Four community college starting pitchers. It's a luxury relished by Bakersfield College baseball coach Tim Painton.
The Renegades are off to a 15-3 start this season, and credit for the success is team-wide.
"Early on we pitched extremely well. When we weren't scoring as many runs, our pitching was holding opponents to two or three runs a game, and that allowed our hitters to get untracked a little bit," said Painton, in his 18th season as BC's head coach.
"Offensively, we have been pretty consistent over the 18 ballgames we've played. That's kind of been the one thing that has shown up for us every day."
And it goes deeper.
"Our bullpen has been outstanding for the entire year," Painton said. "They've been able to pick up our starters when they've faltered a little bit.
"We have gotten better defensively, which was kind of a sore spot for us early. So we have actually done a good job in all areas.
"Right now, knock on wood, everything is clicking."
BC has a non-conference home game today vs. Merced College (8-9), starting at 2:30 p.m. On Saturday, BC resumes Western State Conference South Division play at West L.A. The Renegades host West L.A. on Tuesday. BC (8-2 WSC) has a half-game lead over Glendale for the division lead.
The BC pitching is anchored by the four starters, all sophomores: right-handers Ryan Stapp (4-0, 3.38 ERA) and Brad Lindsley (4-1, 2.05) and left-handers Justin Kelly (3-2, 5.28) and Darion Nunn (2-0, 3.06).
Four quality starters are not typically seen at the community college level.
"It's a huge value," Painton said. "When we started the season, we played four games in five days. That necessitated having four starting pitchers, and all four are quality guys."
The foundation was laid last season when the Renegades went 25-12 and were one of the top teams in Southern California.
"This is not typical," Painton said. "We were fortunate we had a very good freshman class of pitchers that all came in a year ago and they're all sophomores this year. We have eight sophomore pitchers that have contributed heavily to our success to this point. Typically you don't return eight veteran guys on a pitching staff."
Painton said Kelly came into this season as the preseason top guy. A Stockdale HIgh graduate, Kelly has already signed a letter of intent with Virginia Tech.
Thus far this season, Kelly has battled control issues. He has allowed a staff-high 13 walks and also leads with 38 hits allowed in 302/3 innings. Last season, Kelly walked only 19 the entire year in 632/3 innings, going 5-2.
"Me, myself, it's been a work in progress," Kelly said. "Every start I'm getting better and better. ... My stats were a little better last year and my (velocity) hasn't been there as much this year. But I'm not too far off. And I've had a little soreness in my arm.”
Said Painton: “Justin just had a couple of bad outings. Walks caught up to him. But going into this season he was probably our No. 1 returning pitcher. He’s going to get back to where he was and be fine again.”
Stapp, a Bakersfield High graduate, was the team’s closer last season and tied the school record with 11 saves. He had only one start. This season, he’s pitched only one game in relief with five starts.
“I definitely like starting more,” Stapp said. “Starting is a whole different kind of perspective. Throwing 100 pitches is different from 20 pitches.
“Closing, you’re in there for an inning and you throw as hard as you can.
“Sometimes (as a starter) you feel good in the first inning and sometimes you don’t, and you don’t find it until the second or third inning. As a closer, you don’t have time to figure that out.”
Lindsley was solid last season, going 5-4 with a 2.34 ERA, and he’s been throwing with that same effectiveness this season.
“I think I’m more consistent and I did a lot of long-toss (prior to the season) to build up my arm,” said Lindsley, a Frontier graduate. “I’ve gained some velocity on my fastball.”
Another key for Lindsley: He’s a fast worker.
“I like to keep a fast tempo,” he said. “If you keep a fast tempo and throw a lot of strikes, you keep your defense in it. When you do that, you get out of the inning quicker and get into a good rhythm. I’m trying to do that every time.”
Nunn, a Bakersfield Christian graduate, has only pitched in four games after hyperextending his right knee while covering first base in the season opener. He says he’s now 100 percent healthy.
The pain was intense for several days after the injury, Nunn said, but he was able to throw a bullpen session about two weeks after the injury and entered a game in relief shortly after that.
“I’ve felt pretty good. I’m looking forward to getting better and focusing on my pitching and not on my leg.”
BC typically plays on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Painton said he plans to mix-and-match his starters, depending on the opponent.
Last week, for instance, he said he chose lefties Nunn and Kelly against Glendale to try and slow down the Vaqueros’ running game.
“I thought that gave us our best chance against Glendale,” Painton said. “We’ll continue to play matchups with those four guys. They will all get plenty of work.
“On the days or weeks where one may not be starting, he’ll go out of the bullpen, which makes our bullpen even deeper.”
And if a rainout creates a four-game week, BC is ready.
“It really helps there,” Painton said. “A lot of teams get into a scramble mode with a rainout. Instead of playing three games in a week, you play four. That can be devastating to a pitching staff.
“For us, it’s as simple as inserting the fourth guy into that spot. We don’t miss a beat.
“There’s not much difference in the four pitchers in terms of ability or stuff, so we don’t lose a whole lot with any of them.”
Notes: According to the latest standings reported by the California Community College Athletic Association, the 15 wins by BC is a state high. Marin from the San Francisco area and Riverside City each have 14. The best record from a won-lost perspective is Santa Rosa, which is 13-1-1. No one else has fewer than three losses. BC and two Northern California teams, San Joaquin Delta from Stockton and Sierra College from Rocklin, each have three losses. Santa Rosa, Delta and Sierra are all in the Big 8 Conference. ... According to the
latest conference stats, Stapp and Lindsley share the WSC South lead with four wins. Lindsley’s team-best 2.05 ERA ranks sixth.