For Potomac left-hander Matt McWilliams, there is the regular strangeness that goes along with being a relief pitcher -- the pressure of performing at a moment's notice and the bizarre, random work schedule. But as a reliever in the lower levels of the Cincinnati Reds' minor league organization, it is even stranger.
Citing an increasing number of arm injuries to young pitchers over the past four years, Cincinnati General Manager Dan O'Brien implemented an eight-man starting rotation in the Reds' rookie level and Class A teams this season. Two pitchers in the starting rotation, per game, each pitch about 75 pitches, leaving a limited number of innings left for relievers. However, McWilliams is third on the staff with an ERA of 2.70 and is thriving in the system.
"I'm not getting as much time as last year [in Class A Dayton] but I try to stay focused. You have to be ready every day because you never know when you'll be called in," McWilliams said. "I don't know if it helps, but I don't think it hurts me. I've still managed to put up some good numbers."
With a fastball that tops out at 92 mph and an effective change-up, the 25-year-old Kentucky native has struck out 34 batters in 25 appearances this season, while giving up three home runs and 16 walks.
McWilliams was a starter at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., and was selected in the 15th round of the 2001 draft. He worked 60 innings during the 2003 season but has thrown in just 30 for Potomac. He says the limited appearances are not affecting his production on the mound or his chances of moving up to AA Chattanooga.
"I started once this year and I didn't like it. I like the adrenaline rush of being a reliever. It's your job to come in and get people out," McWilliams said. "I take pride in it."
The limited time may actually be a benefit for McWilliams, who is taking cortisone shots to help relieve the pain caused by loose cartilage in his elbow. The key to staying focused during long layoffs, he said, is keeping his arm in shape.
"You have to have the mind-set that you are going to the field to pitch every day."
Note: Yesterday's game between the Cannons and Keys was rained out. A makeup date has not been announced, but will be played sometime during their next series at Frederick, Aug. 16-19.