Arizona Fall League Assignments Now Official

Not much in the way of news this week, but in yesterday’s transactions post from Baseball America, the Arizona Fall League assignments were made official:
• RHP Aaron Barrett
• RHP Paul Demny
• CF Brian Goodwin
• RHP Cole Kimball
• SS/3B Jason Martinson (taxi)
• RHP Ryan Perry
• 3B/SS Anthony Rendon
• 3B Matt Skole

The biggest change, of course, is the swapping of Christian Garcia and Cole Kimball, who has apparently healed enough from the injury that cut short his rehab tour in early to start throwing again. The 27-year-old is attempting to come back from rotator cuff surgery and could be potentially pitching to keep his spot on the 40-man roster.

When I last saw him, he looked like a shell of his previous self: his fastball like your weird uncle’s wardrobe (stuck in the 80s) and his command, which has never been mistaken for Jordan Zimmermann’s (subject of a prospect retro by John Sickels), even worse. Taking chances on hurt pitchers is what has netted the Nats pitchers like Garcia and Ryan Mattheus, though you could make the argument that Kimball was hurt in the first place when the Nats pushed him (and Adam Carr) in the AFL in the fall of 2010.

Most folks, of course, are curious regarding a rumored position switch of Anthony Rendon to second base. There are two other 2Bs on the roster of the Salt River Rafters (Tyler Bortnick, Diamondbacks; Carlos Sanchez, White Sox) and while one of them is a 25-year-old that appears to be a Rule 5 tryout (Bortnick), it’s only speculation at this point.

Matt Skole and Brian Goodwin will join Rendon as the position players assigned by Washington, with Jason Martinson serving as this year’s taxi squad player, eligible to play twice a week. Bryce Harper (2010) and Zach Walters (2011) served in this capacity over the past two fall campaigns.

Ryan Perry presumably will continue his transition to starting from relief while it appears that Paul Demny is doing the opposite, based on his removal from the Harrisburg Senators rotation in August as well as his struggles all year long (insert obligatory reference to youth and hard-throwing here). Aaron Barrett, who is not Rule 5-eligible, will continue to refine his stuff after posting a 3-2/2.09/0.92 pitcher’s line (if it doesn’t exist, then I’m coining it) with 17 saves in 2012.

The 2012 season begins on Tuesday, October 9th with Salt River hosting the Mesa Solar Sox.

Checking In…

A little bit of a lull here, with not quite enough material for a full-fledged post or even a hold-me-over “Morning Reading.” But I’m going to be away for a few days, so I think it’s best to put something up here until I have a better news peg.

My friend Shawn attended the tour at Municipal Stadium, which is a rather bold move. Not because it’ll threaten the extension of the PDC — once Lexington signed with Kansas City, Hagerstown became the last man standing in the South Atlantic, all but ensuring that Washington will renew since it’s extremely unlikely the Nationals will leave for the Midwest League — but because it boxes them into new stadium or bust. (For those interested in some of the details of what’s known as the affiliate dance, Bluebird Banter had a story about it last week).

As we discussed earlier this year, events in Wilmington, NC and Lynchburg, VA bear watching. Wilmington has approved the lease for a new stadium, but not the means to pay for it, which goes to the voters in November. The Braves have reportedly promised to help with City of Lynchburg replace the Hillcats, which of course creates an opening. Kinston did not replace the Indians with a collegiate summer league team, so it doesn’t take too much imagination to envision a scenario where one or both of those cities could be a destination for the franchise to be moved — especially if they have two full years to work on it.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Reviewing The 2012 Watchlist

For the past three seasons, a lot of the excitement of the Nationals farm system has been the presence of “generational talents” like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, and now lies in the Draft Class of 2011: Alex Meyer, Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Matt Purke and Kylin Turnbull, which, amusingly has been pictured on the header graphic for the Auburn Doubledays since last summer despite only one of the five ever setting foot on Falcon Field (on a rehab stint, no less).

