The day before his 22nd birthday, the Vancouver Canadians right-handed Venezuelan pitcher Javier Avendano prepared for one of the biggest starts of his minor league baseball career, the first of a three-game championship series against the Boise Hawks and the defense of the C’s 2011 Northwest League title.
All this on one day in front of Vancouver fans at Nat Bailey Stadium. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m.
“I try to do what I always do,” said the six-foot-two pitcher, grinning widely, his wrap-around sunglasses shining gold as he spoke to media Wednesday during an afternoon practice session.
He has eight wins and one loss to his credit in the second half of the single-A short season.
“This is just one game more for me. It’s a big game but I have one game more and I’ve got to do my job good,” said Avendano, who was named the league’s pitcher of the week three times this summer.
The Canadians swept the Everett AquaSox in two games to claim the West Division Final, winning 1-0 Monday at home and 7-4 on the road the next day.
Because the club rotates its pitchers on a regular cycle and limits their pitch counts each game, Avendano was next in line to start, whether it was a must-win Game 3 against the AquaSox or the starting spot against the Boise Hawks in the Northwest League Final.
Starting spot in the final it is.
“Another chance to pitch in Vancouver in the first game final, that is really exciting for me,” he said.
Against Boise Aug. 26, Avendano got the win. In five innings, he struck out seven batters, walked one and allowed four hits. He didn’t concede a single run. His ERA for the second-half of the season is 1.27, second best in the league trailing only his Vancouver teammate, Taylor Cole at 0.81.
The C’s have hit their stride at the right time. Nearly eliminated from reaching the playoffs, they won their last four games of the regular season to stay alive. The two playoff wins against Everett put them on a six-game winning streak. Plus they gained an extra day rest as Boise and Yakima played the third game of their best-of-three series.
Vancouver manager Clayton McCullough joined the C’s this season as a member of the Blue Jays organization and he knows the significance of back-to-back championships for Vancouver, its fans and the club’s affiliated major league team in Toronto.
“It would mean a ton to repeat,” he said. “They want not only the best for the players here but you want as many teams winning as you can because that’s what you’re trying to do ultimately. [The] experience these kids are gaining by playing in such meaningful game, you hope that it helps speed up their development some and that they’re able to build on times like this and carry it on over the next couple of years as they get closer to Toronto.”
On Wednesday Avendano was confident, anticipating success.
“We want to win, first for the team, for us, but for the fans too because the fans give us great support this season,” he said. “I see this like other games—I’ve got to do the same job, I don’t feel pressure. I enjoy my job, make a fun time when I pitch—that is what I do.”
Game 2 and, if needed, Game 3 of the Northwest League Final continue in Boise at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.