MOOSIC — With Chance Adams and Luis Cessa back in the starting rotation, manager Bobby Mitchell and pitching coach Tommy Phelps will deploy a six-man rotation as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders head into their final 21 games of the regular season.
Ten games behind the first-place Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the RailRiders have shifted their focus to the wild card. It’s a race they’re only a game out in, but like the Columbus Clippers, who sit atop the wild card standings, they only have 56 losses.
With a starting rotation full of big names — Adams, Cessa, top prospect Justus Sheffield, Nestor Cortes, Erik Swanson and newcomer Michael King — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s six-man rotation could be the key as they try to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
It starts Tuesday with a doubleheader against the Indianapolis Indians after Monday’s series opener was rained out.
“It kind of stretches out our bullpen a little bit, but still, there’s guys out there that need more work anyway,” Mitchell said. “If we can get production from a lot of different people, because we’re going to need that, we’re going to be OK. We should be good. I think our pitching should keep us in ballgames and everything and then we need to play defense and, when we have scoring opportunities, score. We can’t leave guys out on base a lot down the stretch.”
There is a catch, however.
With the news Monday that New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia was placed on the 10-day disabled list with right knee inflammation, the big-league club could be forced to look for to the RailRiders for relief.
Cessa, who was set to start before Monday’s rainout, wasn’t listed in the RailRiders rotation that was posted in the clubhouse Monday afternoon.
Mitchell said on Monday that the team is going to wait and see before they decided what to do with Cessa because the 26-year-old right-hander could be needed in New York.
Along with Cessa, Adams is also on the 40-man roster, Sheffield has looked big-league ready for months and Cortes brings major league experience after his stint in the Baltimore Orioles bullpen at the start of the season.
The Yankees do not necessarily need to look to Triple-A to help replace Sabathia. Sonny Gray could be reinserted in the starting rotation instead.
“I prepare to pitch here or maybe they give me an opportunity to pitch up there,” said Cessa, who has transferred between the Yankees and RailRiders more than any other Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starting pitcher this season. “Yeah, it’s tough, but I just prepare myself and just be ready.”
Pitching as a whole has been the RailRiders’ strength this season. Their team ERA (3.78) and earned runs (425) and runs (465) allowed all rank fifth in the league and have struck out the third-most strikeouts (1,005) in the International League.
As for starters, King (1.98), Sheffield (2.16) and Cessa (2.55) all sport an ERA under 3.00, and Cortes’ is 2.42 since June 3.
Swanson and Adams have had their struggles this season, but even with them, they’ve had their bright spots. In his last 10 starts, Swanson has only given up more than three runs twice and Adams has allowed two runs or less in seven of his last 10 starts.
“I think they’re to a point now in the season where they need to go out — and I think they will — they need to go out and pitch, execute and do the things that they’ve been working on all year, to a certain extent. Be more consistent with everything that they’re doing,” Mitchell said. “I mean, we’re to that point where August is an important month to really see and evaluate how far they’ve come.”
With strong efforts from the pitching staff, it has taken some of the pressure off of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre offense.
The RailRiders have had a rotating mix of bats throughout the starting lineup this season, with 35 different players taking at least one at-bat so far. Comparatively, 32 players got at-least one at-bat for the RailRiders during the entire 2017 campaign.
After leading the league in batting average, hits, runs, RBI and home runs a season ago, the team ranks fourth, fifth, seventh, seventh and second in each category, respectively, in 2018.
“That’s the beauty about this game. Every day it’s somebody new picking somebody up,” RailRiders outfielder Mark Payton said. “We know our pitchers are going to go out there and work quick, throw strikes and it makes our job easier knowing that we don’t have to score nine, 10 runs a game to win. Just go out there and play well and put together good at-bats.”
Torreyes, Kontos promoted
Ronald Torreyes and George Kontos were promoted to New York Monday afternoon.
Torreyes will be making his return to the bigs since his June 18 demotion. The utility player is batting .323 with six doubles and six RBI in 24 games with the Yankees this season.
Kontos is back up in the bigs for the first time since the team traded for him on August 4. The right-handed reliever made 27 appearances between stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians this season, registering a 4.68 ERA and 2-3 record.
Monday’s appearance was Kontos’ first with the Yankees since 2011, when he appeared in seven games. He gave up one hit in 1.2 innings of relief against the New York Mets, striking out a pair.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle