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Fire Frogs starting pitching “legit”, manager Salazar says

Posted on Friday, May 11, 2018 at 11:28 am

By Ken Jackson
Sports Editor

The Florida Fire Frogs will be hitting, throwing and jumping around the “Hot Lily Pad” that is Osceola County Stadium next week.

The high Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves begin a six-game home stand Monday at 6:30, with a special school day 11 a.m. Tuesday matinee against the St. Lucie Mets. Weeknight games are at 6:30 p.m. with earlier May 19 (5 p.m.) and 20 (11 a.m.) games against the Clearwater Phillies.

The 19th is Military and First Responders Night — the team will honor all military and first responders with free tickets for all active and veteran military and first responders — as well as Graduation Night, where a select number of chosen Osceola County high school graduates in attendance will receive scholarships (the team is still working on the number and amount).

Thursday is the ubiquitous “Free Beer Night” — those of age can receive free Pabst Blue Ribbon from first pitch until the Mets score their first run.

But, free suds isn’t the only attraction, because a night at the ballpark is about baseball, and the Fire Frogs have shown talent this season, particularly on the mound, despite a 14-20 record heading into Friday night.

While the hitters have been a touch slow to find the fire to start the year — before erupting in a 10-6 win over the Tampa Tarpons Thursday — the pitching staff carries a 3.63 ERA, good for fourth in the Florida State League. Starter Joey Wentz, the Braves No. 11 prospect, has a 2.33 ERA through six starts, and Bryse Wilson gave up one earned run in 26 innings (0.34 ERA) before a call-up to Class AA Mississippi.

Offensively, infielder Alejandro Salazar leads the club with a .323 batting average, and center fielder and leadoff hitter Christian Pache, the Braves No. 7 prospect, is doing his part with a .312 mark and eight doubles, 14 runs and 56 total bases, all which lead the Fire Frogs.

Florida Manager Luis Salazar, said managing at this level isn’t hard — he has three rules: show up on time, play hard and know the signs.

Fire Frogs manager Luis Salazar gives a thumbs up during a Class A Minor League baseball game between the Daytona Tortugas and the Florida Fire Frogs at Osceola County Stadium. Daytona won 4-3.  Photo Credit: Robert John Herbert/News-Gazette

“It’s not rocket science. My job is to get these guys better to get to the right place,” he said. “Double-A is not that big a jump. And you can get to the big league from there, you don’t have to go to Triple-A.”

He said the biggest learning curve for hitters who are struggling is to learn how to adjust.

“You play a three or four-game series against a team, they’ll find your weakness and adjust, the same for the pitchers,” Salazar said.

Pitching coach and major-league veteran Mike Maroth said the Florida State League is traditionally a pitcher’s league.

“You’ve got some big fields, a lot of dimensions are bigger and the gaps are deeper,” he said. “The five guys who (started the season) are in our rotation are very special, they’re young and very talented. Since they’re young we don’t need to rush them.

“We want to refine their pitches, know when to use them in counts and developing confidence in them. They’re pretty smart, I see them getting it pretty quick.

Salazar said the Fire Frogs’ defense and pitching have been very good thus far.

“Our starters have been legit, they’ve kept us in ballgames,” he said.

NOTES: The Fire Frogs are only in their second season of existence, but they already have two big leaguers who have made it to Atlanta.

Pitcher Luiz Gohara and center fielder Ronald Acuna, who started on Opening Day last season, have made big league debuts. Gohara sailed through the Braves’ system and reached Atlanta on Sept. 5. He made five starts and is now at Triple-A Gwinett.

Acuna ended the year in Gwinett, hit over .400 during spring training in April, and was called up on April 25 and, at age 20 years and four months, became the youngest player in the Majors. He’s made a splash, hitting .302 with three home runs and nine runs scored in 13 games through Thursday.