Turning Heads in a Rehab Assignment
Late last summer, when Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter returned to the team's home base following reconstructive elbow surgery, he walked into the clubhouse wearing a metal brace on his left arm.
"I feel like Iron Man in this thing," he told reporters at the time.
A year later, his performance level is more like Superman as he works his way through a minor league rehabilitation assignment with the Triple-A San Antonio Missions.
"He's unbelievable," Missions manager Rick Sweet said.
Pitching in his fourth Pacific Coast League outing in a bid to return to the majors, Suter started and toyed with the Oklahoma City Dodgers for four scoreless innings in leading the Missions to a 4-0 victory.
He allowed one hit, struck out six and walked none to help the Missions pull to within a game of first place in the PCL's American Southern Division.
First-place Round Rock dropped to 79-53 on the season after losing at home to New Orleans, while the second-place Missions improved to 78-54.
Both the Express and the Missions have eight games to play, including four in a row, head-to-head, starting Monday night in Round Rock.
"That's much easier, going in there down one, with a four-game series," Sweet said. "We're playing well right now."
Backing the effort of Suter and four other pitchers, Tyrone Taylor belted a three-run homer to continue his late-season surge.
Taylor is 22 of 44 at the plate during a 12-game hitting streak.
But the over-arching story of the Missions' final regular-season home game centered on the pitching, which notched its PCL-leading 14th shutout.
After Suter, Miguel Sanchez, Zack Brown, Angel Perdomo and Bubba Derby finished off the Dodgers, the Missions completed their final home series, 3-0.
Sweet was happy with all his pitchers, but he expressed a degree of wonderment at how good Suter has been every time he's called on.
"I thought Suter came in and -- as he has done since he's been here -- he over-matched 'em,' Sweet said. "He continues to be very impressive."
In his four appearances with the Missions, the first two out of the bullpen and the last two as an opener, Suter has not allowed a run in 11 and 2/3 innings.
He's yielded only four hits and one walk, while striking out 18.
Taking very little time between pitches and throwing mostly strikes, he retired the first seven Dodgers he faced, striking out five during that span.
Suter has such an up-tempo in his style, it's as if he's waiting on a cab, as Missions radio voice Mike Saeger has suggested.
"Or, like I'm double-parked," Suter said, smiling. "It's something I developed in college and continued to tweak here and there, making sure I control the pace of the game ... Making sure if I'm in a good rhythm, to stay in that rhythm."
Taylor stayed in his own rhythm offensively, belting a three-run homer in the first inning to put the Missions in control from the start.
It was his third home run in five days.
Once almost a guaranteed out earlier in the season, Taylor is now a menace.
Opposing pitchers are starting to show that they don't know what to do with him. On Sunday night, for instance, he homered and doubled and walked twice.
"It's fun to watch him get back where he was (last year)," Sweet said. "He's such a good kid and a hard worker."
Taylor has been slowed this season with injuries to both wrists.
After his second trip to the IL, he spent some time getting his timing down in the Arizona rookie league.
Since he came off the injured list on July 23, he has hit .363 with seven home runs, boosting his season numbers to .275 and 13 homers.
Taylor acknowledged that he comes to the ball park every day thinking about hitting one over the wall.
"I think that's the mindset that everybody has out here," Taylor said. "It's not just me. You want to come in believing in yourself."
The Missions were hot and cold at the plate as a team against the Dodgers.
In a 4-2 victory in the opener, they had nine hits. They followed with 14 hits in a 15-3 victory on Saturday night. Finally, on Sunday, they notched only six hits.
Corey Ray aided the cause in the finale with a solo homer, his sixth of the year.
Missions pitching, on the other hand, has been exceptionally good as of late. The staff has allowed only six runs, including five earned, in its last four performances.
American Southern - Round Rock 79-53, San Antonio 78-54, New Orleans 69-61, Oklahoma City 59-72.
American Northern - Iowa 70-62, Memphis 65-67, Nashville 61-69, Omaha 55-76.
Note: Teams play a 140-game schedule through Sept. 2. The winners of the American Southern and American Northern divisions will meet in the first round of the playoffs. Another series will match winners in the Pacific Southern against the Pacific Northern divisions. Winners of the two divisional series will advance to the PCL title series. Both are best of five.
Round Rock is scheduled to start Jose Urquidy (4-3, 5.04) on Monday, followed by Kent Emanuel (7-2, 4.23), Ryan Hartman (6-6, 5.33) and Brandon Bielak (7-4, 4.74).
San Antonio is expected to counter with a rotation of Shelby Miller (1-1, 3.12), Thomas Jankins (10-4, 4.25), Aaron Wilkerson (8-2, 3.34) and Trey Supak (1-1, 9.35).
Home field statistics
The Missions finished with a 49-21 record at Wolff Stadium, one of the best home records for the ball club in years. The 2011 Texas League champions finished with a club record 55 victories at home.
Attendance on the last day of the regular season was 6,279. Home attendance for the season was 337,484 in 69 dates. It represented the best turnout for the franchise since 1998, when the team drew 387,715, a spokesman said.
The Brewers on Sunday called up Missions right-handed relief pitcher Ray Black. In another move, they placed Jeremy Jeffress on the 10-day injured list.
Black pitched a scoreless inning at Milwaukee in the Brewers' 5-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Houston Astros also made a few moves with pitchers. They called up Framber Valdez from Triple-A, and they optioned pitcher Cy Sneed back to the Express.
Valdez (4-6) started and pitched well in six innings in an 11-2 Astros victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Houston.
He worked six innings and yielded one run on two hits and five walks. He struck out eight.
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Pacific Coast League Stories from August 26, 2019
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