There’s buzz about Rendon switching over to 2B during the AFL, with the not-so-subtle implication that he’ll be sending Danny Espinosa packing or to the bench. If Goodwin rakes in Arizona next month, I’d expect the same kind of talk with the more astute folks acknowledging that Eury Perez might make the club first, then step aside.

After that? It gets fuzzy fast.

The point, as I touched upon in “The State of the Nationals Farm,” is that the era of sure-fire, fast-rising replacements is coming to an end and the system is shifting gears towards (what we hope will be) producing a steady stream of players that may or may not play for Washington. Before you start scrolling down and berating me for not mentioning Alex Meyer, Nathan Karns, et al: The rules are always different when it comes to pitchers (see: Bundy, Dylan).

Which brings me to my biggest dilemma regarding the 2013 watchlist: How to handle folks that stalled or underperformed in 2012.

I made a conscious effort last year to be be more selective than in 2010, which reduced the overall number of guys from 89 to 69. A lot of this came from being more aggressive with cutting off older players, guys that were hurt, GCL gambles, and Rule 5 pickups. I still made some mistakes, particularly in the DSL, which I can live with because ignoring them entirely — as some prospect gurus would prefer, though mainly out of despair of being unable to answer questions about them — deprives us of some of the fun of being able to say “I had my eye on this guy before even he made it to Low-A,” not to mention the chance to make up a nickname like “Orange” or “For The Weekend” 😉

So while I don’t have a set number in mind, I will do my best to make sure it’s above 50 — but I’m not terribly likely to rank them 1 to 50-something since that only leads to pointless arguments about why X is #Y instead of Z.

Graduating from the 2012 Watchlist are Harper, Steve Lombardozzi, and Tyler Moore. As I wrote last year, I don’t think serves much purpose to name who’s probably going to come off the list. I’d like to think most are fairly obvious, though I have some tough choices to make for the 2013 list when it comes to pitchers coming back from surgery and/or injury. I may even need to create a new category or two (*hint*).

Instructional League Roster – Final Thoughts

Last week, the Nationals released the rosters for the Fall Instructional League (a.k.a. Instrux), which were broken down by pitchers and position players. Like much of the minors offseason, inferences are often drawn because the information is sparse and/or one-sided. As noted the past two years, the invites can often be categorized as follows:

1. Young
2. Changing roles or position
3. Working on a specific skill/pitch

No. 1 is, of course, relative. Nine of the 28 position players invited, for example, are 21 or younger; twelve are 23 or older. No. 2 is always interesting, especially when the player has risen to the full-season minors. Justin Miller is indeed being tried at catcher per Byron Kerr’s article on Saturday while lumbering big man Kevin Keyes is going to try to find a home at first base.

No. 3 of course is arguably the most important and obviously the most nebulous. Here, I can’t blame the club for holding its cards close to the vest, on the off chance that the weakness isn’t obvious. My guess is that this is especially true of the short-season guys where not only are sample sizes smaller, the odds of a scout having seen it are lower for the same reason. As noted two years ago, scouts aren’t keen on Instrux because the tinkering and experimenting can obscure the very things they may be looking for — a pitcher not throwing a given pitch in favor of working on another, for example.

In years past, getting an invite was a sign that the player was moving on up, but it’s not the guarantee it used to be. In 2010, all but one of the position-player invites moved up in 2011. Seven of the 2011 invitees did not. Perhaps that’s an anomaly, but I tend to think that with fewer opportunities at the top of the ladder as well as the struggles of Potomac and Harrisburg, we could see the same thing next spring. It’s become clear that the Rizzo front office has no qualms about using free agents to plug holes, even at the AA level.

Unfortunately, with no box scores released, the stories are few and far between from the FIL. There are 14 games between Friday, September 21 and Wednesday, October 10, according to this schedule I found online. We hope to have some dispatches towards the end from one of our commenters (TBRfan).

