SHERIDAN — Sheridan Troopers’ head coach Ben Phillips noticed a different sound on the first day of official practice. Pitches whirling through the air into catcher’s gloves no longer sounded like a soft pancake flipping in a pan, but rather the sound resembled a nice sharp clap.
That’s the sound of maturity, the sound of strength, the sound of experience and the sound of a team’s identity.
“I like our pitching a lot,” Phillips said. “We’ve got five or six guys that are really throwing the ball well right now. Their velocity has increased since they’ve gotten a little bit older. We are more experienced. We were amateurs last year, so I’m happy with where we are at right now. There’s just a little more confidence that I can see in their eyes.”
Last year, a good portion of the season revolved around Phillips searching for capable arms. He looked for an ace, explored the roster for middle relievers and tried out different players in the closing role.
What was once an area overpopulated with questions has turned into a team’s calling card.
“Our pitching is definitely really strong,” Sheridan’s Ayden Roush said. “I think our defense is really solid, and we have a team bond. We’ve been playing with each other since we were little and that chemistry will really help out when we get late in the season.”
Roush represents one of those pitchers who threw and started multiple games in 2018. He also resided in the middle of the batting order, which, much like the pitching, lacked experience.
The Troopers leaned on small ball tactics quite often last year. To manufacture offense, they’d steal bases, hit and run, bunt, and slap hits in the hole between second base and shortstop.
Once again, a year of maturity, growth and experience will look to alter the makeup of how Sheridan goes about plating runs.
“I’d like to see gaps hit, and hitting some doubles and hitting some balls off walls,” Phillips said. “But we also need to be able to hit and run and bunt and execute late in games to get a run in to win a game.”
While many familiar faces will return to the diamond for the AA Troopers, some will make the jump from the A Jets.
Phillips anticipates many players bouncing up and down between the two clubs throughout the season to take advantage of reps any one player can receive.
Phillips may send one of his Troopers down to the Jets to start and game and throw four or five innings. If, on a Troopers’ off day, Phillips wants one of his players to gain a couple more at-bats, then he’ll send them to the Jets for a couple more live reps.
He’ll do all this while keeping in mind off days and making sure each player has the rest needed to perform best.
Sheridan opens the season at a tournament in Casper this weekend.
They’ll stand at somewhat of a disadvantage seeing as most AA teams — and all the ones Sheridan will play over the weekend — have already begun their seasons.
Laramie and Cheyenne opened its seasons last weekend, Rock Springs has four games under its belt and Gillette has competed 14 games, all of which the team has won. Those clubs have undergone the process of shaking off rust and seeing opposing pitchers who throw with different arm angles and velocity.
Sheridan will begin that same process Saturday against the Rangers.