The Reading Fightin Phils have scored 16 fewer runs than any other team in the Eastern League. Yet, they are seven games over .500. The reason? They are 18-1 in one-run games this season. They were 7-1 in April and are 11-0 so far in May with two games to go in one-run games.
How do they do it? It has been primarily the doing of two shutdown bullpen guys, Ken Giles in April and Tyler Knigge this month.
Before he was called up to Lehigh Valley, Giles pitched in 13 games for Reading and they went 7-1 in one run games in April. He pitched 15 inning and gave up two earned runs on eight hits and was 7 for 8 in save situations. He struck out 29 and walked only five. Batters hit only .154 off him.
On the other hand, Knigge struggled in April as a middle reliever and mop up man. He had a 5.54 ERA giving up eight runs over 13 innings.
The month of May has been a different story for Knigge. He has been a set up man and is sharing the closer role with Nefi Ogando for Reading. He has a 3-0 record with 3 saves for the month. But most importantly he has not given up a run in 21 innings in 11 appearances this month. A complete turn around from April.
Yesterday, I watched on MiLB-TV the ninth inning of Lehigh Valley’s 4-3 win over Norfolk. Giles did come on for the save but was not sharp. Dealing with a tight strike zone, he threw only 12 strikes in 27 pitches in giving up a couple of walks, hits and runs. His fastball was 97-99. I saw him throw only four sliders at 84-85. He needs to use his slider more and have better command his fastball.
Giles has not been as sharp at AAA as he was with Reading. Though he has a record of 2-0 and is 4 for 4 in save opportunities for the IronPigs, he has walked 7 and struck out 7 in 11.2 innings. Not the command you want from a late inning reliever.
Knigge on the other hand has had a break out month of May with Reading. Not so much because of overwhelming stuff, but because he is throwing strikes. He has walked only 4 and struck out 13 in the month which is an excellent strike out to walk ratio. In April, Knigge walked 6 and struck-out 7 in 13 innings. He is commanding his fastball that sits at 92 and a slider.
So the key to winning one-run games, even if your team can not score many runs, is to have shutdown relievers who can command the strike zone. That’s what Giles did in April and Knigge is doing in May for the run scoring challenged Reading team. It’s just that simple.