Miners bullpen is struggling

Brad Davis/The Register-HeraldWest Virginia Miners batter Matt Rubayo hits an RBI double against Lafayette June 1 at Linda K. Epling Stadium. Rubayo is second in the Prospect League with a .475 average for the Miners, who host the Normal CornBelters today at 6:35 p.m.

West Virginia found its offense during its five-game road trip.

Of course, until the bullpen starts holding leads, it won’t matter how many runs the Miners score.

A high amount of walks and hit batters plagued the Miners as they dropped all five games of their homestand to open the season. That problem never really corrected itself on their first road trip, and they added a new problem.

The Miners carry a three-game losing streak into tonight’s series opener against the Normal CornBelters (6:35 p.m., Linda K. Epling Stadium), and all three losses came after they led in the late innings.

It’s not just that the relievers have struggled protecting leads. The way they have done it has been alarming.

The Miners (1-9) led Terre Haute 11-8 in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, but the Rex got a walk, walk, walk, fielder’s choice RBI, walk, walk and sacrifice fly to score four runs — on zero hits — and win it 12-11.

The night before, West Virginia led 8-5 before Terre Haute scored two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie it and then won 9-8 on a walk-off home run in the 10th.

Champion City trailed the Miners 4-2 Friday night but scored three runs in the sixth and five in the seventh for a 10-4 win.

Even the Miners’ only win was an adventure. The Kings scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings, but the offense came through. Home runs by Will Harless and Ross Mulhall sent West Virginia to a 9-6 win.

The bullpen earned run average over the last four games is 8.07, and relievers issued 17 of the staff’s 29 walks during that span.

The struggles on the mound have overshadowed a resurgent offense. The Miners were hitting .225 a week ago but have 65 hits over their last six games and are now fourth in the Prospect League at .269. They are also third with a .440 slugging percentage and lead the league with 33 doubles and 43 extra-base hits overall. 

Center fielder Matt Rubayo is batting .571 (12-for-21) during an eight-game hitting streak. He drove in nine runs on the road trip, and was 5-for-6 in the Miners’ lone win. Rubayo, who also has a three-hit game and four two-hit games, is second in the league with a .475 average.

Jonathan Pasillas was held hitless Sunday for the first time this season but is still third with a .429 average and leads the league with seven doubles. Harless is batting .353 (6-for-17) and has scored seven runs in five games since joining the team at Champion City.

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The Miners will welcome one of three new Prospect League teams to Beckley tonight.

The CornBelters are making their debut in the summer collegiate world after spending their first nine seasons in the professional Frontier League. They will host the PL All-Star game at the Corn Crib on July 23.

Normal (6-5) trails the Cape Catfish — another newcomer — by 1 1/2 games in the West Division.

Leading the way for the CornBelters is first baseman/designated hitter Canyon McWilliams. The Ohio Wesleyan product is the league’s leading hitter at .563 (18 for 32) and is tied for second with seven stolen bases in eight attempts. He also has made two starts on the mound and has a 2.70 ERA in a pair of no-decisions.

Normal has a reliable bullpen — four pitchers who have been used primarily as relievers have not allowed an earned run.

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Tonight will be Papa John’s Night and there will be a pizza eating contest. Wednesday will be Wendy’s Night and Thursday will be City National Bank Night.

First pitch all three nights will be 6:35 p.m.

Email: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber

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