As always, I’ll do the best I can to keep the site populated until the AFL starts up. A review of the 2012 Watchlist is probably next up, and affiliation swaps are already starting to trickle out — the only drama is whether or not the Nationals will renew its PDC with Hagerstown, which is taking the unusual step of opening up Municipal Stadium to the public to demonstrate why renovation might not be an option in its quest to build a new stadium downtown.

Three Nats Named To 2012 BA All-Star Teams

We’re in awards and accolades season now for the minors, as three Nationals farmhands were named to Baseball America’s 2012 Classification All-Stars.

Corey Brown was named as one of the AAA outfielders after posting a line of .285/.365/.523 with 25 HRs in 126 games for Syracuse. He was also named to the International League’s postseason All-Star team, and the far less prestigious “Good Bat” for Syracuse from Brown was acquired in a December 2010 trade with Oakland for OF Josh Willingham, along with Henry “Where’s The Strike Zone?” Rodriguez.

Matt Skole got the nod for the Low-A third baseman from the Durham, N.C.-based publication, hitting .286/.438/.574 with 27HRs in 101 games for Hagerstown and .314/.355/.486 in 18 games for Potomac. He was also the South Atlantic League MVP and 3B for its postseason All-Star team, this site’s “G” for the Suns hitters for 2012, and the Nationals Minor-League Player of the Year. Skole is a repeat customer, winning the BA accolades as the SS-A third baseman in 2011. He was the Nationals 5th Round pick in the 2011 Rule 4 draft out of Georgia Tech.

Robert Benincasa is the surprise winner as the relief pitcher of the year for short-season A with relatively modest numbers of 2-0, 3.09 with 3 saves and a WHIP of 1.29 over 23⅓ innings for the Auburn Doubledays. He’s currently in Florida for the Nationals Instructional League, and came to organization as a 7th Round Pick this past June out of Florida State.

The State of the Nationals Farm

As suggested in the comments, it does appear that the Washington Nationals minor-league system is about to enter a new phase. Take a look at a lineup from earlier this week:

Werth, RF
Harper, CF
Zimmerman, 3B
LaRoche, 1B
Morse, LF
Desmond, SS
Espinosa, 2B
Suzuki, C
Gonzalez, P

Four of those nine were directly developed by Washington, two more were acquired by trades of minor leaguers — all of those six are 29 or younger. We could go up and down the roster, but I’ll cut to the chase: The D.C. nine are young, homegrown, and appear poised to begin a run for postseason glory for the next several seasons. The Nationals are starting to draw comparisons to the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians of the 1990s, which, in terms of the minors’ goal of developing major leaguers, is a pretty high compliment — never mind the simplistic, talk-radio retort of reducing that success to the number of rings won.

But enough about the top of the pyramid. You’ll get plenty more of this from the mainstream media (at least on the four days between the day before, of, and after the local NFL team plays) and the national media, which is giving the Nationals the flavor-of-the-week treatment with the Atlanta series with broadcasts on MLB Network, Fox and ESPN tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday.

There’s a lot of talk about Washington entering Phase Two, which really applies to the parent club more than the minors, in my opinion. I tend to look at the minors progression like this:

1) The Nationals go all-in on H.S. picks, start to clear out the system that had been put on autopilot in 2002
2) College picks are used heavily to fortify the ranks while the Nationals use their first-round picks to get generational talents
3) The Nationals spend heavily on the final draft before the new CBA kicks in, cash in on some of the returns of #1 and #2 for a SP
4) ???

I started to attach dates to those numbers, but there’s obviously some overlap and as you can see with #4, it’s not necessarily clear what the next progression is. I’d like to think that it means more American-born high schoolers are infused into the system, especially with the large group of 22-24-year-olds in the system, but I’ve yet to see a thoughtful analysis of how the new CBA is really affecting the HS pipeline. I doubt the knee-jerk reaction of “all the elite talent will go to college instead” will turn out to be true or even mostly true. But if the Nationals can continue their post-Smiley success with the likes of Wander Ramos and Estarlin Martinez, that might not be as big a problem as some folks fear.

