As the season winds down for the Frederick Keys, Manager Tom Lawless is starting to enjoy the progress his pitching staff has made this season.

With more than two weeks remaining in the second half of the season, the Keys have improved upon their first-half win total (20) and are in second place in the Class A Carolina League Northern Division with a 25-27 record through Wednesday.

"We have new bodies in here now, that's a main difference," Lawless said. "We have kids with good arms who throw good stuff."

After a rough first half, the Keys have lowered their earned run average to 5.04. It is still the worst in the league, but it has been helped significantly by the pitching staff's 3.55 ERA in August.

Entering yesterday's game, right-handed reliever Ryan Keefer has allowed no runs in six relief appearances, Tony Neal has pitched 52/3 scoreless innings in seven games, and Kurt Birkins hasn't surrendered a run in 14 innings. Reliever Nick McCurdy is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA. Starter Christopher Ray has two wins and a 1.89 ERA in three starts this month, while starter Hayden Penn has a 3.15 ERA in three starts.

Birkins, Ray, Neal and Penn all joined the team at midseason.

"That's what you want to see in minor league baseball," Lawless said. "You want to see the players making improvements as they get older, and see them move" up the system.

Lawless said getting younger pitchers to adapt to more advanced hitting as they progress from college through the low minors was the key to success.

"The attitude we're trying to bring to the pitchers is to throw your best pitch and throw it for strikes," Lawless said. "A lot of these guys in college, they were going after the corners. Here, I want them to give their best pitch when it's 0-0, not when it's 2-0. If you get your three-pitch outs, you're going to last a lot longer . . . That's the major thing these guys have been doing in the last two or three weeks."