Good baseball teams have an ace pitcher. The Riverhead Blue Waves don’t believe they have a No. 1 pitcher. Rather, they prefer to think that they have three: call them 1a, 1b and 1c.
Riverhead coach Rob Maccone didn’t hesitate a second when he was asked what the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s version is.
“Pitching,” he said.
The Blue Waves like their pitching situation, and what’s not to like? The team’s top pitcher from last year, Kenny Simco, is back. The highly regarded Nick Herzog is being converted from a reliever to a starter, and John Wendt, who sat out the entire 2014 season with an injury, has returned. All three are seniors and have looked good in practice.
“Pitching is huge,” Maccone said. “We threw O.K. last year. I thought it was going to be a weakness and it was kind of a strength. It was a little bit of a surprise. This year I think it’s going to be a strength, and I hope it stays a strength.”
Last season started off encouragingly for the Blue Waves. They won four of their first five games.
“After that it kind of went sour,” Maccone said. “We lost five or six games by two runs or less, a couple in extra innings. So, it was just that we couldn’t finish, and hopefully we fix that this year.”
The Blue Waves ended up with a 7-13 record, missing the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
Reaching the postseason this year will be no easy task. The Blue Waves are in League IV, which offers tough competition from the likes of Suffolk County Class AA champion West Islip, county finalist Half Hollow Hills West and East Islip, a perennial playoff team.
Riverhead’s pitching rotation may help keep the Blue Waves in games if things pan out the way they expect.
Maccone said he may have the best pitching depth he has had in his six years coaching the team, with more quality arms to work with.
“The coaching staff has great faith in us, and I do, too,” said Simco.
Simco was an all-league player last year. The right-hander throws pitches in the low 80s, with splitters, knuckleballs and pitching savvy. “He knows how to get guys out,” said Maccone.
Simco went 4-3 last season with a 3.50 earned run average, striking out 23 and walking 14 in 41 1/3 innings. His walks plus hits per inning was 1.42.
Herzog, a crafty left-hander, is best known for his effective curveball, which Maccone called the best he has ever seen.
“It’s his out pitch,” the coach said. “He can throw it for a strike. He can throw it in the dirt.”
Herzog said he has been throwing curveballs for five or six years. “They usually say when you throw it when you’re younger you have arm problems,” he said. “I guess I’ve just been lucky because I haven’t had that.”
That curveball helped Herzog, who went 0-2 with a 3.50 ERA in seven relief appearances last year.
A big plus is the return of Wendt, a 6-foot-3 power pitcher who throws in the low 80s. He is known for pitching to contact, working efficiently and keeping his pitch count down. Wendt, who said his goal is to throw less than 10 pitches an inning, pitched to batters for the first time during the preseason at the team’s indoor practice on Tuesday.
“Physically, I’m feeling good,” he said. “I definitely feel pain free, stronger.”
Herzog said Wendt’s presence is “huge. He’s worth a lot of wins. He’s definitely improved a lot, too. Even though he was very good, he’s better now.”
Maccone said Wendt is a “difference-maker. If we had him last year, we would have been a lot closer to the playoffs. We may have even been in the playoffs with him.”
In 2013, Wendt had a stingy 1.84 ERA to go with an 0-1 record and a 1.26 WHIP over 19 innings and three starts.
In addition to the three starters, the Blue Waves should see some innings from Pat Cuccia, Cody Dilworth, Joe Cunningham, Cory Polak and Dakota Ventresca.
Of course, games will begin with the ball in the hands of Riverhead’s starters.
Simco said, “Since I’ve been on the team, I think this is the best pitching rotation, and we just got to live up to it.”