What people think has been on my mind, too. The success of the parent club hasn’t engendered the kind of patience that I’ve been hoping for (and preaching). When I first stumbled upon Brian Oliver’s Nationals Farm Authority, there was a significant (and rather annoying) group of folks that were there only to advocate for the replacements of the 100-loss editions of the Washington Nationals. Thankfully they have largely gone away from sites like this, but the impatience, while muted compared to that cacophony, still echoes.

I’ve been hinting at it for some time now, but the next few years are going to be a test for fans of Washington minors. There’s been a lot of excitement because there has been a run of top-rated picks that were on their way to Washington. That flow is going to slow because there just isn’t the room at the top anymore. It doesn’t mean that the machine stops, but it should mean that expectations should be adjusted. Yes, that means more patience, but it also means a realization that some of the guys won’t make it to The Show wearing a Curly “W” — two of my favorites since this site launched, for example, now wear a Gothic “A.”

I’d like to think the organization is headed towards a mode where they continue to draft and develop talent regardless of current need. For example, Anthony Rendon and Matt Skole appear “blocked” by Ryan Zimmerman. But third base has been “taken” since 2006 and could be unavailable until 2019. But it’s foolish to assume that will happen. Players get hurt, their skills diminish, etc. The Boston Red Sox had a comparable situation 25 years ago at third base with Wade Boggs, but over the next five years his eventual replacement (Scott Cooper) and three others (John Valentin, Tim Naehring, and Jeff Bagwell) were drafted and came up to the majors, three for Boston and one for Houston in a trade that gets brought up nearly every July, and usually without mentioning all four left-side infielders.

In my opinion, a situation like that is true success in the minors — generating a steady stream of players that can play in the majors. It might not be all for the parent club, but if an organization creates depth it can keep the players it needs, and deal the ones it doesn’t. Plus, as we’ve seen all year long, doing this enables a team to withstand some injuries and build a bench that can fill in and push the starters.

What remains to be seen is whether the Nationals can do this without the benefit of top draft picks, which was a sneer about Tampa Bay when the Rays made a similar, sudden ascent in 2008. It wasn’t true then and the success since has further proven that knock wrong.

Without spoiling too much of the forthcoming season reviews, it does seem that organization’s strength has shifted from developing pitchers to developing position players. In that respect, the comparison to the Braves falls woefully short. But it’s also not uncommon — a lot of organizations have this dilemma.
As Earl Weaver famously said: “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same — pitching.”

The trick, of course, is to figure out how to get the mojo back on producing arms while continuing to produce the bats. I suspect that’s what we’ll be discussing a lot over the winter.

Instructional League Roster Notes – Position Players

Continuing where we left off yesterday, here’s the rundown of the position players that will participate in the Florida Instructional League, a.k.a. “Instrux.”

