May 122012
 

Friday nights are fireworks nights for the Carolina Mudcats, and they started earlier than usual last night.

With seven runs on six hits — all for extra bases — the Mudcats lit up the scoreboard and cruised to a 9-2 win over Potomac in the teams’ first-ever meeting.

In what’s becoming a painfully familiar refrain for this roadtrip, Carolina’s first seven batters reached base: five doubles, a walk, and a three-run home run. Kyle Winters finally got outs from the #8 and #9 batters, but both grounders produced runs.

To his credit, the 25-year-old veteran did settle down and retired nine of ten before giving up a leadoff double in the 4th, which came around to score on a two-out single. Another leadoff double (the 7th allowed), a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly scored the 9th Mudcat run.

Potomac would get on the board in the top of the 3rd as Blake Kelso directed a grounder past the second baseman into right, took second on a wild pitch, third on a deep fly to right, and trot in on Ricky Hague’s RBI single to left. Kelso and Blake would both single twice on the night.

Despite the surname, it was not for Carolina’s Michael Goodnight. He would be unable to pitch the requisite five innings as Justin Bloxom lined one off his ribcage following Michael Taylor’s one-out single (at-bat in pic above) in the 4th. He would get the painful assist and leave the ballgame.

With both teams going to the bullpen in the middle innings, it was a good night for relief pitching. The Mudcats’ Jordan Cooper and Dale Dickerson both struck out four over the next four and a 1/3rd innings while P-Nats’ southpaw Ryan Demmin fanned three. Demmin was touching 96 on the stadium gun, sporting a nice mix of heat and breaking pitches.

Potomac would score its second run in the 5th on an error, walk, a wild pitch, and a single off the actual first base by Zach Walters. Despite getting a runner on in eight of nine innings, the P-Nats would strand 10 on the night.

The series continues tonight with LHP Matt Grace (2-3, 5.84), coming off a win last Sunday, taking the hill against Carolina’s Brett Brach (0-1, 5.23).

Apr 072012
 


For the first 25 innings of the 2012 season, Harrisburg had a hard time scoring without the help of a rehabbing Washington National. With an eight-run eighth, the Senators erased the doubt about their offense en route to a 13-3 pounding of the Bowie Baysox.

The genesis of the big inning was somewhat unexpected. Twice before the 8-9 batters had gone down meekly (three groundouts and a strikeout), so the natural presumption was that the Sens would be trying to win against the Bowie closer, particularly with 28-year-old veteran Pedro Viola on the mound.

Instead, Jeff Howell doubled, Josh Johnson tripled to get the tie, and Eury Perez served up an opposite-field single to take a 4-3 lead.

Jeff Kobernus followed with his second safety — that’s three straight multiple-hit games — and stole his fourth base before Jesus Valdez walked. Five batters faced, none retired for Viola.

Sean Gleason was brought in to face Destin Hood (pictured above), a familiar face for the Senator LF as Gleason was Frederick Keys closer for most of the 2011 campaign. He greeted him with a first-pitch, wall-ball double to left-center to break the game open and end an oh-for-the season (10 ABs) dry spell.

All told, 13 batters came up in the inning, seven of them hit safely (Perez singled twice) while the Baysox committed two errors.

Hector Nelo came on to pitch the 8th and was lights out, striking out two looking on 94-96 mph heaters — including Bowie’s star shortstop Manny Machado (4 putouts, 8 assists).

And then things got unnecessarily ugly in the top of the 9th. The first two batters were dismissed easily, but then Tim Pahuta ripped a double to right field. With first base open, Bowie’s Scott Wolf, a 29-year-old journeyman, apparently decided to pay back Chris Rahl with a fastball to the back. The 28-year-old Rahl had homered against Wolf on Thursday night. Pahuta, also 28, started barking at Wolf who came down off the mound to exchange words.

The benches and bullpens emptied but no punches were thrown and nobody was ejected. Harrisburg tacked on three more runs with a one-run Lozada single, a Howell walk, and a two-run single by Johnson before Perez grounded out to (you guessed it) Machado.

Like the top of the inning, Nelo retired the first two batters and got to a 2-0 count before sailing the third pitch about a foot over/behind former National farmhand Edgardo Baez’s noggin. Umpire Kiff Kinkead (really) wasted no time in sending Nelo and Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy to the showers.

Marcos Frias couldn’t retire Baez (the walk charged to Nelo), and gave up a sharp single to left before striking out Bowie’s Travis Adair to end the game.

The eight-run rally made a winner out of Pat McCoy, who struck out two of the four batters he faced, and gave starter Jeff Mandel a no-decision. Mandel had not started a game since July 2010, but retired the first eight batters he faced and tossed five shutout innings before coughing up a three-run homer with two outs off the right-field pole.

