By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
There is likely no more thankless task in baseball than entering as a middle reliever.
In the role, there is neither the prestige of starting nor the glory in closing. Tangible rewards -- like a win or a save -- are few and far between, while the chance to have one bad pitch ruin an entire night's work is an ever-present threat.
"It's definitely a role you have to embrace from the beginning," Amsterdam Mohawks reliever Chris Kalica says.
This season, the Mohawks' roster features 14 pitchers. At present, four of them -- Dylan Dwyer, Matt Snyder, Matt Ternowchek and Trey Wingenter -- are viewed as starters; two of them -- Logan Fullmer and Jeremy Soule -- are in a battle for the rotation's fifth spot; and, that leaves eight Mohawks entrenched in the role of middle relief, as the club has not settled on a closer through its first 24 games.
Many of the Mohawks' relievers are starters for their college clubs, with Wake Forest's Christian Bartholomew one of the few players who came to Amsterdam as a reliever.
"When you're coming out of the 'pen, it's more an ease-the-pain situation," he says. "You've got to quell a situation, usually, maybe with guys at second and third base."
While the right-hander has more experience than most of his teammates in the role, that does not mean he is able to avoid the hard-knock life of middle relief.
Case in point: Friday's outing of 3 2-3 innings, in which Bartholomew hit his spots and looked great for three innings ... and, then, was mightily unlucky in his fourth inning of work during a lengthy appearance.
After three scoreless innings, Bartholomew gave up a pair of broken-bat singles and had an error made behind him in his fourth inning. Once lifted, fellow reliever Rich Vrana let two of Bartholomew's charges score, as the right-hander's once-beautiful pitching line took a blow.
"That's things you can't do anything about, though," says Bartholomew. "Baseball, that's the beautiful thing about the sport. There's times where you're going to throw really bad and be successful. Then, there's times you'll throw good and the luck isn't going to go your way."
Bartholomew left Friday's game with a frown on his face, as the situation he departed from seemed to weigh heavier on his mind than his first three innings of work. Mohawks head coach Keith Griffin said that sometimes it is tough for coaches, too, to evaluate middle relievers because of the small sample sizes they work within each outing.
"I try to just look at their stuff and how we played behind them. Is he in the zone with two or three pitches ... and can he stop the running game? If they do all that, then it's a good outing," says Griffin, adding that Bartholomew's outing counted as a good one in his eyes despite the way it ended.
Kalica had a rough outing earlier this season against Elmira. A starter for most of his career, he says it was tough to bounce back at first from that appearance because of the uncertainty of when he'd next get to pitch.
"You've just got to go about your business. You come to the park wanting to pitch, let Coach know I'm ready if he needs me, and you've got to have confidence in yourself to come back," says Kalica, who had not allowed a run in his past several appearances after his poor outing against the Pioneers.
Of course, not all players get too worked up about the middle-reliever role. Take for example, John Nogowski, the Mohawks' first baseman with an ERA of 0.00, who got to laugh his way through an inning during his lone appearance in a blowout earlier this season.
"With my blistering 82-miles-an-hour fastball, that's pretty tough to hit," says Nogowski. "If Coach needs me, I'm ready to go."