Lugnuts Bullpen Key to Early Success

Carnline has yet to allow a run in nine innings

The Lugnuts offense is first in the Midwest League in average, in runs scored, in hits, and in stolen bases. Need to say more? The Lugnuts have jumped out to a 6-3 record early this season, and have scored ten runs three times, and seven runs or more in all six of their wins. However, gone unnoticed by some because of their offensive power, has been the pitching staff, and in particular their bullpen. Lansing leads the League in team ERA, and part of that is due to their outstanding relief core.

It has been very easy this season to look at the Lansing box score and notice that they scored ten runs. You look at Joey Metropoulos recording a hit each night, you look at Yuber Rodriguez with another stolen base, you look at Cory Patton driving in runs, and you forget to look at their pitching.

Ken Joyce, the manager of the Lugnuts, made sure to spotlight his relief core as a reason for their early success. Billy Carnline and Po-Hsuan Keng, are two pitchers that early on have stepped up to be a luxury in the bullpen.

"Those guys have given us good innings in the middle of the game, and have been very good at it," Joyce said.

However, describing Carnline and Keng as ‘very good' is an understatement. Carnline has made three appearances this season and pitched three innings in each appearance, having allowed just three hits, issuing one walk, and recording thirteen strikeouts. The 12th round draft choice in the 2005 MLB Draft is holding opposing batters to a .103 batting average against mark. Last season the 22-year-old began with the Auburn Doubledays and appeared mostly out of the bullpen, pitching to a 4-0 record with a 4.61 ERA. Carnline had trouble with his command in 2005 issuing twenty walks and also throwing nine wild pitched.

"Last year I was a little wild with some of my pitches and I didn't have a true breaking ball," Carnline told InsideTheDome.

Carnline was throwing a curveball last season with Auburn, but at the tail end of the season he got away from that pitch and started throwing a slider. The change in his repertoire has worked for the better, and the improvement has shown in his numbers in 2006.

"My slider has proven to be a good two-strike pitch for me."

Carnline is also learning how to become a smarter pitcher on the mound, and cites his approach and goal for this season is to work both in and out of the plate, as well as up-and-down.

"Billy has been outstanding this season, and he has done a really nice job for us," Joyce said. "He comes in, he has command, he forces contact, and he knows what he has to do in different situations."

Joyce, however, does not want to see Carnline pitching for Lansing for too long. Last season the manager saw the likes of Casey Janssen and Kyle Yates get quick promotions, and both players ended up having breakout seasons. Joyce envisions the same plan for this right-hander in 2006.

"Hopefully he is not here very long for his sake."

The native Texan did make two starts for Auburn last season, after spending most of the time in college as a starter, but in professional baseball he looks more as a reliever. Carnline has no problem with that, and all he wants to do is pitch.

"Whatever the organization wants me to do, I will do. I feel comfortable doing both. I like starting, and have done that my whole life. Coming out of the bullpen is something new for me, but I have adjusted to it well."

The second reliever that is making some noise early on in the season is 21-year-old Po-Hsuan Keng. The right-hander struggled last season with Lansing, making the transition to the United States, but has gotten acclimated to professional baseball in the States and has thrown 7 2/3 scoreless innings this season, and opponents are batting .154 off him.

Edward Rodriguez, also a 21-year-old, has made three appearances this season and has pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Recommended Stories

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