Bellingham Bells pitching coach and lead recruiter Jim Clem offered first year coach Jeff James a piece of welcoming news when the new manager began mulling over his personnel for the first time.
Clem assembled yet another crop of talented hitters and fielders from some of the nation's premier universities, but the Bells' pitching staff has given Bellingham a true talent surplus.
"They came in as advertised," said James of his pitchers. "Coming in (Clem) said, 'Hey, we are going to be pretty talented on the mound. We've got a lot of guys coming to us from good programs and coaches saying they are going to have bright futures in their college careers,' so I was excited to hear that, obviously."
The Bells (22-6) own the West Coast League's best record and are only seven wins away from matching last year's win total. Bellingham also is coming off a 14-game win streak that was snapped Wednesday, July 9.
The Bells have won in numerous ways: blowouts, come-from-behinds, narrow victories. But strong starting pitching resides at the core of Bellingham's outstanding first month and a half.
The team's 2.51 ERA ranks best in the WCL, and clubs are hitting a lowly .193 against Bellingham's pitching. Yakima Valley's .238 is the second lowest average.
And the Bells seem to continuously receive quality start after quality start from a collection of pitchers that include Aaron Sandefur (Bellevue College), Seth Martinez, (Arizona State), Zach Johnson (Edmonds CC), Gabe Cramer (Stanford), Grant Goodman (San Francisco) and Eder Erives (Arizona State).
"I think what's giving us so much success is going out here and taking it pitch by pitch and not worrying about what's coming toward us," Martinez said. "That's what's helping us right now."
Sandefur's 2.30 ERA ranks sixth among WCL starters. He owns a 4-1 record with only 10 earned runs given up in six starts (39 innings) with a league-best 40 strikeouts.
Johnson's 1.95 ERA ranks second in the WCL among starters. He's given up five earned runs in four starts (23 innings) and has struck out 22 batters.
Erives has a 3-0 record in five starts with a 2.55 ERA. He has 17 strikeouts and only six walks in 24 2/3 innings of work.
Goodman admitted he was floored after hearing Bellingham's stats during a recent stretch of quality starts that included allowing just four runs during a span of 60-plus innings.
"It's really impressive once you start hearing the numbers," Goodman said. "We didn't know our ERA or anything like that. Then when they started saying we've given up four runs in over 60 innings, it's like, 'Wow.' It's really impressive to someone like me or another person just because during our college season you never get those numbers."
What's impressed James the most hasn't necessarily been the dominance of the staff, but rather their willingness to keep crafting their individual talent.
"They are very good, and the cool thing is that they continue to work on things," James said. "They aren't just satisfied with what they have and what schools they've been from. They've continued to work hard, and everyday you can see it."
Through discussion and observation, both Martinez and Goodman said they've gotten ideas or at least have been able to pick other pitcher's brains who make up the Bellingham's pitching staff.
Competition amongst each other also has helped bring the best out of everyone on the Bells' tight-knit club.
"We all just compete and try to do better than the other guy before," Goodman said. "The start before some pitcher may have given up zero runs with like three hits, and you'll be like, 'Well, I got to give up zero runs with two hits.' You always try to compete to be the best."
And thus far, no starting rotation has been as impressive as the Bells'.
Reach Andrew at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
BELLINGHAM BELLS STARTING PITCHING
Player Rec. IP H BB SO ERA
Gabe Cramer 1-1 14.1 10 4 15 0.63
Zach Johnson 1-1 23.0 14 9 22 1.95
Aaron Sandefur 4-1 39.0 22 18 40 2.30
Eder Erives 3-0 24.2 19 6 17 2.55
Seth Martinez 3-0 31.2 15 12 28 3.13
Grant Goodman 2-1 18.1 11 19 17 3.93
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.