Fruitvale native Chris Kissock can pitch his way into the record books for the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball as the team heads into its final two series of the season battling for a playoff spot.
Kissock is looking to top off an excellent campaign by setting the single-season Goldeye mark for most appearances, while helping Winnipeg into the post season.
After winning it all last year, the Goldeyes had to rally from a mid-season slump to get back into contention, and a torrid August has them right back in the hunt for a wild-card spot.
“Back in July when we left Quebec for Trois-Rivieres, we were four games under .500,” Winnipeg coach Rick Forney said Monday morning on the Goldeyes website. “Now we’re 11 games above .500. We’ve had a really good six weeks. We’re 15 games over .500 in that stretch and now we have a really big week. This is pretty exciting.”
The Goldeyes have won seven of their last eight games to climb within 1 ½ games of the wild-card spot after trailing the Gary Southshore Railcats by 6 ½ games just three weeks ago.
“We were out of it there for a little while then we just started winning and I think we’re only one-and-a-half games back for the wild card,” said Kissock from Winnipeg Sunday. “It was a mix of injuries and our shortstop got picked up, so our left fielder is now playing shortstop, which he’s not doing a bad job but he’s still our left fielder.”
Kissock has been a big part of that resurgence. The former Trail AM Ford Oriole has appeared in 46 games so far this season and is looking to catch and break the team record of 51. The 28-year-old right hander is also among the leaders in every pitching stat, including strikeouts, 50, and ERA, .226. He’s allowed 14 earned runs on 43 hits, and ceded just seven walks in 50 innings pitched.
“I’ve been chasing a record for the Goldeyes,” said Kissock. “I’m trying to catch it but with seven games left, it’s going to be tough.”
Difficult perhaps, but not impossible. The Lewis-Clark State grad appeared in 16 of 25 games in the month of July alone, so going 5-for-7 in the closing week is not beyond the realm of possibility for a relief pitcher. Typically, Kissock comes in late in the game, in close situations, throwing hard for one or two innings to keep a lead or the game within reach and set up the closer.
“It’s been an all round good season . . . That’s where I thrive. I like being seven of eight (innings), getting to our closer, shutting down those innings. That’s my spot I think,” said Kissock.
Drafted by the Phillies in the ninth round of the 2007 Major League Baseball draft, Kissock is coming off a serious rib injury suffered while with the Philadelphia Phillies AA affiliate in Reading in early 2012.
In the fall of 2011, Kissock helped Team Canada to a bronze medal in the World Baseball Classic and a gold at the Pan Am Games. Seemingly at the top of his game, he reported to Reading in April 2012 only to be persuaded to change his delivery to a submarine slot, that resulted in the injury and his eventual release from the organization.
Since returning to his over-the-top position with the Orioles at the end of last season and the Goldeyes this season, the six-foot-four hurler has been both healthy and productive.
“There was times I was pitching six games in seven days, which was kind of good for me, I’m pitching a lot,” he added. “Coming back from last year being hurt and everything, it’s nice being healthy. I am actually throwing the ball better than I have in a long time.”
Kissock has also reclaimed ownership of his split-finger fast ball, a deceptively deadly pitch that was taken away from him early on in his pro career.
“This is my first full year since college that I’ve been able to throw my split finger, and that’s mainly what I’ve been getting all my strikeouts on. It’s my best pitch and with the Phillies they took it away from me when I got drafted.”
While the Phillies were trying to protect him from injury, Kissock has since excelled with the pitch, garnering more strikeouts than innings pitched for the first time in his career.
He will look to equal or break the record this week as the Goldeyes close out their season with a four-game series against the St. Paul Saints, and a three-game tilt with division leading the Fargo-Moorhead Red Hawks. Likely, Kissock’s shot at the mark will coincide with the team’s success in making up ground on the Railcats for the wild card berth, and right now both pitcher and coach are happy to be playing for something in August.
“This is what we’d hoped for,” said Forney. “We’ve been playing good baseball. We’ve been getting some very good starts, the bullpen has been tidy and we’re starting to get the timely hitting we’ve been talking about all season.”
As for next season, Kissock takes it one day at a time. He has enjoyed his time in Winnipeg, and although he would like another opportunity to join a Major League organization, he also wouldn’t mind remaining a Goldeye, hopefully having left an indelible impression.
“I like being in Winnipeg . . . the fans and everything are unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a very good league. Sometimes it’s better than affiliate ball.”