ALBANY -- Thursday night's game against the Albany Dutchmen was a rarity so far this season for the Amsterdam Mohawks, in so much as head coach Keith Griffin actually had to deal with concerns about the performance of his starting pitcher.
Connor Johnstone labored through three innings in Thursday's 11-6 Amsterdam win, but those kind of struggles had been almost unheard of for the Mohawks during the opening quarter of the 2014 Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League season. In 11 of the team's 13 games -- all except for Thursday against Albany and Zack Brown's first start of the season last week against Glens Falls -- Amsterdam has seen its starting pitcher allow three runs or less.
"We've had that one game, but everybody has that one game. The Yankees have that one game," Griffin said prior to Thursday's game. "That'll happen. We didn't pitch well, we didn't play well (against Glens Falls) and they beat us soundly. Other than that, we've been in every game."
Heading into Thursday night, the Mohawks had posted a sparkling 2.81 earned run average this season, and aside from Johnstone's struggles Thursday and Brown's against Glens Falls, the team's six-man starting rotation of Johnstone, Brown, E.J. Ashworth, Ryan Clark, Taylor Blatch and Brandon Whitmore has an ERA of just 1.72.
"We've pitched great. It's like our pitchers are our better players, and they've played really well," Griffin said.
Though the starting rotation's been rock-solid in the early portion of the season, Griffin said he's planning to be a little more flexible in how he uses his bullpen to finish off games.
In previous years, Griffin has preferred to use a set player in the closer role out of the bullpen, with the likes of Abram Williams and Mike Urbanski nailing down the ninth inning in dominant fashion. This season, however, Griffin said he may play things by ear a bit more, using a closer-by-committee and riding the hot hand out of the bullpen to finish off a game.
So far this season, three different Mohawks pitchers have saves -- none of them conventional. Sidearmer Thomas Hackimer worked four innings for the save June 8 against Glens Falls, Joe Randall had a three-inning save Tuesday against Watertown and Zach Breen came on with the bases loaded and the tying run on deck in the eighth inning Thursday against Albany before recording the last four outs of the game.
"We've had a true closer in the past. This year, like the other day when Joe Randall had it going on, we just let Joe Randall throw all three innings," Griffin said. "We haven't done that before, we may do it this time."
One little spark
The Mohawks entered Thursday night with a paltry .209 batting average as a team through 12 games, but Griffin could see the signs of his club coming around at the plate -- and they certainly showed in their 11-run, 14-hit outburst at Bob Bellizzi Field.
Amsterdam only managed six hits in Tuesday's win over Watertown, but Griffin was complimentary of his players' approach after that game, and the ball really started rolling in the eighth inning of the nightcap of Monday's doubleheader against the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs, when the Mohawks rallied for four runs to finish off a sweep.
"If we just carry that over and keep getting better, it looks like we're gonna have a chance to be OK," Griffin said. "The first goal was to get back to .500 when we started 2-6, and we did that, now we've got a chance to get a little bit more in play. Twelve games in with 36 more, we'll just keep getting better."
That's a message that's spreading throughout the Amsterdam dugout.
"Everything's pretty contagious," said Mohawks outfielder John Razzino, when went 2-for-4 with three runs batted in Thursday. "We're on a pretty good roll now, so everybody's starting to feel pretty good."
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