Starting pitching helping Silver Knights improve
NASHUA – If there’s anything we can tell from the Nashua Silver Knights as they are approaching a month into their 2019 season, they are a streaky team.
They started off the season 0-4, then 4-8, but then reeled off seven straight wins to get to 11-8.
But now they’re 11-10 after a tough-two game losing streak, including a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Pittsfield on Sunday and then a 7-2 loss to Bristol Monday night, both at Holman Stadium.
Monday’s game was delayed at the start as the Blues’ bus broke down during their trip but they still manged to pound out 13 hits and their pitching kept Nashua in check to just four.
However, the seven game winning streak showed exactly what this team is capable of.. That stretch resulted in the Knights sweeping the FCBL player awards for the last week. Reliever George Welch (St. Joseph’s of Maine), who Neverett admitted is the likely closer, appeared in three games last week tossing five scoreless frames allowing one-hit, one walk with 11 strikeouts and a save to be named FCBL Pitcher of the Week.
And meanwhile, Jared Dupere (Northeastern) was named Player of the Week going 10 for 21 with four doubles, a triple, hoer and six RBIs.
For the season, Dupere is hitting .288 with four homers, six doubles and 16 RBIs. Welch, meanwhile, has 27 strikeouts in just 12 innings and an earned run average of 0.75.
The Knights were off Tuesday – just as well with the bad weather – and tonight head to Westfield, Mass.for the first time this season to face the league’s newest team, the Starfires. Nashua was slated to play in Westfield back on June 16 but the weather wiped out the entire FCBL schedule that day.
And back then, this was a struggling team. Not now.
“Everybody’s here,” Neverett said. “The kids are jelling, they’re playing well together as a team. As usually happens around here, our pitching improves little by little as we go. We’ve gotten some great pitching.”
Danny Gracia (2-0) threw well on Sunday and despite the loss Dan O’Connor gave up just two earned runs over 5.2 innings on Monday night, walking one and striking out seven. He’s deserved better than his 0-2 mark.
“It’s still really, really early,” Neverett said. “Honestly, I think the scary part is (the pitching) is going to get better. Some of these kids are still feeling their way and they’re going to get better every time out.”
Neverett likes the pen and obviously Welch would be his closer. “It’s probably him but we’ve got a couple of other guys who could get it done,”Neverett said, citing Josh Roberge (a save, 2.91 ERA), and the hard throwing Derek Goldrick (0-0, 3.00). Chelmsford’s Roberge is from Wheaton and 6-6, 230-pound Goldrick, out of Weare, is Quinipiac property.
“Roberge has the mentality to do it, that’s for sure,” he said. “Those are the back end guys right now.”
On the front end, the Silver Knights have been working on a five-man rotation that will become six when Wheaton’s Griffin Young joins the rotation that right now has Franklin Pierce’s Gracia, Maryland’s O’Connor, Bedford’s Pat Harrington (2-1, 2.32, Assumption) and Bentley’s Evan Christopulos (2-2, 3.70), and Trinity’s Alex Shafer (1-1, 5.14, hails from Baltimore). Nashua, due to the poor start, is still in the middle of the pack in team ERA at 4.50, a full 1.25 behind leader Pittsfield.
“Lately it’s been good,” Neverett said of the starting pitching. “I just hope it continues. If we’re into our pen in the seventh inning, we’re in good shape. If we’re in our pen in the fourth inning, that’s not good.”
As for hitting, the Silver Knights are fourth as well at .233. But that’s a lot better than the .214 team average of a couple of weeks ago.
“We’ve got some good bats that have just showed up,” Neverett said. “But we’ve got some guys who have picked it up – Jared Dupere, Noah Lucier (.281) has cemented a spot in the lineup in the that No. 2 hole, Joe Bramanti is starting to ht (.262) a little bit. That is a big deal.”
The Silver Knights added a third baseman, Ryan Daues, out of Tufts and he’s been playing there regularly the last three games. It’s been a tough start for the resident of Palos Verdes, Cal., as he is 0-for-11 with one walk and two errors in the field. But Neverett feels he will come around.
“We felt we really needed a third baseman, and we got one,” Neverett said. “A good looking kid 6-3.”
Daues is just getting back on the field as he suffered a season-ending injury with Tufts back at the end of March – he had been the cleanup hitter there – and was released after a temp contract with Sanford, Me.of the NECBL expired.
Neverett got a call from FCBL commissioner Joe Paolucci to see if he wanted a third baseman.
“That’s a position where you need a power bat,” Neverett said. “You really do. The good teams in our league, the third baseman is a power bat. This guy’s going to add power.”
Daues hit .333 with seven doubles and 15 RBIs in just 12 games with Tufts before his season ended prematurely.He’ll be a junior in the fall.
Neverett has always hated the tiebreaking FCBL’s Home Run Derby, as before this year his team was 0-5. But the Knights have won two this year, thanks to URI’s Billy Butler, who hit six homers in one frame to win one at Brockton and then at Pittsfield last Saturday night hit 10 for another win. In regular at bats the 6-2, 220-pound Butler has one for the season, but is hitting just. 0.59 in 15 games. But, he’s won two games and was named the team’s own Player of the Week.
“The secret is I’m not pitching anymore,” Neverett said. “Kyle (pitching coach Jackson) pitched one and Jack Arend did the next one, so he’ll be our designated thrower.”
And Butler will remain the hitter. “They asked me ‘Who’s your backup?’,” Neverett said, “and I said, ‘We don’t have one, that guy (Butler) is staying out there. You have a better chance to get a guy in a groove if he stays out there.”
But Neverett still hates the idea, and said he and four other managers say they are in favor of a game ending in a tie – no point system, either – after 10 innings.
“Play 10 innings like they do at the Cape and say tie game,” Neverett said. “Worry about the playoffs later. You can have tiebreakers (in the standings) like run differential, and other tiebreakers.
“Even if we had an eight team league and two teams make the playoffs, it’s kind of hard to believe that because of ties it’s going to cause a problem with teams getting in.”
Neverett said he felt so bad after winning the game via the HR Derby the other night he apologized to Pittsfield manager Matt Gedman.
“The team that loses that game, it’s just an awful feeling,” Neverett said. “You didn’t get beat on the baseball field, you got beat because a guy hit a bunch of home runs.”
The managers want to start the 10th with a runner on second. But only play 10 innings.
“They’ve done it (just 10 innings with ties) on the Cape for years,” Neverett said. “If they do it on the Cape, why can’t we do it here? We’re doing the same thing, with college kids, trying to save pitching.”
Also, Neverett said, it’s easier to make subsitutions when you know you have a 10-inning limit and won’t play a 15 inning game, so he understands the FCBL’s desire to prevent long extra inning games. “I get it,” he said. “But (the HR Derby) is crazy.”
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The Silver Knights had a respectable Monday night paid crowd of 957, but with just three crowds of over 1,000 due in part to weather (one dollar beverage night rained out and the other impacted by rain) and having only a couple of prime weekend nights, are averaging 844 fans a night. That’s ahead of new club Westfield (736) and surprisingly Bristol (706), but Bristol has had only six home dates. A fireworks Friday night will likely raise that Knights figure a bit, and they’ll have two more in July (12 and 19).