This spring baseball season didn't exactly go the way Michael Bradshaw had hoped but he's doing his best to make up for it this summer as a member of the Medford Rogues.
It's one of many reasons why the West Coast League exists, to allow collegiate players a fresh start along with a chance to better themselves and their future prospects.
WHO: A 21-year-old right-handed pitcher from the University of Nevada and North Medford High.
In only two weeks with the Rogues, the 2010 North Medford High graduate is one more quality start away from equalling his total innings pitched this past season at the University of Nevada and creating better results with each opportunity.
Bradshaw enters this weekend's three-game homestand against the Walla Walla Sweets as Medford's team-leader in ERA (1.45) and owns a 1-0 record. In 121/3 innings, he's allowed only six hits and three runs — two earned — with seven strikeouts against six walks.
In his most recent outing last Tuesday against the Victoria HarbourCats, Bradshaw pinned the season's lone loss on Medford's Canadian hosts by going seven strong innings with only four hits and one earned run allowed. In that game, Bradshaw fanned five and walked only two.
"His first outing he kinda nibbled around the zone and got down in the counts early," said Rogues manager Josh Hogan. "Then we told him to pound the zone his second outing (against Victoria) because his stuff's good and he doesn't need to do that, he just needs to go after hitters and get ahead of them early. That's what he did up in Canada and got good results out of it."
It's the type of pitching Bradshaw hopes to continue doing this summer, and certainly a better fit for him in the role of starter as opposed to coming out of the bullpen like he did in his first go-round at Nevada after transferring from Linn-Benton Community College. As a junior at Nevada, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound right-hander made one start in his 14 appearances and finished with a 1-1 record and less-than-ideal 7.91 ERA in 191/3 innings.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," Bradshaw said of joining the first-year WCL program in Medford, "but everything's been way more than I could have expected. First of all I'm getting a lot of good innings and getting back into the flow of being a starter and, personally, I'm getting a lot of good side work that will help me (next year at Nevada). I'm learning a lot about being in a stress-free environment and how that translates into a better performance, and I'm also just learning a lot of different ways to be a better teammate and take care of my body."
Bradshaw gives a lot of credit to that immediate learning curve to Rogues assistant coach Aaron Nielsen, who serves in kind of a do-it-all role for Hogan and complements pitching coach Jeff Lyle.
"(Nielsen's) awesome, he just constantly is working with guys and doing range of motion stuff with stretching and different exercises that can make you better," said Bradshaw during a break in Friday's 14-hour bus trip from British Columbia. "The dude literally is one of the coolest guys I've met in my whole life. He's constantly trying to help and work with you and will do anything you want. He knows a lot about strength training and range of motion, and that's a lot of stuff I can take back to Nevada, which will be helpful."
It's under Nielsen's watch that players like Bradshaw are stretched out from their limited roles in the spring to hold down the mound a little longer in the summer. While that may be a concern for some who have to hit the ground running in early June, Hogan has no reservations in how his players are prepared each time they step onto the field.
"It would be hard in most situations but we're very blessed in Aaron Nielsen, who is one of the best strength and conditioning coaches and sports psychologists in the nation in my opinion," said Hogan. "He just gets everyone mentally and physically ready to go. Coach Nielsen oils the machine and coach Lyle drives it so it's a pretty good combo. With those two guys I don't worry about pitchers and if they used to be bullpen guys because they definitely do a great job of getting those guys going."
That said, Hogan and Bradshaw each said they believe the best is still to come for a pitching staff that carries a 4.43 ERA into tonight's 6:35 game against Walla Walla, which is already close to being the team's first sellout. Tonight opens a stretch of six games in six nights for Medford, with the Corvallis Knights coming to town Tuesday through Thursday.
Particular focus is on Medford's 44 walks issued against 63 strikeouts in 812/3 innings thus far.
"We can't give up that many free bases, we've got to make teams earn it," said Hogan, whose team is fourth in the WCL's South Division at 4-5. "If we make people earn it, I don't think we'll give up many games this summer."
Medford's most effective pitcher thus far has been left-hander Bret DeRooy, who is 1-0 with a 2.20 ERA and boasts 14 strikeouts and only one walk in 161/3 innings. DeRooy expects to get the start Sunday, with tonight's starter, lefty Jake Lessel, also 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA. Bradshaw is slated for duty Monday.
"We've had some good overall moments and great outings by a number of different guys who are pounding the strike zone," said Bradshaw. "The games we get hurt are games we give too many free bases so we're going to clean that up. I know from my experience, if I start walking guys it's usually because I have doubts. As we keep playing and get comfortable together, I think people will start to get their confidence back and we'll get the momentum going."
Medford's roster continues to be a work in progress, with Rogues General Manager Chuck Heeman noting that a host of the team's regular contract players from bigger Division I colleges are set to join the team during this week's homestand.
"We're going to lose some of our 10-day guys, which is always tough," said Heeman, "but we're excited about the way things are going. We're going to have a lot of bodies coming in through Tuesday."
Lack of options played a factor during the Rogues' recent road trip north, and Hogan expects that to change here soon.
"These last three games we were very limited on the bullpen and there wasn't a whole lot of options," he said. "We kinda had a scripted plan and had to go with it but we're going to be getting a lot of guys coming in this weekend and a few more will trickle in throughout the week also. That might allow us to move some quality starter guys to the bullpen and allow us to have an even better bullpen with more guys available."
Offensively, Hogan said he's pleased with his team's approach at the plate and ability to play small-ball thus far. Among the regulars, third baseman Ray McIntire leads the squad with a .304 batting average, with catcher Ryan Teel (.292) and second baseman A.J. Balta (.281) not far off the pace.
Designated hitter Caleb Palensky's six RBIs leads the team, one ahead of first baseman Matt Page and Balta, who leads the team with eight runs scored. Balta is an incoming freshman at the University of Oregon, while Page was the NAIA's player of the year out of Oklahoma Baptist.