Rick Ankiel went 2-for-2 in his rehab start, taking a hanging curve out in the first inning for a solo shot and hitting the right-field wall and trotting to first in the fourth.

With the win, Harrisburg improves to 2-1 on the season and finishes up the four-game set tomorrow afternoon. Danny Rosenbaum is slated to make his 2012 debut against Cole McCurry for Bowie.

Apr 032012
 

It’s another trip to New England to visit family, but a short one — leaving today, back on Friday.

The plan is to update the site in the evenings, cheap motel WiFi willing. I know this is horrible timing in terms of the “roster rollout,” but I think last night’s missive is a clue that folks will need to adjust their expectations.

It appears that lot of players are going to start ’12 where they left off in ’11, and it would not surprise me if the “Auburn” roster (a.k.a. Extended Spring Training) is going to be nearly full. We’ll know more when the next batch of released players hits the streets.

Enjoy this afternoon’s tuneup against the Red Sox. “News & Notes” returns on Thursday.

Mar 282012
 

Came across some stuff this morning that deserves to be shared while we await the minors to start up.

…The folks in Winchester are still pursuing their dream of attracting the Suns, and it’s not a one-way street. Of course, details about when the facility would be built or what the franchise would do in the interim are lacking, as it’s highly unlikely that a facility could be built in time for April 2013 and equally improbable that a stadium standards waiver would be granted to a relocated franchise.

…Since you’ve seen my “Road Trips” tab, you know that I love hitting the road for some games — even when it’s not for a Nationals affiliate. So if you’re looking to live vicariously, check out A Minor League Season. Their ambitious plan is to hit 119 cities from April 5 to September 3, focusing on the full-season MLB affiliates.

…In the course of flipping through that site, I came across another, run by an uber-fan Malcolm McMillan, who has done some excellent writeups on MLB and MiLB ballparks. As it so happens, he’s been to all five of the current Nats affiliates so far (like yours truly). So I pass his MLB blog entries for your perusal: Auburn, Hagerstown, Potomac, Harrisburg, and Syracuse. If you’re interested in other ballparks, I’d recommend his personal website, theballparkguide.com.

Jan 042012
 

While we await the news on Prince Fielder, I thought I’d dust off this classic for an “encore presentation.” Unlike last year, you can now visit the “Road Trips” tab to see some pics from the past two summer sojourns. This piece was actually the first one I filed for the site back on January 5, 2010 and reruns with some, um, minor edits.

One of the joys of following minor-league baseball is going to see your favorite team on the road. As a fan of the Potomac Nationals, I’ve been to the stadiums of all seven opposing teams in the Carolina League, and have visited the Nationals’ affiliates in Auburn, Hagerstown, Harrisburg, and Syracuse (pictured above). With the move of the Kinston franchise to Zebulon (Carolina Mudcats), I have to make another trip to North Carolina this summer to maintain the claim. Oh, the horror!

With the recent cold snap in the D.C. area, I thought I’d share some of my tips for taking and making the most of a baseball road trip, to help ease the time until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Take The Interstate
There’s nothing wrong with taking the secondary route to get there, especially if you want to see the countryside. But the Interstates are your best bet because they’re faster, there are more places to stop for food and fuel, and should you have car trouble, you’re a better position to get the help you need quickly. Also, quite a few teams are situated close to the freeway anyway (e.g. The Frederick Keys).

Consider The Dominant Travel Pattern
My favorite night to shoot for is a Saturday night. People that are going to the beach or the mountains are likely already there, so you’re not fighting them. If you must travel on a Friday, try to leave either mid-morning or mid-afternoon, i.e. after rush hour or after lunch. Likewise for Sundays, watch out for afternoon games that will have you on the road between 5 and 8pm, a.k.a. when the weekend throngs are coming back. This is why some teams have opted for a start time of 4 or 5 pm — it’s not quite as harsh on the players, and enables the opposing team to leave with some daylight.

Parking
It’s an overlooked detail, so do your homework — especially with clubs in older ballparks or teams that are very popular. If you’re able to walk, think about the money you’ll save if you park a few blocks away or more importantly, the time you’ll save as you walk past the folks jockeying to get out. I like to look for libraries and schools for this strategy. One notable exception is…

Promotions
…Fireworks night. They’re great for packing them in, and most people stay. Translation: While the masses ooh and ahh, you can make a break for your car and get out ahead of them. You can use the promotions calendar two ways: To get the freebies you want, or avoid the folks that care more about the giveaway than the game (e.g. bobbleheads).

Midweek Day Games
These are big moneymakers for minor-league clubs. They’re often dominated by schools and/or summer camps, but they almost always sit in the cheap seats. Despite the crowds, it seems that most venues are shorthanded, relying on the groups’ chaperones for crowd control. This also makes it harder to get concessions and nearly guarantees long lines. But if you don’t mind eating before or after the game, you can generally get great seats up close.

