Pitching rotations are a basic element in baseball, but a rotation of catchers is something the Myrtle Beach Pelicans have wrestled this season.
Through Wednesday's game against Wilmington, which was still in progress at press time after Myrtle Beach rallied from three runs down to force extra innings, the Pelicans have used six different players behind the plate, with changes fueled by promotion, demotion and injury.
"That's the nature of the game. It seems like when one goes down, they all go down," Pelicans manager Rocket Wheeler said.
There was consistency - if not comfort - for most of the first half of the season, with Jesus Sucre and Matt Kennelly, who were both on the team's opening day roster, manning the spot until Sucre was promoted to Double-A Mississippi on June 16, part of a string of 10 promotions, demotions or stints on the disabled list that have brought a bevy of backstops to the Beach over the last six weeks.
Since Sucre's departure, five different players have started at catcher: Kennelly, Chris Anderson, Shawn McGill and current catchers Braeden Schlehuber and Osman Marval.
"A lot of these guys I've worked with before, in spring training and the instructional league, so it hasn't been too tough," Pelicans pitcher Paul Clemens said. "There's always that little bit of feel that you have to get back with your catcher. We've been able to do that relatively quickly."
Schlehuber started this season with Clemens, Julio Tehran and Ty'Relle Harris and played with J.J. Hoover and Randall Delgado last season at Low-A Rome (Ga.). However, he said there is still some transition in getting used to how they want to pitch a game and what they do in certain situations.
"Not being up here the whole year, I've got to make that jump a lot quicker," Schlehuber said. "I'll go out to the mound a couple of times during the game, just kind of see what they are thinking in certain situations. Hopefully I can get on the same page with them and have it be flawless."
Schlehuber and Clemens both said teams in the Braves organization are fairly consistent how they approach the game and coach players.
"At all levels they teach the same thing and have everything mainly the same, which is nice. It makes it a lot easier and a lot smoother on the catchers," Schlehuber said.
Marval, who also plays first and third base, was promoted to Myrtle Beach on June 9 and Anderson was sent down from Mississippi less than a week after Sucre was called up. Three days later Marval was back in Low-A Rome, but returned to Myrtle Beach on July 1 and has stayed since.
Marval, a switch-hitter, has a .231 average in 14 games in Myrtle Beach this season.
Anderson had a short run, playing in four games for the Pelicans before going on the disabled list July 8. He is on the seven-day DL. He had a combined .235 batting average this season with Mississippi and Myrtle Beach.
With Anderson sidelined, the Braves went outside the organization to find a replacement in McGill, who was playing for the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs of the Independent League. McGill was added to the lineup on July 9, but he was quickly sent up to Mississippi after going 0-for-6 in just two games in Myrtle Beach to replace Orlando Mercado, who was placed on the temporarily inactive list.
The most recent catcher added to the lineup is Schlehuber, who was called up from Rome on July 15. He went 1-for-3 in his first game with the Pelicans on July 15, but had gone 0-for-3 in his last three starts before playing a key offensive role in Wednesday's game.
It remains to be seen if another catcher will find his way to Myrtle Beach since Kennelly, who has been hampered by a hip injury, was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday, or when Anderson or Kennelly come of the DL.
Regardless of who mans the position, the key factor is making sure the pitcher and catcher are on the same page, Wheeler said.
"[The catcher is] back there calling the game, what he sees. The catchers have been doing a fine job. For the most part they are all on the same page with each other," Wheeler said. "So now it's execution. You've got to execute the pitch. If you execute the pitch, it comes out pretty good."
Wheeler said the Braves organization has a master plan when it comes to placement of players, but said "They don't hand us that list ... There are a lot of things that go on that we are not privy to. We can only speculate."