Larks’ pitching key in short season

Hays Larks
Larks pitcher Jake Fitzgibbons brings a pitch to the plate this past Saturday against the Colorado Sox at Larks Park.

In a short season, it’s important to get off to a fast start. For the Hays Larks, getting their pitching sorted out will be key.

Hays is 12-4 overall and 6-2 in the Rocky Mountain Baseball League as the team embarks on a four-game Colorado road trip. The Larks will play two league games with the Colorado Roughnecks starting Thursday, followed by a pair of nonleague games at the Boulder Collegians. Hays is a half-game out of first place in the league race; the Fort Collins Foxes are 7-2 in the RMBL.

After the trip to Colorado, the Larks will play nonleague games at the Kansas Cannons and Junction City Brigade before returning to Hays July 10 to play the Foxes to start a 14-game homestand to end the regular season.

“It’s hard to make up ground when it’s a short season,” Larks manager Frank Leo said. “We’ve been fortunate to juggle our pitching staff; we don’t have great depth. We’ve been able to get the matchups we want in each of the games.”

The Larks were short on pitching even before the season started. Leo lost three good arms, two shut down by their college coaches and another who received a good career opportunity. Hays then lost right-hander Corey Bright last week after he was shut down for the summer by his college coach.

“If we had them on our current staff, we would have a very well-rounded pitching staff,” Leo said.

“Two of them were left-handed, and that really changed things,” said longtime Larks pitching coach Keith Harper.

Leo was able to add an arm a few days ago, picking up right-hander Derek Decolati, who both started and pitched in relief for South Mountain (Ariz.) Community College, and who will pitch for Nevada next season.

The Larks’ rotation is led by right-hander Wyatt Divis, in Hays for his fourth summer. Divis is 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA and is the designated hitter when he is not on the mound. Left-hander Jake Fitzgibbons, a newcomer from Tennessee, won his first decision Saturday. Leo also is looking at right-handers Luuk ter Beek and Jackson Blue in starting roles, and right-hander Hunter Parker pitched five scoreless innings in his last start.

“He just knows how to win,” Harper said of Divis. “He’s going to keep you in every game. He just knows how to hit, how to pitch. He’s a special guy.”

Fitzgibbons gives the Larks a quality arm from the left side.

“He’s a special kid,” Harper said. “He’s not very big, but he can let it go. You don’t get one of those kind of guys very often.”

The bullpen has right-hander Jose Velazquez in a setup role and right-hander Cade Brown to close out games. Leo also is looking to build up Trevor Munsch for a left-handed option in relief. Harper said Decolati also will likely pitch out of the ’pen.

“Cade and Jose will handle the bulk of our late innings,” Leo said.

The Larks also look to have another arm for the postseason. Right-hander Patrick Cooper, a standout starting pitcher for the team from 2008-10, was back for the 75th anniversary weekend. After talking with Leo and Harper, he hopes to join the team for the postseason.

“I do know Patrick Cooper is going to join us for the World Series,” Leo said. “Hopefully, we get to the World Series.

“That will be a very good arm,” he added. “We can survive the summer, I know we can pick up Patrick.”

Harper said Cooper, who previously pitched for the Larks at the World Series, could add depth to the bullpen.

“Just having an experienced guy is pretty good,” Harper said.

Harper said he will set his pitching up for the league race down the stretch.

“We’ve just got to put it all together in July, make that run against the league opponents,” he said. “As long as we win three out of four against everybody, nobody can catch us.”