Don’t Forget To Wear Sunscreen…
…and drink plenty of fluids, by which I mean water and soda. One of the unfortunate things I’ve noticed is that minor-league stadiums with a roof aren’t being built anymore. To me, that’s penny-wise and pound-foolish because a roof provides cover from both the sun and the rain. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I love the WPA-era parks so much, but I can’t help but notice that in the places where there is a roof, people tend to stick around when the elements aren’t favorable. For everywhere else, it’s a good idea to notice where the shadows fall and try to get those seats when the weather will be a factor.

Aug 192011
 


It’s another trip to New England to visit family, which means the posts are going to slow and shorten since I’ll be working from wherever I can find free WiFi for the next week or so. Next week’s “GBI” will probably be a day late. But my goal is to keep the News & Notes going as best as possible, even it’s mostly links & bullets.

Please keep the comments coming and the conversation going.

Jul 112011
 

Take a look at scorecard. Savor it. Not too often you see a 9-1 game turned around so fast.

That’s what happened last night in Auburn. With a 10-run sixth inning that saw 14 batters come to the plate and feartured eight hits, the Doubledays put up an inning so big the scoreboard couldn’t list the “10″ spot as they defeated the Jamestown Jammers, 11-9.

The win put the brakes on a three-game skid, the third of of three-or-more losses in a row already this season; they’ve also put together win streaks of six and four.

Take another look at that scorecard. For four and 2/3rds innings, Jamestown’s Tom Peale had a no-hitter going. Hendry Jimenez broke it up with an opposite-field double to left field to drive in Carlos Alvarez — yes, that Carlos Alvarez — to break up the no-no and the shutout bid in one fell swoop.

Matt Skole started the scoring binge in the sixth with a BOMB to right field, easily 450′ plus for a solo shot. OK, no big deal. Jamestown still up 9-2. A flyout to right, one out. But then a single. A walk. A two-run double. Now, it’s 9-4 and another reliever comes on.

A Hughes walk, Alvarez gets an RBI single. Jimenez strikes out. So now it’s 9-5 but it looks like they’ll survive. Not so fast: Justin Miller doubles down the LF line to make it 9-7. Jamestown doesn’t have a reliever ready and a conference is held on the mound to stall, and remind folks that candlesticks always make for a good gift. Skole walks, semi-unintentionally; another reliever is brought in.

Adrian Nieto and Angel Montilla both single. Now it’s 9-9 and Caleb Ramsey strikes the death blow with a two-run double and the 11-9 score that would become the final.

Blowouts like this are hard to make observations because the fan side of the brain takes over. But here’s some quick takes anyways…

…Hughes still looked lost out in right field. He has a good arm and that’s why he’s there, but it’s cost the team runs in both games I saw

…Meza doesn’t throw hard, but he’s lefthanded and his across-the-body motion is deceptive. Should his control improve, he could make for a decent middle reliever.

…Alvarez looks shorter and stockier than the 5-11, 175 (think Leonard Davis) he’s listed at but has strong throwing arm. He jumped at the first pitch he saw in his first at-bat but then showed discipline in his second and third at-bats. Nothing you wouldn’t expect, however, from a 25-y.o. playing below his age level.

…Jimenez looked better at second base than at shortstop but I suspect the M.O. is to keep swapping MI’s until a true SS emerges from the ranks. I’d have to say Francisco Soriano may stick around in the system for this reason.

…Greg Holt has a nice 12-6 curve, good enough to throw on consecutive pitches for strikes. I know the slider and the cutter are the pitches du jour, but us old folks still appreciate the bender.

And that concludes the NationalProspects.com 2011 Baseball Roadtrip. Hope you enjoyed it. I know I did.

Jul 102011
 


Alliance Bank Stadium is a very nice stadium — clean, comfortable, with good food and good service. Perhaps second only to Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg, which is a bit unfair because it’s much older. But every bit as good as other AAA stadiums I’ve been to.

I figure I’d better start with something nice to say about the game’s setting because there’s only so much positive things that can be said about the game itself, which was a 6-0 loss with just five hits and two errors for the Syracuse Chiefs.

On Friday, I could say “Well, the other pitcher was outstanding” and while Vance Worley was very good, he was by no means out of this team’s league, even if he’s likely to be back in the majors (and with a contender) next week.

That’s because Worley did not dominate the Chiefs. Sure, he scattered three hits over six innings, but he wasn’t overpowering, striking out just three batters. But he did beat them, and he did what good pitchers do: just. get. guys. out.

On the flip side (of the scorebook), Yunesky Maya continues to disappoint. Maybe some of this is simply the gap between the puff and PR from the mainstream media and his actual performance, but he very much reminds me of Robinson Checo in the late 1990s, an underwhelming, overpriced IFA that the Boston newspapers eventually dubbed “The Dominican Mystery Man” because his reputation far exceeded his results.

