TERRE HAUTE —
Manager Brian Dorsett has his Terre Haute Rex pitching rotation set up just as he would like, with Prospect League all-star right-hander Daniel Heefner set to take the mound tonight at Quincy.
With a playoff win in the battle for West Division supremacy, Dorsett would send hard-throwing Conor Fisk to the bump at Bob Warn Field on Wednesday night in the Prospect League championship game.
“He’s a fastball-changeup pitcher,” Dorsett said of Heefner. “He’s got a plus changeup, I think the best changeup in the league. Kind of a slurve to go with it. Really able to locate the ball. Arguably, he’s been our ace. It’s either he or Conor Fisk.”
Heefner and Fisk have been able to go deep into games all summer long, with Fisk leading the league in innings pitched at 73 2/3 and Heefner fourth at 71 1/3. Fisk also leads the league in strikeouts with 71, while Heefner relies on pin-point control and getting ground-ball outs.
Heefner’s aptitude for keeping the ball low and getting ground balls is perfect for the situation at Quincy, which is a much smaller ballpark than Bob Warn Field. Dorsett said it’s 320 feet down the lines and only 350 in the power alleys.
“I felt like I’m happy with my summer, and I’m ready to go win some playoff games,” Heefner said. “I just have to keep throwing like I am. Hit my spots.”
Quincy has two of the top power hitters in the league, with left-handed hitting Chris Serritella posting a .361 average with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs in just 39 games. Bryan Lippincott hits .345 with 10 homers and 57 RBIs in 56 games.
Quincy leads the Prospect League in many offensive statistics. The Gems hit .307 during the regular season with 39 homers and 349 RBIs, all league bests.
Heefner did allow seven runs and eight hits at Quincy on July 21, but the Rex made one of their many comebacks to get the victory.
The Rex are 6-1 this season against the Gems, who have a league-best record of 38-18. Terre Haute is second best at 34-22.
“They’re a really good team. They have a bunch of good hitters,” Koby Kraemer said. “They have a small ballpark, and the ball flies out of there really well. Anything can happen in a one-game situation. They’ll be throwing their best, and we’ll be throwing our best.”
Dorsett likes the team’s chances with Heefner hurling.
“He really has been the biggest surprise of the season for us. He’s a kid that came in and was going to have a role out of the bullpen. Because of some early injuries, we needed a spot starter, he did so well, so we just left him there,” Dorsett said.
Added Kraemer, “I think he’s only had one bad outing this whole time. We feel good with him on the mound.”
And the Rex offense has been surging as well with Stephen Bruno complementing Kraemer in the middle of the order.
The Virgina shortstop has hit .394 with six homers and 19 RBIs in 19 games since his late arrival. He missed the spring due to a torn hamstring.
Ronnie Mitchell has also provided a huge punch to the top of the batting order, especially as the Rex lost Lucas Hileman to a pulled hamstring almost two weeks ago. Hileman, an Indiana State outfielder, was hitting as well as anyone in the league before his injury. Chris Manning shined at the top of the order early in the season, but he’s also out for the rest of the season.
Mitchell is loving life in the leadoff spot, posting a .482 on-base percentage the last seven days with eight RBIs and four stolen bases.
Joe Meggs, an All-Pac 10 selection in the spring, is another tough loss to injury. Meggs has a broken finger after getting hit by a pitch late last week.
“Joe’s been great for us since he came here. He’s a great player. I love playing with him. Picking up Bruno was huge. He’s a great player too,” Kraemer said.
Bruno’s power and leadership has helped Terre Haute climb to third in the league in homers and RBIs.
Injuries have certainly cropped up in the pitching staff as well, with lefties Chris Nunn and Christian Slazinik being shut down earlier this summer in addition to closer Nick Cunningham. Chris Bossenbery leads the Prospect League in appearances, and has been a solid closer for the team with nine saves.
“We had a ton of guys that have been banged up, position players. We counted 14 guys that have been injured at some point,” Kraemer said. “We have picked it up. The next person in line picks up their slack.”
Dorsett has made some key roster pickups and found ways to fill gaps with the injuries.
Mike Schroeder is expected to be the designated hitter tonight after showing how well he can handle the bat.
Jacob Hayes, who will be transferring to Indiana State from Ohio State, has also fought through an injury to regain playing time, going 6 for 18 the past week.
Dorsett credits the players for getting the job done.
“It’s the character of the players. They’ve done a great job carrying it out,” Dorsett said. “I told them as we were fighting for the playoff spot ‘I can’t sell you on this. It’s all about your character to finish this thing out and get us in the playoffs.’ They’re the ones that go out and play the game.”