Baseball games at the minor league level of the Dayton Dragons can last forever and ever, especially when the pitcher can’t get the ball over the plate.
Walks make the game last a lot longer, but not when Robert Stephenson and Drew Cisco are pitching.
Their walks to innings pitched ratios are among the best in the 14-year Dragons’ history.
In his first 11 starts this season, Stephenson, a first-round draft choice in 2011, walked just 16 in 59 2/3 innings.
Cisco, a sixth-rounder from 2010, walked only six in 65 innings, also over 11 starts.
Some comparisons to past Dragons: Homer Bailey walked 62 in 103 2/3 innings in 2005, but Johnny Cueto walked only 15 in 76 1/3 innings in 2006. Last year, Stalin Gerson walked only 28 in 131 2/3 innings.
Cisco, at least, could leave those numbers far behind, and Stephenson is close.
Dragons’ pitching coach Tony Fossas knew the two were capable of putting the ball over the plate, but admits – especially with Cisco’s remarkable accuracy – “It’s very rare.
“To see a pitcher go out there repeatedly and throw six innings, at times seven (innings), and walk one or none? I’ve never seen it as a pitching coach. Will I see it again? Probably. But he has the ability to throw three pitches for strikes from the first inning. Hitters on the bench say, ‘We’ve got to swing the bat, and we’ve got to swing the bat early.’”
Stephenson and Cisco come by their scarcity of walks in different ways. Cisco, who can throw in the low 90s, hit corners, always in the strike zone. His grandfather, longtime major league pitching coach Galen Cisco, helped him with that.
Stephenson can throw up to 100 miles an hour, and his breaking pitches are so good, he can throw them out of the strike zone late in the count and get batters to swing. Early in the count, he’ll throw those same pitches for strikes. Later, they look like strikes, forcing errant swings.
A lot of a pitcher’s success is being able to repeat a throwing motion on every pitch, so a hitter can’t determine early what kind of pitch is on the way.
“It’s getting my mechanics sound so I can do that every pitch,” Cisco said. “Whenever you can repeat your delivery well, you throw more strikes. Hopefully, your mechanics are set from working in the bullpen.”
Having Galen Cisco as a grandfather also helps.
“Cisco comes from a breed, and a real good breed,” Fossas said. “I’ve known Galen Cisco since I was a pitcher in Boston. For him (Drew) to do what he’s doing doesn’t really surprise me. He’s got a really nice delivery. He never overthrows the ball.
“He wouldn’t care if he threw a 93 or an 89. He’s just trying to pitch and get people out. And he has the ability to throw three pitches for strikes at any count at any time.
“Stephenson keeps his delivery fine and keeps it on a straight line. He has a good ability to throw breaking balls for strikes. And the hitters are swinging at a lot of balls.”
Both pitchers have worked to keep their earned run averages down, with each at 3.32. Stephenson’s record is 5-3; Cisco’s 2-3. Stephenson is clearly the power pitcher of the two, striking out 77, well more than one an inning. Cisco has struck out 56, just under one an inning.
Early on, Stephenson was hit hard when he was hit.
“There’s always those days,” Stephenson said. “You want to get out there and prove that it was a mistake and you can beat the next hitter.
“That’s something you have to deal with. You have to go out with the mentality you’re going to beat them.”
Fossas says Stephenson has been a quick learner.
“The kid (he’s only 20) has been able to process information in a very quiet manner and keep his own identity,” Fossas said. “He took that level of the game very seriously. He’s been able to throw hard by not overthrowing. If he overthrew, I think he could throw over 100. He’s already throwing 100 at times.”
And he’s walking very few. That’s why the games are quicker when Stephenson and Cisco are pitching.