Player Pos. Age 2012 Team(s) 2011 Invite Notes
Spencer Kieboom C 21 AUB N 5th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Clemson, Kieboom was touted as a glove-first, bat-second backstop but surprised on both counts with 9PBs and .362OBP, plus a knack for hitting with RISP.
Craig Manuel C 22 AUB N 10th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Rice, where he was a three-year starter, Manuel split time with Kieboom and produced very similar numbers. Not a lot of power, but bats lefthanded and makes contact.
Adrian Nieto C 22 GCL, HAG Y Power and patience both dipped from ’11 to ’12 in his third season with the Suns, but a career-high 78 games played.
Raudy Read C 18 DSL Y Made strong improvements in offense in his second DSL season (.493 OPS to .765).
Pedro Severino C 19 GCL Y Repeated the GCL with slight improvement to offensive production and moderately better defensive numbers.
Wilmer Difo SS 20 GCL Y Two-time watchlister but first-time at instrux, Difo repeated the GCL without much statistical improvement.
Cutter Dykstra 2B-SS 23 HAG N Rebounded from poor showing at High-A in ’11 but returned to Low-A to do it, though he showed much better judgment on the basepaths.
Ricky Hague SS-2B 23 HAG N Offensively very streaky, but proved the doubters wrong about his ability to handle 2B, adding to his versatility.
Jeff Kobernus 2B 24 HBG Y Was on pace to match or beat his ’11 production in nearly every category before a pitch to the ribcage ended his season.
Mike McQuillan UT 22 GCL, AUB N 33rd Rd. Pick in ’12 out Univ. of Iowa, McQuillan hit his way out of the GCL and was Auburn’s leadoff man at season’s end.
Stephen Perez SS 21 GCL, AUB N Injuries limited the 8th Rd. Pick in ’12 out Univ. of Miami to just 28 games and could force a repeat at Auburn.
Shawn Pleffner 1B 23 AUB N Injuries delayed the debut of the Nats 26th-Rd. Pick in ’11 until this year, when he became an NYPL All-Star for Auburn.
Tony Renda 2B 21 AUB N 2nd Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Univ. of California, the knee-jerk comp is to Dustin Pedroia though he’s yet to show that kind of power.
Adrian Sanchez 2B 22 POT Y Gave up switch-hitting and finished the season strong, but needs to work on his defense and baserunning
Matt Skole 3B 23 HAG, POT Y Like Aaron Barrett, Skole is in Viera for some fine-tuning before heading out to Arizona for the AFL.
Zach Walters SS 23 POT, HBG, SYR Y Walters hit well at A+ and AA and struggled some at AAA, but the next challenge is cutting down the E’s (29).
Billy Burns OF 23 HAG Y Learned to switch-hit last fall, and improved his production across the board in ’12.
Destin Hood OF 22 AUB, HBG Y Injuries curtailed his 2012 after a breakout 2011 season, nearly a sure bet to repeat AA.
Hayden Jennings OF 19 GCL Y 6th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Evangel Christian Academy HS in L.A., Jennings is generally praised for his speed and defense, but is a project with the bat.
Kevin Keyes OF 23 POT Y Tremendous power, serviceable defense, but whether he can learn to hit for average and cut down the K’s are the big questions for ’13.
Estarlin Martinez 1B-OF 20 AUB Y Martinez appears to be settling into LF but still plays 1B, which is progress because most folks are worried about the D, not the O.
Narciso Mesa OF 20 AUB Y Made a quantum leap on offense, albeit in a small sample of 31 games going from .559OPS to .791OPS.
Brandon Miller OF 22 AUB N A catcher in college, but strictly played OF for Auburn, where injuries limited the 4th Rd. pick in ’12 out of Samford to just 29 games.
Justin Miller OF 23 HAG N Miller earned a watchlist spot with a strong ’11 in Auburn, but the production fell off in his first full season.
Randolph Oduber OF 23 POT Y Oduber has the tools in the outfield, but has struggled to stay healthy enough to play there consistently the past two seasons after terrific debut in 2010.
Caleb Ramsey OF 23 HAG Y A ‘tweener that continues to pleasantly surprise, developing some pop while slicing his K rate nearly in half.
Steven Souza OF 23 HAG, POT Y Despite another position change (1B to OF), the longtime farmhand broke out in ’12 with career highs in nearly every offensive category, finishing 3rd in the organization with 23HRs.
Michael Taylor OF 21 POT Y Taylor faded in August, but showed flashes of brilliance on both offense and defense in his second full season in the outfield.

Instructional League Roster Notes – Pitchers

As noted yesterday in the comments, the Nationals have released their 2012 Instructional League Roster. Here’s a quick look at the pitchers. Next post will be on the position players.

