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Tigers relying on relievers

Published on -4/26/2012, 10:20 AM

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On Tuesday, Fort Hays State University senior Tyler Treinen and junior J.J. Jaramillo permitted five runs in the first two innings to Bethany College. Then, junior right-hander Kyle Leroy entered in the third and worked 32âÑ3 innings. The submarine-style Leroy allowed two runs on four hits and continually coaxed ground balls with his two-seam fastball, slider and newly acquired changeup.

Leroy eventually gave way to seniors Connor Beer and Casey Pierce, who allowed six runs in the seventh inning. Senior right-handed closer Brett Macari entered the game, collected the last out of the seventh inning, then worked two scoreless innings. Overall, Leroy and Macari pitched six innings and allowed two runs on five hits.

"Those two guys out of the pen are very hard to hit," junior left fielder Ryan Busboom said.

The other four pitchers worked three innings and combined to allow 11 runs on 15 hits in a 17-13 Tiger victory at Larks Park. The big split between Leroy/Macari and the rest of Fort Hays' bullpen has occurred all season, but has become ever larger recently.

Macari, a returning all-MIAA honorable mention selection, is 3-1 with a 1.61 earned-run average with six saves, tied for the conference lead. His ERA leads all MIAA relievers. Leroy, a first year transfer from Barton Community College, is 2-0 with a 4.40 ERA and two saves in a team-high 16 appearances. No other reliever has an ERA under 6.43 (minimum five innings pitched).

"We have had no consistency out of the rest of the bullpen," second-year coach Steve Johnson said. "... We need right now to rely on our starting pitching to be good, because the two guys that have been consistent for us have been Kyle and Brett."

This weekend, Fort Hays (23-19) will play have its final two non-conference contests with a two-game series versus Wayne State (Neb.) College (25-13). Game time is 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Larks Park.

Recently, including last weekend's four-game series at Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University, Johnson has leaned on Leroy and Macari even more frequently. All but three outs of Game 3 -- the only contest in the four-game series the Tigers lost -- came from either the starters, Leroy or Macari.

"They will step up," Leroy said of the rest of the bullpen. w"The guys down there, they have had a hard time with it, but they'll get it back. I believe in them."

Macari, the reigning MIAA Pitcher of the Week, saved two games in the series and then earned the win Tuesday. Leroy pitched three innings for a save against Southwest Baptist and then worked the longest appearance of his collegiate career Tuesday.

"When our starters go aways and then they are able to come in, we know a pretty good chance that we are going to win," Busboom said.

Macari, 7-2 with 18 saves in 20 opportunities in his Tiger career, is second all-time in school annals for career saves. Nate Fields, with 23 from 1997-98, is the school record holder.

Leroy said he has surprised himself "a little bit" with his success this spring.

"To get as many (innings) as I have gotten so far, it's real fun," he said.

A Great Bend graduate, Leroy talked with Barton County coach Mike Warren, who told Leroy he had to change his arm angle to be successful. Leroy estimated he threw 78 to 80 miles per hour, offerings he called "little meatballs at this level."

Leroy said he "bought into" making any necessary changes, dropped his arm and led Barton County with a 1.86 ERA in 2010 and a 2.08 ERA last spring. He again pitched well in the fall for FHSU.

"My ball runs and I get ground balls," he said. "That's all I got to do."

This spring, Leroy has pitched 282âÑ3 innings and has a 15âÑ9 strikeout to walk rate with a .309 opponents' batting average. Yet Leroy's penchant for ground balls has helped him permit just two homers.

"He has got a lot of sink," Johnson said. "He has got a nice little breaking ball he spins away from them. He is in the zone for the most part of the time. That's what we are looking at from the other guys."

With Johnson's and Macari's help, Leroy has added a changeup.

Since his slider breaks right into a left-handed hitter, Leroy's changeup has become his out pitch to left-handed batters. Against Bethany, Leroy threw "seven or eight" changeups and collected several outs in another effective appearance.

"It's tough to hit him just because he is from so far down," Busboom said. "He is a real good competitor and a real good guy and gets the job done most of the time."

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