TRAVERSE CITY — If things go as expected, Beach Bums’ opponents may be hard-pressed to find success in the late stages of games.
One of Traverse City’s strengths in 2012 was the arms in the bullpen and that figures to be the same again this year as the Bums welcome back some experienced hurlers to try and close out wins.
Among the returners are Scott Mueller, Matt Miller and Nick Capito, who each played vital roles in helping Traverse City win a division title.
They bring impressive resumes along with them, too.
Mueller, a three-time all-star, is the franchise leader in career games and saves and is one save away from becoming the third pitcher in Frontier League history with 50 saves. Capito was an East Division All-Star last season, while Miller tied Mueller for the team lead in appearances with 41 and finished the season in the closer role.
“You’ve got to have a bullpen that’s strong and that’s something we’ve always tried to do here,” said Beach Bums manager Gregg Langbehn. “We have two or three, possibly even four guys, that we rely on and trust in the eighth or ninth inning to close games for us. I think that’s important. The worst thing is being on a team where you don’t have confidence in that ninth inning guy.”
Mueller started last year as the Bums’ closer, but struggled down the stretch. He finished the year with a 2-5 record, with a 4.43 earned run average and a team-leading 14 saves. Getting back on track has been a focal point for Mueller.
“The second half, I don’t know, I lost it. I don’t know what happened,” said Mueller. “I think after a couple outings it got into my mind and it stayed with me the whole time. I probably lost confidence toward the end of the year. I’ve erased last season personally. For myself, I’m just looking for a new season and getting my confidence back.”
Having interchangeable parts is a benefit the Beach Bums seem to welcome. Last year it helped when Miller, a sidearm thrower, stepped in for the struggling Mueller and finished with a 6-4 mark with a 2.25 ERA to go with 12 saves.
“Everybody can do a little bit of everything,” said Miller. “When one guy isn’t doing it the next guy comes in and picks him up and it goes from there. It’s frustrating at the time, but you’ll have a chance to help someone out later on down the line. I’m hoping to throw well, get a chance to close a little bit and go from there. I want to stay consistent. Baseball’s got a lot of close games. You’ve got to be able to come in, stop a team and kind of take the momentum.”
Capito was used as a left-handed set-up guy last season and he flourished, going 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA. His ability to throw strikes consistently makes him invaluable to the bullpen and is something the Beach Bums organization wants from its pitchers, especially those working the late innings.
“The biggest thing we look for is guys that throw strikes,” said Langbehn. “I don’t care if you throw 95 miles an hour. You can throw 80 miles an hour and be like Nick Capito. The guy throws 80-83 miles an hour, but he throws all three pitches for strikes when he wants. That’s far more important to me, your ability to pitch, than how hard you throw. I want guys who can pitch.”
Last season was the first time Capito said he’s been used exclusively out of the bullpen and he felt comfortable in that role, despite the pressure of being in tight situations and not knowing when the time would come and he’d get called into a game.
“Some guys find it hard. I didn’t. I just kind of fell into it and I liked it a lot,” he said. “Our starters last year, for the most part, they trew well and when they didn’t we came in and bailed them out.”
While time will tell how the roles will shake out, the one thing that is clear is the Beach Bums have a solid stable waiting for their opportunity.
“There’s going to be some familiar names down there and it’s guys we trust because they throw strikes,” said Langbehn. “For me, that’s the key. I want the guys that I can 100 percent know that when they’re in the game they’re pitching to contact and they’re going to let the defense work for them. I believe that was a huge reason why we won last year — the ability to pitch and not walk people.”