better. He’s made strides as a pitcher on his way to the major-league level.”
Another thing about Blach, he does not dillydally. They are testing a 20-second clock in the minors to speed up the pitchers, but you can turn it off when Blach’s on the job. He grabs the ball and attacks in less than half the time allotted. Like Vin Scully likes to say, “He pitches as though he’s double-parked.”
“I’ve always been a tempo guy,” Blach said. “I like to get in the groove, get rolling. The defense works better behind you when you’re quick, getting the ball up there and throwing it, and (the fielders) seem to stay locked in. Just try to keep up a good pace for those guys and let them make the plays behind me.”
Said Bernard: “He keeps the guys on their toes. He’s been making pitches, and they make plays for him.”
Pitching in the PCL, Blach also has found a way in high-altitude cities such as Albuquerque, N.M., Salt Lake City and Reno to keep guys from hitting the ball through the thin air and out of the park. He’s given up only 0.43 home runs per nine innings pitched, which shows he is not intimidated by the PCL’s hitter-friendly reputation.
“The more afraid you are to pitch in parks like that, the more trouble you’re going to get yourself into – being in bad counts and trying to have to come in to a hitter and giving him a chance to elevate,” Blach said.
Blach is scheduled to start Sunday in Reno. It’ll be a test to see how bad his memory is, a good thing for a pitcher, just as it is for defensive backs in football and anybody else in the human comedy who has a bad day. You can’t forget everything that goes wrong, but one trick is to forget most of it. The River Cats will see Sunday if Blach can exorcise some of the thoughts that may have been troubling him in recent days.
On Tuesday night at Raley Field, he got the start against the Iowa Cubs. Through four innings, he owned the Triple-A club of baseball’s best team. He had a little problem, though, in the fifth when he walked the pitcher to load the bases with one out. Then he balked in a run, always a painful thing to see. A sacrifice fly, an infield roller and two more hits later, the Cubs had scored four on Blach, in a game he and the River Cats lost 5-1.
“Guys make mistakes, they get beat,” Bernard said. “Hopefully they go out the next time and are more effective.”
So the question now for Blach is if he’ll get the call in September to pitch for the first time in the major leagues. For now he doesn’t seem too worried about it. He just picks up the ball every fifth day and delivers it to the plate as quickly as he can.
The idea, he said, is to “go out there and compete every single day and get better, and what’s going to happen is going to happen.”
His Triple-A pitching coach doesn’t know what the Giants are thinking, but Bernard has seen enough to know Blach’s name belongs in the mix for a major-league shot.
“He’s done a quality job here, and I think he’s done good enough to get at least a look,” Bernard said. “He’s put himself in a pretty good spot.”