28 July 2006

All-Star aces add glitz to the East

Last week, we took a look at some of the top hitters in the East Division, and with the Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Game set for tomorrow, July 29, at Y-D, we spotlight some of the Eastís top pitchers, all of whom are on the All-Star team. 

Chatham ace Ricky Hargrove (University of Houston) is second in the league with a 0.76 ERA.
 (Rich Eldred photo)

Shaun Seibert - Brewster starter 

When the starting nine takes the field for the East tomorrow, Brewsterís Shaun Seibert will be on the mound. 

It seems pretty obvious, given his 5-0 record and spotless 0.00 ERA in 40 2/3 innings. With a tad more run support, Seibert could be 7-0, since he has made seven starts. 

"I didnít come up here and think Iíd be starting the All-Star Game," the right-hander from the University of Arkansas said. "But Iíve been pitching good. I havenít had the stats as far as walks Iíd like to have, but these guys play pretty good defense behind me and have kept my ERA down." 

Seibert has 23 walks, which is a lot, but has given up only 22 hits and struck out 33. 

"I try to keep the ball off the plate and make the batter swing at the pitch I want him to swing at instead of throwing it down the middle. Thatís why I have so many walks," he said. "Here, everybody can hit, instead of just one through five in college." 

Seibert will be entering his junior season at Arkansas. He was 5-3 as a freshman and this year posted a 4-0 record with a 2.79 ERA in 17 games. He whiffed 62 in 61 frames. 

"Iím trying not to change anything, although Iím starting to throw a change-up," he said. "Thatís something my coach told me to work on. I threw four in two years at school. Now I throw four in a game." 

Thatís still not a lot of change-ups. 

"Iíd like to call myself a power pitcher, but sometimes I donít have the velocity a power pitcher has," Seibert said. "But my coach at school says slower and lower, so sometimes I revert back to that." 

It has all worked pretty well, as Seibert has a combined 9-0 mark in college and the Cape League this year. He is working deeper into games than he did at Arkansas. 

"They let me get into my own jams and get out of my own jams," he said. "At school, in a jam, I had to come out." 

Seibert is having a good time on the Cape. 

"The baseball, the atmosphere is good, getting to know the guys," he said. "It seems like every summer team Iíve played for has a great group of guys, and we mesh pretty well." 

Ricky Hargrove - Chatham starter 

Like Seibert, for those who have seen Chatham ace Ricky Hargrove pitch this summer, his selection onto the East Division All-Star squad should have been a no-brainer. 

The hard-throwing righty, originally from Katy, Texas, (Roger Clemensí hometown) has been nearly lights-out this summer for the Aís. Hargrove, who will be entering his junior year at the University of Houston, has given up a mere three earned runs in 35 2/3 innings. 

"I couldnít ask for anything more," said Hargrove. "First, just getting into the league, then being named to the All-Star team. Itís what you dream about as a kid." 

Hargrove added that one of the keys to his success so far has been his ability to adapt to the wooden bats. 

"It really teaches you how to pitch with your fastball. Itís a much more true form of baseball than playing with aluminum bats," he said. "In college, a lead is never safe because the balls go flying off the bat. With the wooden bats, you really need to be able to get something on it for it to be a base hit." 

A new aspect of Hargroveís game has been the addition of a change-up to his pitching arsenal. He has been working on the pitch since the start of the summer. 

"Itís been a huge boost for me to become a three-pitch pitcher instead of just having two pitches. It gives me a lot more to work with," he said. 

Last summer, pitching mostly out of the bullpen for the Hyannis Mets, Hargrove posted a 3.51 ERA in 41 innings. 

"The atmosphere here with the fans is just amazing. Every night, thereís a ton of people here rooting their team on. Itís great," he said. 

Hargrove is second in the league with an eye-catching 0.76 ERA in six starts. He has also issued only 14 walks while striking out 27 to go along with his 2-0 record. 

Hargrove will be joined on the East squad by teammate Paul Koss of USC, who has registered four saves without giving up an earned run in 11 games. Koss was a late addition to the team a couple days after the initial selections had been made. 

Dan Merklinger - Harwich starter 

Making up half of the one-two lefty combination of Mariners starting pitchers named to this yearís Eastern Division team is West Orange, N.J., native Dan Merklinger. 

Merklinger leads all Harwich starters with a 1.04 ERA, good for third in the league, and has racked up 38 strikeouts. 

"Itís just a tremendous honor for me to be named to the All-Star team. Itís been really exiting for me just to be up here playing in the best summer league in the nation, and now being named an All-Star," said the Seton Hall junior-to-be. "Iíve done a lot of work with my coaches trying to stay ahead, challenge and go after the hitters. I think Iíve done a good job of that this season." 

Last summer, Merklinger had a cup of coffee with the Falmouth Commodores before being released after a couple weeks. 

In six starts this season, Merklinger is 3-0 and has allowed just four earned runs in 34 2/3 innings. 

Last season at Seton Hall, Merklinger led the team with 83 strikeouts, but only registered a 4-7 record with a 4.57 ERA. 

"Itís a summer league, so things are bit more relaxing than at school, but the competition level is very high here, every night," he said. "We arenít having the best year record-wise, but everybodyís spirits are up, and weíre all just enjoying our time up here." 

In his last start, July 21 against Falmouth, Merklinger picked up his third win by pitching seven strong innings, giving up only four base hits and not allowing an earned run while striking-out eight. 

Brett Cecil - Orleansí reliever 

Brett Cecil (University of Maryland) had ridden his 1.52 ERA to a spot on the East squad. 

