MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Montgomery Biscuits hold a three-game lead in the Southern League’s North Division over the Chattanooga Lookouts with an upcoming six-game series with the Lookouts coming up to close out the season’s first half.
If the Biscuits can hold off Chattanooga, they’ll have clinched a postseason berth in the first half of the season for the first time in franchise history. The Biscuits have enjoyed success to the tune of a 39-25 record, their most wins before the All-Star break. After this series, the Butter and Blue will send seven guys to Biloxi for next Tuesday’s Southern League All-Star Game. Four of those seven guys are pitchers on one of the Southern League’s best pitching staffs.
“Probably the biggest challenge is waiting for them to fail where they need my help. Not to be too quick,” said Montgomery Biscuits Pitching Coach R.C. Lichtenstein.
So far, the young pitchers on this staff have experienced very little failure this season. Among all Southern League teams, the staff of Biscuits arms holds the league’s best ERA (3.05), allowed the fewest runs (215), issued the fewest walks (191), allowed the second fewest earned runs (189), allowed the third fewest home runs (34), and is tied for the third lowest WHIP mark (1.23).
Last month, the Biscuits pitching staff allowed just 3.2 runs per game and tossed six shutouts.
For Lichtenstein, the gameplan for his young arms is simple.
“Our goal is to pick out a specific destination and attack it," he said. "So we tend to work middle of the plate up and down more than side to side. Side to side gets long counts, it gets walks, you know you said we lead the league in walks, that’s cause we throw to the fat part of the plate and we work up and down.”
With a philosophy as simple as that, it’s landed Montgomery among the league’s best arms, and it’s also seen its fair share of top arms come through the Capital City in recent years with Lichtenstein as the pitching coach. From 2018 AL Cy Young Winner Blake Snell, who pitched for the Biscuits in 2015, to Brendan McKay who donned a Biscuits uniform for all of a month-and-a-half before being called up to Triple-A, the goal has been the same: to develop players.
“It’s a simple fact for me as I tell them at the start of the year, I’m not here to win a Southern League Championship. I’m here to develop big leaguers. That being said, if you develop big leaguers you’re going to win here, but I make them understand right away that my job is to get them ready for their next adventure and that’s whether it be their next start, whether it be their going to Triple-A, or whether it be their going to Big Leagues, the goal is to make sure that they’re preparing for that, that they’re developing the skills to be good enough to get to the next level," said Lichtenstein. "If they do that they’re going to be good here, but I let them know we’re not going to win first we’re going to develop first and if we do that we’ll win, but it’s not the other way around, because I’m not going to do things that put them in a position where they have to think about winning above developments.”
Even with McKay moved on, Lichtenstein still has guys like Sam McWilliams, Josh Fleming and Kenny Rosenberg. The Biscuits’ pitching coach of eight years has seen each of these guys develop differently.
“With each one of them it’s a little different, because Fleming came out of Spring Training on a high and started off great and really was attacking the zone using his sinker, pitching to contact. Rosenberg, the first couple of outings he was trying to figure out if he was okay and all of a sudden he gathered himself, but he has the ability to throw the changeup at anytime and his breaking ball is really good and so he’s used that," he said. “McWilliams having been here last year and knew what to expect, but at the same point in time made adjustments to kind of speed up his delivery and be more athletic and now has put together his best stretch of baseball at this level.”
McWilliams and Rosenberg are top 10 in ERA among all Southern League pitchers. McWilliams, the recently named Southern League Pitcher of the Week, sits in fourth place with an ERA of 2.01. Rosenberg sits in ninth with a 2.56 mark. Rosenberg and Fleming each have five wins to lead the team and rank among the league’s best in that category, while McWilliams sits just one win behind at 4-2 on the season.
McWilliams and Rosenberg are among the Biscuits arms named All-Stars along with Phoenix Sanders and Curtis Taylor.
"So to watch them kind of coming from different angles and different areas, their development is real exciting, because they’re all at a point right now where their confidence and their knowledge of how good they can be is starting to come together,” said Lichtenstein.
Of course these guys will struggle at times, but it’s all a part of the process. With the same end goal.
“The goal is simple: it’s develop, it’s put guys in the best position to succeed, it’s communicate with guys so that they know we’re planning on using them on a given day or what might happen,” said Lichtenstein. "So to communicate with those guys so they’re really clear where they fit on a given day helps, because if you got guys wondering when they walk off the field, ‘How come I didn’t pitch?’ then all of a sudden you don’t have the same atmosphere that we have here right now.
They Biscuits young arms will look to attack the Lookouts hitters beginning Wednesday night at 6:35 p.m. at Riverwalk Stadium. The six-game series concludes Sunday.