With absence of Nowak, Bristol Blues expected to use closer-by-committee approach

Published on Tuesday, 30 July 2019 15:16


BRISTOL - The absence of Will Nowak has left a void in the backend of the Bristol Blues’ bullpen. So now, the Blues are turning to a closer-by-committee approach.

In other words, for the last six games of the regular season and into the playoffs, the Blues are going to use a number of relievers without designating any of them as the true closer. 

“Johnny Wholestaff's gonna be our closer now,” Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said referring to the nickname given to a group of pitchers who are all expected to contribute on any given night. “Whoever's down in the bullpen, we'll look down and say, 'It's your night' until somebody settles in.”

Palmer and pitching coach Jordie Scheiner are in uncharted waters in their third season as Bristol’s coaching tandem. 

In their first season, they had a top-notch closer in CCSU’s Tom Curtin, who finished with an FCBL-best 12 saves, a 2-1 record, 1.15 ERA, 22 strikeouts, five walks and just three runs allowed in 16 appearances. 

That was followed by Neal McDermott’s dominant 2018 campaign in which he saved a league-best 14 games, sporting a 1.82 ERA with 49 strikeouts, 11 walks and eight runs allowed in 20 appearances. 

And this summer, the Blues coaching staff was spoiled once again in the ninth inning with the presence of Nowak, coming off a freshman season at the University of Hartford where he worked his way into the full-time closer’s role. Nowak had eight saves with a 1.29 ERA and had not allowed a run since his first appearance May 30 while finishing with a 29:2 K:BB ratio in 11 appearances. 

Nowak is now gone with an elbow injury. He took with him all his experience when he departed, and he left the Blues without a true, lights-out closer for the first time since 2016. 

“The closing role is a difficult role,” Palmer said. “Will did it all through school so he knew when to get up and start throwing and getting ready. A lot of guys don’t know so we’ve gotta make sure we’re on top of that and getting guys like [Spencer] Fox one night or [Andrew] Marrero the next night. We’ll see who’s down there and whoever’s readily available.”

Essentially, multiple guys are going to get their shot to put a bow on games and those opportunities came immediately upon Nowak’s departure after the All-Star break. 

There were save opportunities in the first three games after Nowak left, with Fox and Marrero locking down saves with shutout ninth innings July 19 and 20, but Fox took a loss on the third night. 

Two nights later, Fox and Tim Pfaffenbichler combined to allow three runs in two innings to surrender a 6-3 lead. The Blues walked off in that game with a 7-6 victory and the latest save opportunity came Saturday when Marrero twirled two hitless, shutout innings to secure a 2-1 victory. 

“There’s options,” Palmer said. “We just don’t have ‘that guy’ right now and I think that’s all right as long as we have ‘a guy’ who’s gonna go out and throw strikes for us in the ninth.”

Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or zcarpenter@bristolpress.com

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol Blues on Tuesday, 30 July 2019 15:16. Updated: Tuesday, 30 July 2019 15:18.