The Bombers had just deployed their sixth pitcher of the game, their defense had provided no favors and a close call at the plate had increased their deficit June 13 against the Renegades — after tying the game an inning earlier — to five runs.
Craig McAndrews, who had not been ejected during his MINK League tenure, ended that streak arguing the call.
“Fifteen years!” he said. “Fifteen years and I’ve never been tossed! … And I didn’t cuss once!”
It was a memorable rant — and it should be noted McAndrews was embarrassed and regretted the ejection — but the sequence offered a microcosm of the strengths and weaknesses of the Bombers, so far, in their defense of a MINK League title.
Nick Hagedorn provided the game-tying blast, and AJ Gardner homered earlier to keep pace with the league’s most powerful sluggers.
One of five fielding errors on the night helped put a runner in scoring position for the play that preceded McAndrews’ ejection.
And after Jordan Mendenhall was relieved in the fourth, McAndrews called upon five pitchers to varying degrees of leverage and success. While the Bombers own a league-best 3.87 ERA through more than 104 innings, starters have been charged with 18 runs in nearly 67 innings, while the bullpen has been credited with 27 runs in about 35 innings.
McAndrews said he is still determining roles in the early goings of the season.
“We’ve got 15 to 17 arms, and I’ve seen five of them ever throw in my life,” McAndrews said. “I trust the coaches from all over the country. I think the big thing in establishing roles is who can throw strikes? Who’s got strikeout stuff, they’re probably going to be in the back end. And who’s got three pitches that can be a starter?”
The Bombers’ manager mentioned Andrew Baker, Andrew Frank and Conner Darnell, who closed for McAndrews at Columbia College, in competition for saves.
Bullpen sessions are especially important for McAndrews and staff to finally see the name and scouting report in action. However, he keeps the small sample size in perspective — it’s like judging a book by its cover, he said.
“I’ve seen a guy throw a bullpen in jeans,” McAndrews said. “I mean he’s got work boots on, flannel and some jeans. He gets in the bullpen, he’s 88-90 miles per hour, and I’m like Holy Moly, I’ve never seen anything like this.
“It was a rare farm kid, man. Country strong.”
Perhaps more common than the cowboy gunslingers are the bullpen bobbies — those who enjoy more success in bullpen sessions than between the lines. McAndrews said he notes a pitcher’s body language, mannerisms and demeanor as much as he does a pitcher’s delivery.
“If you do get a hit, how do you respond?” McAndrews said. “If you do get a strikeout, how do you respond?”
Though each member has a unique mission — evolve into a starter, refine off-speed command, increase velocity — everyone wants more innings. McAndrews said communicating with the staff is key to efficiently establishing bullpen roles.
“It’s fun,” McAndrews said. “I’m learning them, they’re learning me. It’s fun and it’s hard, but I think the people that can manage people have a shot to win.
“Big thing is, you gotta throw strikes.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2.