It appears that having a New Orleans Zephyrs pitcher on the Pacific Coast League All-Star team has become a virtual certainty.
Starter Adam Conley and closer Nick Wittgren were selected Wednesday to play in Triple-A All-Star Game, marking the fourth consecutive season at least one Zephyrs pitcher has been chosen. Six Z’s pitchers have been All-Stars in the past four seasons — Tom Koehler (2012), Chris Hatcher and Zach Phillips (2013) and Elih Villanueva (2014) along with Conley and Wittgren.
The PCL will play the International League on July 15 at Werner Park in Omaha, Nebraska. (7 p.m., MLB Network). Conley will be the PCL’s starting pitcher, the third time a Zephyr has been honored, including last season with Villanueva.
“Adam has done a very good job this year and is starting to turn the corner,” Zephyrs pitching coach John Duffy said. “All the hard work he’s put in is starting to pay off, and it’s just a tribute to him that he’s the starting pitcher in the all-star game.
“Wittgren picked up where he left off last year (with Double-A Jacksonville) and has done a very good job since he came here. He’s done a pretty damn good job in the closer role.”
Conley, a 25-year-old left-hander, is 7-2, tied for second in the PCL in victories, and has not lost a game since May 14 vs. Oklahoma City at Zephyr Field. In 82 innings, he has compiled a 2.52 earned-run average, fourth in the league, and has held opponents to a .231 batting average, which is seventh.
In his past eight starts, Conley has a 1.66 ERA, tops in the PCL during that span. In his past two outings, he held the Round Rock Express to one hit in six innings on June 24 and the Iowa Cubs to three hits and one run in six innings on June 29 in Des Moines, Iowa. In his major league debut June 10 with the Miami Marlins, he pitched a scoreless inning at Toronto.
“I’ve just been trying to stay consistent,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I need to improve on, just falling behind hitters sometimes, getting into hitter’s counts.”
Wittgren, a 24-year-old right-hander, is 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA in 32 innings spanning 26 games. He has converted nine of 10 save opportunities, including his first eight with the Zs. That gave him 18 consecutive, dating to last season in Double-A Jacksonville.
“He’s come a long way in a year,” said Duffy, Wittgren’s pitching coach last season with the Suns. “He struggled at the beginning of last season, but he ended up with 20 saves and played a big role with us in winning the (Southern League) championship.”
Before giving up two runs on Saturday at Iowa, Wittgren had allowed just one run since May 27, that coming on June 5 at Tacoma. He is second among PCL relievers in fewest baserunners per nine innings, allowing 30 in 32 innings.
This is his fourth consecutive year making an All-Star team, going from Single-A Jamestown to Advanced A Jupiter to Jacksonville and New Orleans.
Conley, a second-round pick in 2011 from Washington State, was on the Single-A South Atlantic All-Star team in 2012 with Greensboro and was a Southern League All-Star with Jacksonville in 2013. This is his second season with the Zephyrs, having gone 3-5 in 14 starts last season, which was delayed by a bone bruise in his pitching elbow.