"Definitely this was a goal at the beginning of the season," Cecil said. "And now Iíve notched one of my goals. Another is keeping my earned run average down, and Iím doing that pretty well. Iím really excited to be an All-Star. Itís been a great honor." 

The powerful 240-pound lefty from Dunkirk, Md., has appeared in 14 games for Orleans, notching eight saves and 31 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. He has given up just 11 hits and walked nine. 

Cecilís role as Orleansí closer suits him well. 

"I never really became a closer until this past year," he said. "We had a new pitching coach, Jim Farr, and he saw a few games and said, íYouíll be a closer.í Itís worked out for the best. He helped me a lot, especially with my slider." 

Cecil closed for Maryland this season, compiling a 4-5 record to go with a 4.78 ERA in 26 games. The ERA was fourth-best on the Terrapins, and he recorded 13 saves. 

"I was always a starter, and thatís something I like to do, but I like being the guy at the end of the game who comes in and shuts it down," Cecil said. "The biggest thing is mentally. Closers have a reputation of being real aggressive on the mound. I like that. A starter has got to pace himself, and you figure out the hitters through the game. A closer just goes all out for one, two, maybe three innings." 

Cecil threw 58 innings at Maryland, which at a little over two innings an appearance is much more that a major league closer. His ERA is more than three runs per game lower hurling for Orleans. 

"I think all the pitchers like pitching against the wood bats," Cecil said. "The biggest thing is you donít get the bloop hits off the handle off a wood bat; you donít get sissy hits." 

Hits have been rare off Cecil, working out to 4.1 per nine innings. 

Scott Maine - Brewster starter 

Scott Maine of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has a 3-1 record with the Whitecaps, posting a 1.80 ERA in 25 innings while whiffing 19. 

"Iíve had a good enough season to be on (the All-Star team), and itís a privilege," he said. "Making the All-Star team is the highlight of the summer." 

Maine pitches for the University of Miami, where he was the Hurricanesí leading winner with a 12-3 record and 4.57 ERA. He struck out 76 in 106 innings while walking 39 and giving up 97 hits. 

"The wood bats definitely help. It gives the pitchers an advantage," Maine said of his success in Brewster. "Locating my pitches, throwing all my pitches for strikes, my fast ball and change-up -- I like the combination of those two." 

Maine didnít change his approach to pitching in changing from metal in college to wood bats in the Cape League. It turned out he was familiar with a lot of the hitters here, as well. 

"Iíve seen a lot of the guys. A lot of the guys are in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), so I know about them. We didnít really use any scouting reports here," he said. 

He has enjoyed his Cape League summer. 

"I like it so far. I canít complain," Maine said. "The weatherís been OK, but itís been rainy. The fields are great, and the people are great. This is definitely a nice area. Thereís a lot of stuff to do." 

Maine did have one objective on Cape Cod. 

"My goal was to work on a different arm slant, and Iíve pretty much achieved that," he said. 

At Miami, Maine got used to big crowds, so the Brewster crowds donít faze him. 

"We get 3,000 every game," he said "Itís close to home. They go to Omaha (the College World Series) every year. Itís one of the top baseball programs in the country." 

Donnie Hume - Y-D starter 

Donnie Hume is one of several Y-D pitchers named to the All-Star team. The Long Beach State lefty has a 3-0 record to go with a 2.52 ERA. He also has 34 strikeouts in 39 1/3 innings and has given up 33 hits. 

"This was a goal I had set for myself," he said of being on the East squad. "And with this elite group of guys, itís always a pleasant surprise. Things came together well for me. I was pretty happy with it. I focused on my work, getting it in on a daily basis." 

On the mound, the native of Vacaville, Calif., is intense. 

"Always aggressive, you know," he said. "Mix it up all the game, try to keep the hitters off-balance. When we first got here, the pitchers had a little advantage with the wood bats, but late in the season (the hitters) are feeling more comfortable." 

Cape League games are much more low-scoring than those in college, which puts more pressure on the starting pitching. 

"Every run does count," Hume said. "You really are bearing down every time you take the mound to keep the team in position." 

Hume doesnít have one "out pitch." 

"Iíd say they are all pretty balanced," he said. "I just use them to set guys up." 

Hume is a left-hander which is always an advantage. 

"I just like getting to come out and hang out with the boys," he said. "Youíve got guys from all around the country and they become lifetime friends out here. The experience out here is great. This is known to be the best competition." 

Tony Watson - Harwich starter 

The second half of Harwichís lefty duo, Tony Watson from the University of Nebraska is making the most of his first year in the Cape League. 

Hailing from Lincoln, Neb., the 6-foot, 4-inch, 215-pound junior-to-be has proven to be very valuable to the Mariners pitching staff. Leading the team with a 4-1 record and innings pitched (36), Watson also has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio with 40 strikeouts and only seven walks. 

"I really didnít make too many adjustments coming into this league. No matter where you play, or at what level, you need to be able to go out there and throw strikes," he said. "I like to keep the ball in play and let my defense behind me take care of business. Itís a real honor to be named an All-Star in the best summer league in the nation. Iím excited at the opportunity to showcase my talent while representing Harwich." 

Watson has previous experience playing in a summer league, playing in a number of them in his native Nebraska. 

"Itís one of those things you have to do if you want to play on the next level," he said. "Between the college season and then the summer league, it tends to be a long year, but itís worth it. The fans (on the Cape) are amazing. It seems like the whole town comes to the games to give their support. This is such a great environment for baseball." 

At Nebraska, Watson was head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Huskersí starters, leading the team in ERA (2.78), record (10-2) and strikeouts (69) in a little more than 100 innings, all while holding batters to a .236 average. This summer, Watson has held batters to a .210 average in 36 innings. 

By Matt Rice 

By Rich Eldred