KANNAPOLIS—On Opening Night, pitcher Greg Infante was on a hot streak, pitching a no-hitter until he left the game in the sixth inning.
In the first month of the season alone, the Kannapolis Intimidators pitching staff threw six shutouts. Since then, they have thrown two, pitching coach Larry Owens said.
He said he couldn’t explain it.
“It’s all relative,” he said, “It depends on who’s throwing, who you’re playing.”
But going into the All-Star break next week, the young Intimidators are learning quickly that it is a marathon, not a sprint, to finish out the season.
“We’re a young club,” manager Ernie Young said, “and mathematically, we’re still in the race through the first half of the season.”
With a record of 35-30, the Intimidators are about five games behind the Lakewood BlueClaws and second place in Northern Division in the South Atlantic League.
At this level of professional baseball, it is all about learning the game, for that rare chance to make it to the majors.
But Young said he doesn’t worry or look to the next game or the game after that. He is focused on the game at hand—and he tries to keep his players in the same mindframe.
“I keep telling them, ‘We’re playing today, don’t worry about tomorrow’,” he said. “We’ll continue to grow and do the little things to improve—know when to bunt, know the strike zone.
“If Sept. 10 is our last game, they’ll be ready for the next level,” Young said.
In the bullpen before Thursday night’s game versus the Greensboro Grasshoppers, Owens demonstrated to the pitching staff exercises they could do to improve their pitching.
“You can throw whatever you want if you do these drills,” he said.
He stood on the mound in the bullpen, took a step, then threw a heater right into the catcher’s mitt. Then, he repeated it and repeated it, over and over, right down the middle.
“I can do this easier than you can because I’m older,” Owens said. “It’s not about just throwing a good game. Expect more out of yourself, every game.”
Coming off a three-game road trip to West Virginia, where the Intimidators took the series, two games to one, the Is faced the Grasshoppers in another three-game homestand. They faced the Grasshoppers last weekend and took the series two games to one.
Going on the road and playing, then coming home, only to play three-game homestand back-to-back can take its toll, but Young said it’s the player’s job.
“We’re all professionals,” he said. “We signed on for this. This is your job and you love to do it. If you give it everything you’ve got, I’m good.”
Still, the Intimidators have had some successes. Along with Young, left-fielder Tyler Kuhn and closing pitcher Dan Remenosky will play in the All-Star game next week in Charleston, W.Va.
Kuhn, 22, is leading the Intimidators in offense, with a.315 batting average, 25 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Remenowksy, 23, has been in the Intimidators closer role, striking out 38 batters in about 22 innings, a 2.49 ERA and a record of 3-3.
Keeping that type of energy up through the second half of the season is the challenge, Owens said.
“It’s a long season—a grind,” he said. “It can be very monotonous. But if we carry over to the second half what we’ve been doing in the first half, we’ll do well.”
But first, the team has to get through the weekend—where temperatures will reach into the 90s.
“Start hydrating now,” Young told his players before pre-game warm-ups, “and avoid alcohol.”
– Ben McNeely