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Pelicans armed for success

Pelicans starting pitcher J.J. Hoover allowed one run, five hits and no walks while striking out seven Kinston batters in six innings of Myrtle Beach's 4-2 win over the Indians at BB&T Coastal Field on Friday night.

The burly 6-foot-3, 230-pound right-hander wasn't unhittable, but he was fairly close.

It's the type of performance Pelicans pitching coach Kent Willis is coming to expect from his stable of arms.

Having been a pitching instructor in the Atlanta Braves minor league system for the past 15 years, Willis has been around long enough to know when he's spoiled.

And right now in Myrtle Beach, he's got it good.

"We've been blessed," Willis said. "It makes coming to the ballpark and watching a game real nice, because you know at any given time you can see somebody really turn it up and dominate a ballgame. It's a tremendous amount of fun."

If he doesn't see the results every outing on the mound, he sees the potential on the practice field or in his pitchers' side work between appearances. For a Class-A team, the Pelicans have an abnormal amount of pitchers with legitimate major-league ability.

"I think the guys that are here, we've got some guys that have high ceilings, that have an opportunity to be impact pitchers in the major leagues," Willis said. "It's just fortunate I have an opportunity at this time to have those guys here and have the opportunity to work with them and kind of carve their niche a little bit more and prepare them for the next level and on up.

"I think right here we have an opportunity to get four or five guys to the major leagues."

Particularly impressive is the five-man starting rotation the Pelicans have been able to parade to the mound on a nightly basis in recent weeks, though it took a hit Friday when it was discovered Arodys Vizcaino has a partially torn right elbow ligament and could be lost for the remainder of the season.

Tonight's starter, Julio Teheran, is a 19-year-old phenom who has been selected for next Sunday's All-Star Futures Game at Angels Stadium. He has struck out 52 in 441/3 innings with the Pelicans.

Randall Delgado joins Teheran as one of the Braves' top pitching prospects, and has struck out 103 and allowed just 78 hits in 991/3 innings. Hoover is a power pitcher with a nasty slider who has allowed just three home runs in 842/3 innings, and Matt Crim has a 4.19 ERA in 17 appearances, including 12 starts.

"Vizcaino is a good arm that we really like, and J.J. Hoover is another power arm that is going to have an opportunity to pitch at the major league level," Willis said. "I think Crim is certainly a darkhorse."

Willis is also impressed by what he can bring in from the bullpen, especially Chad Rodgers, who is on the disabled list but has allowed less than a hit per inning pitched; Luis Avilan, who has a 1.62 ERA and is holding opponents to a .113 batting average in 16 2/3 innings; and Yeliar Castro, who is holding opponents to a .217 average in 482/3 innings.

"Stuff-wise there are some guys in the bullpen who will have some opportunities," Willis said.

Willis played in the Carolina League in the late 1980s, but this is his first year coaching in it. Bruce Dal Canton was the Pelicans pitching coach for the franchise's first 10 seasons before he succumbed to cancer in 2008, and Guy Hansen was the pitching coach last year.

Willis has coached at most minor-league levels, including several years in rookie ball, low-A Macon/Rome and Double-A Mississippi. He spent the past three years as the Braves' minor league pitching coordinator.

Though he said he occasionally works with a pitcher on developing a new pitch at this level, he's usually working to refine their existing repertoire. "What you're trying to do is sharpen what they have, encourage them to think about things that will help them repeat what they have," he said. "They've got good stuff, so what you want to do is get them to understand how to repeat that same delivery so they can execute that good pitch."

The Braves have a propensity to draft younger players, often out of high school. Vizcaino, like Teheran, is 19. Delgado and Avilan are 20, and Hoover, Crim, Castro and Rodgers are 22. The youth of the staff presents added challenges.

"There's some good ballplayers in this league and it's a good challenge for our kids because our kids are usually some of the youngest in each league," Willis said. "This level is challenging because now you're getting to Double-A. You've got to be ready to utilize all your pitches, you've got to be able to throw your breaking ball when behind in the count, you've got to be able to hold runners on, because you'll get exposed. So this is a critical level for them.

". . . We're so excited in the kids we've got because we know they're going to be able to make the adjustment and be able to do that."

The Pelicans (30-49, 4-5 in the second half) can expect more outings like the one they received from Hoover on Friday. They allow four runs like the Pelicans scored Friday - on doubles in the third inning by Mycal Jones and Mike Jones in the third inning, a two-run triple by Luis Sumoza in the sixth and RBI single by Mike Jones in the seventh - to earn victories.

The prospects of life in the second half of the season for Willis are indeed good.

"Any time you have guys that are gifted like that, the basic thing is to keep their mind set and their focus in the right direction when they take the mound," Willis said.

Kinston.AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Montero, L CF

4

1

1

0

0

2

0.261

Greenwell LF

3

0

1

0

0

1

0.286

Sanchez, Ka 2B

3

1

0

0

0

1

0.264

Bellows 3B

4

0

2

1

0

1

0.26

Diaz, Ju SS

4

0

0

0

0

2

0

Palincsar RF

3

0

0

0

0

0

0.156

Pickens a- PH

1

0

1

1

0

0

0.258

Rivas, R DH

4

0

0

0

0

0

0.238

Martinez, R C

3

0

0

0

0

2

0.136

Toole 1B

3

0

1

0

0

1

0.286

Totals32

2

6

2

0

10

Myrtle BeachAB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Miles DH

3

1

1

0

1

1

0.252

Jones, My SS

3

1

1

0

1

1

0.362

Harrilchak, C CF

3

0

0

0

1

2

0.221

Jones, Mi 1B

3

0

2

2

1

0

0.246

Jones, T 2B

4

1

0

0

0

1

0.234

Nelson 3B

2

1

1

0

2

0

0.277

Sumoza RF

4

0

2

2

0

0

0.242

Kennelly, M C

4

0

1

0

0

2

0.206

Ware LF

4

0

0

0

0

3

0.234

Totals30

4

8

4

6

10

Kinston

000

001

001

--

2

6

0

M. Beach

001

002

10x

--

4

8

0

LOB: Kinston 5, Myrtle Beach 8. 2B: Jones, My (8), Jones, Mi (6). 3B: Sumoza (2). SB: Jones, T (2), Miles (24), Jones, My (7). CS: Jones, My (3), Sumoza (2).

Kinston

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Grdnr (L, 6-3)

6

7

3

3

3

6

2.42

Langwell

2

1

1

1

3

4

1.75

Myrtle Beach

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Hver (W, 5-5)

6

5

1

1

0

7

4.15

Obrhltzr (S, 1)

3

1

1

1

0

3

4.56

WP: Hoover. HBP: Sanchez, Ka (by Oberholtzer). Umpires: HP: Jay Pierce. 1B: Chris Graham. T: 2:31. Att: 2,649.

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