With record in sight, Red Sox bulk up on pitching

by Brantford Expositor

Originally appeared in Brantford Expositor April 12, 2013 by Brian Smiley

With their season opener May 4 in Barrie against the Baycats, the Brantford Red Sox have been busy putting together the team's roster.

One of the Intercounty Baseball League's team's biggest signings this off-season is John Mariotti.

"I think it's huge," said general manager Mike Bonanno.

"Any time you can add a pitcher of his calibre and his resume it speaks for itself. He's obviously very familiar pitching in Brantford before."

The Red Sox have won five straight IBL championships and six of the past seven. The only title they're missing in the past seven years is from 2007 when the Toronto Maple Leafs beat them 4-3 in the best-of-seven championship.

The team's first home date in its Quest to be the Best - two other teams, including the 1959-63 Red Sox, have won five straight titles, none has won six - is May 11 at Arnold Anderson Stadium in Cockshutt Park at 2 p.m. against the Hamilton Cardinals.

Mariotti, a right-hander, was with the Red Sox when they won their first IBL championship of this millennium back in 2006. The former Toronto resident was selected in the 44th round of the 2003 major league draft by the Anaheim Angels and then again in the 36th round of the 2004 draft by the Angels but he decided to attend school.

Finally, after the Baltimore Orioles picked him in the 18th round of the 2007 draft, Mariotti began his minor-league career, which included stops at A and AA as well as independent ball.

Over the past two seasons, the six-foot, 225-pounder has gone 21-2 while playing for Quebec in the Can-Am League. He also started for Italy in its 6-5 opening-game win against Mexico at the World Baseball Classic.

"He's a proven winner and he's a great clubhouse guy," said Bonanno.

"The one thing he relayed to us multiple times is he wants to be part of a record and part of a championship.

"He's a competitor, he throws strikes, his velocity is going to be the same or a little bit higher. Every time he picks up a baseball he's capable of doing some special things."

Mariotti, 28, will be a welcomed addition to a pitching staff that has lost Andy St. Gelais, Jeremiah Sammy, Mark James, Scott Robinson, Graham Tebbit and Brian Sikorski.

However, Mariotti won't have to feel the pressure of carrying the load because the Red Sox aren't hurting for pitching.

Aside from Mariotti. the Sox will march out starters Chris Chavez, Mike Meyers and Nathan Forer.

As well, the club made two other huge pickups for its starting rotation in Brandon Huffman and Jamie Richmond.

Huffman, a North Carolina native, should be familiar to Red Sox fans as the flame-throwing ace from the Ottawa Fat Cats. With Ottawa out of the league this season, its players were looking for new homes.

"With Ottawa not being in the league in 2013, for us we looked at however many of those players could help us try to make a championship run in 2013," Bonanno said.

"What Brandon Huffman did last season in the IBL was outstanding."

Richmond, a 27-year-old Toronto native, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 31st round of the 2004 MLB draft. The six-foot-three, 225-pound right-hander played six years in the minor leagues before moving onto independent ball.

He was recently released by the Kansas City Royals out of spring training.

"He has a big arm," said Bonanno of Richmond, who pitched for Canada at the WBC qualifier in Germany last year. "I've seen him at 92, 94.

"He's pitched in independent ball in the past. He's familiar with a lot of the players we have here.

"Richmond for me is probably the highest velocity guy in the bunch and in this league, velocity goes a long way. Jamie Richmond is a special pitcher."

With six potential starters, there may not be enough innings for everyone. However, with an expanded IBL schedule this season - the league's regular season will last 42 games instead of 36 games - the plan may be to piggy-back starters.

How that works is one starter pitches four innings of a game and then another starter would come on for the next four innings. After that, the ball would be handed over to the bullpen.

In that scenario, each starter would pitch once every three games since there are six starters.

"Most of our arms are going to be here for opening day," said Bonanno.

"We want to do whatever we can to relieve some of the stress off our pitching staff earlier in the year. That's why we tried to build some depth and flexibility in our staff this year because it is an extended season.

"With the roster still at 26 players you need to obviously carry an extra arm or two just because there are extra games."

The bullpen will include Brad Hogeterp, Robert Ramsdale, Brian Speck, Adam Kudryk and closer Stefan Strecker.

"I think our bullpen is one of our strongest assets," Bonanno said.

"The good thing for us is we'll be able to get guys in and out and be able to give a lot of options to (manager) Adam Clarke as to who he wants to roll out there in later innings.

"On paper it's one of the strongest staffs that we've put together and I think that's a compliment as to what Paul Aucoin has brought to this organization.

"I think we have a pitching staff that can repeat what we've done in past seasons and hopefully we can try and eclipse that and try and win the last game."

With the season less than a month away, the Red Sox have begun indoor workouts.

"We had a good turnout Week 1," the general manager said.

"Obviously the first workout is usually one of the favourite ones. You get to see everybody after a little bit of a layoff. It's good to get it cranked back up again.

The players are focused on winning a sixth straight IBL championship but they know it won't be easy.

"They know what's on the line," said Bonanno.

"That's what you get when you have veteran players. They're not going to back down from any challenge. This is a record they know that's there.

"I think this may be one of the hardest championships to win. With a lot of other teams making moves and an extended season, there's a lot of things that can happen, a lot of variables.

"We're just going to try and be there at the end."