Chas Byrne has closing speed, and he could help save the Kane County Cougars a spot in the playoffs with a strong second half.
Byrne, who played at Science Hill and East Tennessee State before being drafted by Kansas City in the 16th round in 2010, is in his second season in the Royals organization.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander is 1-1 with seven saves, and has helped the Cougars start the Midwest League’s second half with a 13-6 record – good for a one-game lead in the Eastern Division. (Kane County plays in Geneva, Ill., some 30 miles from Chicago.)
“We didn’t have many save opportunities during the first half, but we’re actually rolling now,” Byrne said Thursday. “Hopefully, we can make the playoffs. That’ll be a pretty cool thing to do as a professional baseball player.”
Byrne is locating his low- to mid-90s velocity well, as 40 strikeouts and seven walks suggest. He’s also gained confidence in his secondary pitches since this time last year.
“I’ve gotten better with my breaking ball and my fastball’s gotten a lot better with locating,” Byrne said. “I’ve got a little split-finger I can throw. So I’ve got three pitches I can throw pretty well.
“The splitter’s not completely mastered just yet, but I can throw it in there for strikes when I need to. It’s an extra pitch for hitters to see that I can throw.”
Byrne (1-1) has a 3.83 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. He’s allowed 43 hits in 42 1/3 innings. The lack of walks is encouraging.
“I’m just trying to go right at hitters and throw a lot of strikes,” Byrne said. “That’s what the Royals preach – throw strikes, get ahead and try not to walk people because batters fail seven out of ten times, you know – the good ones do. So I’m trying to get them to swing the bat, and sometimes it misses the bat.”
Byrne began his pro career with Burlington in the Appalachian League in 2010. He had six saves, a 0.80 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings, which earned him a promotion to Kane County, where five of his 20 rookie appearances were made. He finished 2010 with a 1.99 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 10 walks in 40 2/3 innings.
He has 88 strikeouts and 17 walks during his pro career. Maintaining his strikeout/walk ratio in the Midwestern League is impressive. Free swingers were easier to come by in the Appalachian League.
“When they moved me up last year I noticed how the hitters are more patient and they have a better understanding of the strike zone,” said Byrne, whose favorite moments this season include getting to play a game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. “You’ve got to make adjustments. You can’t just fire it in there, because they are facing guys that throw hard every day; it’s not just one or two guys a week. …
“I’ve ranged 92 (mph) to 95 and I think I’ve touched 96 a couple of times. I’m keeping a good consistency with the long season, so I’m pretty pleased. My arm’s not fatigued. I’ll keep my fingers crossed with that.”
The highlight thus far in 2011 was getting the final four outs to combine with Sugar Ray Marimon on a no-hitter at Cedar Rapids. Byrne was initially caught off guard when pitching coach Jim Brower told him to get loose while Marimon had a no-hitter going in the eighth inning.
But the pitch count added up to relief for Marimon, and Byrne suddenly found himself worrying about something other than a save.
“I didn’t really want to go in because I wanted Sugar to get it by himself, but I’m glad I got it for him,” Byrne said. “I kind of felt more pressure to not give up a hit than to win the game. I was really just pleased for Sugar Ray because he’d had a great game, and I was glad I could close the door for him there.”
Byrne retired four straight batters and sealed the no-no with a strikeout.
“It was a called strike three – a fastball on the outside corner,” Byrne said. “It was a pretty perfect way to end it. … I did have a fist pump in there. No-hitters don’t come easily.”
Success seems to have come easily for Byrne’s family. His grandfather, Tommy, pitched 13 years in Major League Baseball, and his older brother, Shane, played in the Arizona organization. Byrne’s father, Charlie, played golf at ETSU, and Chas’s mother, Betsy, was a good enough basketball player to get into the Cumberland College Hall of Fame. Sister Tara is ETSU’s all-time wins leader in tennis.
These days Tara is traveling in Europe and brothers Shane and Rhett, who is in pharmacy school at ETSU, are preparing for their weddings this fall.
“Shane’s getting married in September and Rhett’s getting married in October,” Chas said. “They’ve got great girls and I’m excited for them to join the family. … God blessed us with a good family and I’m proud to say I’m a part of it.”
Byrne’s parents saw four Kane County games in early June, including two appearances by Byrne. Charlie coached Chas in teeball and in Little League at the Johnson City Major League. Byrne’s Little League teammates for Civitan included Matt Rice, who is now in the Tampa Rays organization. Their opponents included Paul Hoilman (BJ’s Best), who is playing in Boise for a Chicago Cubs affiliate.
“I know they’re living the dream just like I am,” Byrne said. “You’re getting paid to play a game. It’s an honor. I’m going to try my best to stay in it as long as I can.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I played teeball at the Boys and Girls Club in Johnson City. I think I was five or six years old. I played for the Dodgers and my dad was the coach, and ever since then it’s been a dream. I’m on my way, I guess you could say, but I’ve got a lot of work to do. I hope one day you’ll be able to see me on TV.”