Maya was charged with four runs over five innings on nine hits with zero walks, but zero strikeouts. Four of nine hits went for extra bases. The Lehigh Valley batters may have been fooled the first time they saw Maya, but like many minor-league pitchers, not the second time, with eight of the nine IronPig hits coming during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings.

Offensively, only Chris Marrero seemed to show any real fire, gumption, or moxie. He showed particularly good patience by evening the count three times after falling behind 0-2 in the count in his first three at-bats. And it paid off: The first time, he flew out to the warning track. The second time, he singled to right-center. The third time, he rapped a double to the LF corner.

Unfortunately, Marrero also grounded into a double play in his last at-bat, which was the theme of the night as three times the Chiefs would see rallies snuffed by the dreaded twin-killing. Marrero’s GIDP stung a little more because it came after the first two batters walked in the 9th, ending whatever vain hope there may have been in denying the shutout bid.

The loss drops Syracuse to 38-49 for the season, 13 games behind first-place Lehigh Valley, as the two teams clash again tomorrow with Chad Gaudin set to start the game in another rehab outing.

May 072011
 

With 19 hits and 13 runs allowed, the best that can be said is that the pitching was not there last night for Harrisburg Senators.

Every Reading position player had a hit, with five players collecting three or more, as the Phillies dominated the first three Senator pitchers until Hassan Pena finally silenced them for the last five outs of the game.

Starter Ryan Tatusko labored through three innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on nine hits with one walk and three strikeouts to take his third loss of the season. He threw 80 pitches, 51 for strikes. Though some of his pitches were left up in the zone, it was uncanny how they seemed to guess fastball and get it — even when he switched up and started throwing mostly offspeed in his second pass through the lineup.

Jimmy Barthmaier’s luck and results were much the same. A leadoff bunt that he appeared to field and tag the runner was ruled safe. A hit-and-run set up a 1st-and-3rd situation. The next batter tapped to Tyler Moore who both hesitated and dropped the ball, eliminating both a play at the plate and a double play opportunity.

A hit batsmen, a wild pitch, a double, a walk, an opposite-field single and suddenly the game went from 5-3 to 10-3 in the space of maybe ten minutes. Pat McCoy would follow Barthmaier and would get roughed up in his first and last innings of work, allowing two HRs and four runs total over three and a 1/3rd innings before yielding to Pena.

As the 5-3 score suggests, for a brief moment, the Senators were in this game. Archie Gilbert singled with one out in the bottom of the second, the first of his four hits on the night, took second on a groundout by Steve Lombardozzi and went to third on an infield single by Tyler Moore that both the pitcher and the shortstop got a glove on. Jesus Valdez scorched a single to left that was misplayed into a two-RBI double as the fielder tried to snare the sinking liner and failed to touch it. After one full inning, it was 2-0 Harrisburg.

Strange as it may sound, the Senators managed to get a baserunner in eight of the nine innings and did not hit into any double plays, as they managed a respectable 13 hits. On most nights, that would be more than good enough. Tonight, it was like getting 100 yards rushing when the opposing QB had toasted the backfield for five TDs.

The loss dropped Harrisburg to .500 at 14-14, good for second place in the E.L. West while Reading improved to 18-10 and took sole possession of first place in the E.L. East. Brad Peacock will take the hill tomorrow afternoon, going for his fifth win and a chance to prevent a Reading sweep.

Jan 292011
 

Remember the last two snowstorms? Well, this week’s came too early to fulfill my private prediction that we’d get another just in time to preempt our third attempt to visit family in New England. So, as you might imagine, posts will slow (though it was a busy week this week wasn’t it?).

My Baseball America book came in the mail on Thursday. After the flurry of Keith Law posts, I chose to put my time into working on the player watchlists, as previously posted. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve updated the page for lefthanded starters and published the page for righthanded starters, leaving unfinished the guys that I hope may be included in the Sickels book, which I hope to have in my hands upon my return.

And though his site is now officially gone, NFA Brian still lives on Twitter and I have to pass along two tweets combined into one quote regarding the BA book:

[Ten] of the 30 #Nationals were acquired in the last year — Harper (1), Cole (4), Ramos (5), Solis (6), Maya (11), Hague (14), Ray (15), ElvRamirez (20), Martinson (22), & Tatusko (26)

Add in the 2009 draft picks that are still in the system — Kobernus (21), Rosenbaum (23), Holder (28) — and that’s 13 out of 30 from the Rizzo era. This is not to say we’ll be the next Kansas City (let’s face it: that many high-risk/high-reward picks panning out does require a certain amount of luck), but we’re getting there… maybe not as fast as folks want, but it’s progress.