Playoff time for Power
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If pitching the opening game of the playoff series is a tall order, the West Virginia Power will be going with the right guy tonight against the Hagerstown Suns.
Six-foot-7 right-hander Tyler Glasnow, arguably the best pitcher this year in the South Atlantic League, will get the call when the Power and Suns square off at 7:05 in the opener of the best-of-three Northern Division series at Appalachian Power Park.
It's the Power's first time in the playoffs since 2008, when the club was a Milwaukee Brewers affiliate, and the team's first postseason trip since hooking on as a Pittsburgh Pirates farm club in 2009.
Despite all the playoff trappings, the Power is approaching tonight's game as business as usual.
"It's the same game, regular season or playoffs," said Glasnow, a California native who turned 20 less than two weeks ago. "We all know what's at stake, but we've done it all year and you treat it like any other game."
At stake tonight is the upper hand in the best-of-three series, which will send the winner to next week's SAL championship round. The combatants in the Southern Division series, which also starts tonight, are the Savannah Sand Gnats and the Augusta GreenJackets.
The Suns, a Washington Nationals affiliate, and the Power faced off in 13 regular-season games, with Hagerstown holding an 8-5 advantage.
"They played us very well," said Power manager Mike Ryan. "They're a very good team, they do everything the right way. They play a full nine innings. We tried to model our game on theirs early in the season because we thought they were so good, just the way they did everything the right way."
Hagerstown earned its way into the postseason by winning the Northern Division's first-half title and brings an 80-57 record to the playoffs. The Power, which won the second half, finished with a slightly better overall record (82-58) than the Suns.
Glasnow brings a 9-3 record, a 2.18 ERA and a league-leading (and Power record-setting) 164 strikeouts into the opener. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .142 against the right-hander, who would have also led the league in ERA if he had recorded just two more outs this season. His 1111/3 innings were just two-thirds of an inning shy of qualifying for the league's ERA title.
Glasnow was a fifth-round selection by Pittsburgh in the 2011 draft, taken out of Hart High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., the same school that produced pitcher James Shields, who's now with the Royals, and Bob Walk, the former Pirates hurler who's now a television announcer for the club.
He credits much of his success this season to Power pitching coach Jeff Johnson.
"I've gotten a lot better at watching hitters and reading swings and finding out what their weakness are, and JJ has helped me a lot with that," Glasnow said. "He's an extremely smart pitching coach. Just sitting next to him and listening to what he has to say about how to approach a hitter has been life-changing for me. I still have a lot to learn, but he's helped me so much."
If there's a weakness in Glasnow's game, it's his control - his 61 walks rank sixth in the league, and opposing hitters had more walks against him than hits (54).
Still, it's hard to argue with the results, which include a 6-2 record and a 1.50 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 54 innings since the All-Star break.
"He's doing a good job of locating his fastball better, he's mixing in his off-speed pitches for strikes, which is key for him, and he's been getting a lot of swing-and-misses, which shows you how good his stuff is," Ryan said of Glasnow. "He's been spectacular for us and we expect him to be like that [tonight]. He's been throwing great."
Indeed, Glasnow finished the season on a high note, allowing just one hit and no runs over his last three starts, covering 14 innings. He hasn't allowed a hit in his last two starts, both five-inning efforts.
Hagerstown's announced starter for tonight is Austin Voth, a 6-1 right-hander who is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in just two starts for the Suns. He was a late-season call-up after going 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA in seven starts for Auburn in the New York-Penn League.
The Suns' top offensive weapons are second baseman Tony Renda (.294 batting average, .380 on-base percentage, 30 stolen bases) and first baseman Shawn Pleffner (.288, 52 RBIs).
Hagerstown ranks first in the SAL with 692 runs, with the Power right behind with 660. The Suns' team ERA (3.44) is just a notch below the Power's (3.42).
Leading the way offensively for the Power is Walker Gourley, who Ryan said is having a pleasantly surprising season.
"He became a team leader and played the right way, and hit over .300 [.304]," Ryan said. "I don't think a lot of people expected him to do that."
There will be a travel day Thursday before the series moves to Hagerstown, Md., for a game Friday, and a third and deciding game, if necessary, would be played Saturday at the Suns' Memorial Stadium.
West Virginia vs. Hagerstown
Augusta vs. Savannah
2013 Power-Suns results
Suns lead series 8-5
April 18 Power 7, Suns 4
April 19 Suns 13, Power 2
April 20 Suns 14, Power 4
April 21 Power 11, Suns 2
June 7 Suns 9, Power 3
June 8 Power 1, Suns 0
June 9 Suns 4, Power 1
June 24 Suns 12, Power 5
June 25 Power 6, Suns 1
June 26 Power 7, Suns 6
July 1 Suns 6, Power 2
July 2 Suns 4, Power 1
July 3 Suns 3, Power 0