With opening day (featuring the World Series trophy) just 60 days away -- and pitchers and catchers reporting in just more than two weeks -- now seems as good a time as any to ask a few questions about what the Thunder might look like against the Erie SeaWolves come April 8.
Today marks the fourth of 10 questions about the Yankees Double-A affiliate.
7. Where does Ryan Pope fit in to the mix?
2009 was a year of extremes for starter Ryan Pope. He was the only starter on the Opening Day roster who stayed healthy -- and in Double-A -- all season long. Of course, that means he didn't earn a promotion at all, and there plenty of reasons for that. He gave up 155 hits in 141 innings (nearly 10 per nine innings pitched) and carded a 4.78 ERA and a putrid 5-12 record in the process.
There were, however, some positives.
He walked just 34 men and permitted just seven longballs, good for marks of 2.2 and 0.4 per nine, respectively. The best positive of all, however, came toward the end of the season, when pitching coach Tommy Phelps suggested he speed up his tempo to try to keep hitters off balance.
Boy, did it work. In the span of one bullpen session, Pope went from barely hanging on in Double-A to staff ace -- and he stayed that way until the season's end.
Entering 2009, however, there could be a little confusion about where he might fit. So far, the Thunder staff looks like this: Christian Garcia, Hector Noesi, Wilkin De La Rosa, Jeremy Bleich and more than likely Lance Pendleton.
In theory, Pope could simply move to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but I'm not terribly sure he's earned the right to pitch in the same rotation as the vaunted Kei Igawa, Jason Hirsh, Zach McAllister, Ivan Nova and perhaps Romulo Sanchez, who seems to have taken his triple-digit fastball back and forth between starter and reliever more than a few times over the past two seasons.
If De La Rosa, isn't fully healed come April, Pope should take his spot for a couple of months. However, if he is healthy on opening day, I think there's a good chance Pope begins 2009 as the Thunder's long reliever.
If he does become the long man, it could be a boon for the team, which -- for a few months at least -- will not have to worry about using their typically short relievers in uncomfortable roles, thereby limiting their effectiveness and possibly damaging them long term.