Player Pos. Age 2012 Team(s) 2011 Invite Notes
Dixon Anderson RHSP 23 GCL, HAG N Missed all of ’11 with surgery, struggled with control in brief stint w/ the Suns
Aaron Barrett RHRP 24 HAG, POT N Fine-tuning before going to the AFL. Decent showing in Potomac late in the season.
Joel Barrientos LHRP 19 GCL N Added to 2012 Watchlist after strong rookie season in DSL, no soph./stateside slump.
Robert Benincasa RHRP 22 AUB N 7th Rd. Pick in ’12 with low-90s sinking FB/SL combo, likely working on split or changeup.
Michael Boyden RHRP 22 GCL, AUB N 31st Rd. pick in ’12 out of U Md. Like Anderson, struggled with BB rate after bump from GCL.
Pedro Encarnacion RHSP 21 HAG, AUB Y Challenged with Low-A but fell back to SS-A, the 2nd straight season he’s dropped down a level.
Wirkin Estevez RHSP 20 HAG, GCL Y Time is still on his side, but 2012 was a definite step backwards.
Robert Gilliam RHSP 24 HBG, POT N The oldest pitcher in instrux, still best known as the “other guy the Nats got” in the Gio Gonzalez trade.
Leonard Hollins RHRP 21 GCL, HAG N 29th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of FL JuCo but not much else to write (here) about
Taylor Jordan RHSP 23 AUB, HAG Y Innings limited by T.J. surgery last summer, Jordan is straddling the line between prospect and project.
Nick Lee LHSP 21 AUB N Not hard thrower, but he’s lefthanded and scouts love his changeup.
Brett Mooneyham LHSP 22 AUB N 3rd Rd. ’12 Pick out of Stanford that nearly every prospect guru has a “yeah, but” thanks to inconsistency with his mechanics.
Elisaul Gomez LHP 20 DSL N DSL guys have been rare the past couple of years, so an invite tends to carry more weight.
Emmanuel De La Cruz RHP 20 DSL N On the flip side, about all there is to know is what you can infer from tiny samples of states.
Ronald Pena RHRP 20 GCL, AUB N 16th Rd. Pick out of Palm Beach St. JuCo (pitched for College of Charleston in ’11), Pena is a big (6-4, 210) hard-throwing (mid-90s) project.
Ivan Pineyro RHSP 20 GCL, AUB Y 2012 Watchlist player that’s easing up the ladder, though it looks like he may repeat Auburn
Brian Rauh RHSP 21 AUB, HAG N 11th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Chapman Univ. (D-3, CA) was one of two ’12 picks to make it to Low-A.
Robbie Ray LHSP 20 POT Y He’s still young and lefthanded, but a slight fade late in 2011 and free fall from mid-July 2012 on has to have folks wondering.
Jefry Rodriguez RHRP 19 DSL N The youngest player on the roster, having just turned 19 in July and put up LaLoosh-
like nos. in the DSL (43IP/33BB/35K).
Blake Schwartz RHSP 22 GCL, HAG N 17th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Okla. City Univ. (NAIA) Schwartz’s hallmark is control (2.0BB/9IP), which, of course, you probably already know means that he doesn’t throw in the mid-90s (88-92).
Derek Self RHRP 22 AUB N 9th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Univ. of Louisville, Self does throw hard (92-95) but doesn’t get the K’s (6.8/9IP) or miss the bats (33IP/32H) the way you’d expect with that kind of velocity.
Casey Selsor LHP 22 GCL N A two-way player drafted in the 23rd Rd. out of Univ. of Texas-San Antonio, Selsor split time between starting and relieving and even got
a couple of starts as a position player.
Kylin Turnbull LHSP 23 GCL, HAG Y Turnbull was effectively sent down to the GCL in mid-July to presumably work on mechanics after 17 uneven starts, returning to Hagerstown for one Sept. relief appearance.
Deion Williams RHP 19 GCL Y Williams is a convert to pitching after failing as an infielder (.147BA, 11E in 30G) and made two scoreless appearances late in the season.

The roster is heavily tilted towards the 2012 draft with three DSL guys versus one last year. It’s tempting to talk about how young this group is, but let’s not forget how these guys collectively fared in their first go ’round as pros. The Auburn Doubledays finished 12th in runs allowed and 13th in ERA. The GCL Nationals weren’t much better, finishing 10th in runs allowed, 9th in ERA. The usual caveat of small sample size obviously applies (hey, that rhymes!) as well the notation that these guys were among the best of those staffs, but it shouldn’t be glossed over, either.

As for the concept of omission, I don’t believe too much should be read into who wasn’t invited. This isn’t necessarily the analog to accelerated minor-league camp. Most of the notables that weren’t can be categorized — been shut down (e.g. Nathan Karns, Alex Meyer), suffered in-season injury (e.g. Matt Swynenberg, Chris McKenzie), had surgery (e.g. Lucas Giolito, Sammy Solis), under witness protection (e.g. Manny Rodriguez, Matt Purke)*.

Take it for what it’s worth: The next wave of pitchers that the front office wants to spend some more time with before they’re dismissed for the winter.
*That’s a joke, folks

Auburn Collapses In Late Innings To Exit Playoffs

Five runs in the 7th and six in the 8th turned a 6-5 ballgame into a 16-7 Tri-City beatdown as Auburn lost Game Three of the New York-Penn League Semifinals and was eliminated 2-1 in the best-of-three series.

If there’s a single number that tells the story, it’s 14 — the number of walks issued by the Doubledays pitchers on the night. Seven of them would eventually score. The Auburn moundsmen would also give up 14 hits, six coming in the final two fateful frames.

Despite the eventual outcome, the Doubledays would take the lead three times, scoring two in the top of the 1st for a 2-0 lead, one in the 3rd for a 3-2 lead, and one in the seventh to take a 6-5 lead. Auburn actually outhit Tri-City 15-14, with every batter in the lineup getting a hit. Tony Renda led the charge with a 4-for-5 night, followed by Wander Ramos at 3-for-5, and Mike McQuillan went 2-for-5 with two doubles.

Six Auburn pitchers threw last night, with each of them issuing at least one walk, hit, and a run. Cody Davis, the only one to set down a batter on strikes, was charged with the loss, giving up four runs on two hits, a walk, and a hit batsman over two and 2/3rds innings.

The loss ends Auburn’s 2012 season while Tri-City advances to the NYPL Finals against Hudson Valley, which eliminated Brooklyn with 2-0 one-hitter.

Auburn Takes Tri-City To The Limit

Three first-inning runs would prove to be enough, but it never felt that way as the Auburn bullpen worked its way in and out of trouble in each of the last five innings in a 5-2 triumph over Tri-City, taking the New York Penn League Semifinal series to the limit of a deciding Game Three.

Travis Henke would get credit for the win by stranding the two runners he inherited with one out in the 5th inning, thanks in large part to a nifty double play turned by left-fielder Estarlin Martinez, but gave up a run in 6th on a walk and two singles. Robert Benincasa would follow with two high-wire innings, allowing a pair of one-out singles in the 7th before righting the ship with a popup and a flyout, then walking two in the 8th before getting another IF pop and a groundout. Derek Self seemed poised to stop the circus act before he, too, put on two with two outs before retiring Tri-City’s .320-hitting DH for the final out and the save.

Offensively, the Doubledays collected nine hits — same as the ValleyCats — but it was spread across just five hitters, of which just two were back-to-back in the lineup. Those two, Brandon Miller and Wander Ramos, would drive in four of the five runs and hit both Auburn doubles. Miller’s two-run two-bagger opened up the scoring in the 1st while Ramos’s keystone hit plated the final Doubleday run in the 8th. Miller, Ramos, Mike McQuillan, and Shawn Pleffner each hit safely twice.

Starter David Fischer walked four and gave up three hits over four and a 1/3rd innings for the no-decision.

Nick Lee (3-1, 3.77) is the announced Auburn starter for tonight’s deciding game, with Brian Holmes (7-2, 2.57) set to pitch for Tri-City. Both 21-year-olds last pitched a week ago. The winner of tonight’s contest will advance against the winner of the Hudson Valley-Brooklyn matchup tonight, a Game Three in that series forced by an 8-1 Renegade win over the Cyclones 98 miles down the road in West Fishkill.