Notebook: First W

Next time Stubby Clapp plays the lottery, he might want to consider choosing the numbers 6 and 18.

On June 18, 2011, Clapp earned his first win as a manager as the ValleyCats downed Vermont, 10-0. The victory came ten years to the day after another, even more memorable milestone: his MLB debut.

Clapp pinch-hit in the bottom of the eighth inning for the Cardinals against the Cubs, a game the Redbirds won 6-2.

“I struck out, and I remember walking back to the bench and not even touching the ground,” he said. “I was so excited to be there, it didn’t even matter what happened.”

(AUDIO: Clapp remembers major league debut)

Clapp also recalled that it was Father’s Day, and that he couldn’t find his dad (Stubby II) because, “he was putting a tile floor in my sister’s house and had the radio playing while they were working.”

Today, of course, is Father’s Day, and we appreciate all of our fathers and everyone else who has helped make their children’s lives better.

Saturday night’s lineup, surprisingly, featured only one change from the first game – on Opening Day weekend, teams usually shuffle their players so team scouts can get a look at everybody; across the field, Vermont’s lineup featured five new faces. Tri-City has a thin bench for this level – just four position players (and now three for tonight’s game*) – but I still expected some more turnover.

*Jacke Healey sprained his ankle while running out a close play at first in the third inning and collapsed on the grass behind first base for a few minutes. He walked off on his own and is said to be day-to-day, but is not on the active roster for tonight’s game.

That one change, of course, was a big one – Kellen Kiilsgaard was the designated hitter, playing his first professional game. Kiilsgaard struck out swinging in his first at-bat, but made up for it in his final three appearances, hitting a home run, a deep sacrifice fly and a double.

The home run – the first of what will likely be many this year at Joe Bruno Stadium, the best park for homers in the NY-Penn League – was a low line drive that got out of the park quickly, clearing the roughly 370-foot fence in right-center. His double was also well-hit, a hard liner into the right-field corner off a left-handed reliever.

Kiilsgaard was drafted in the 30th round of last year’s draft and did not play last summer while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He was asked about that after the game.

“I always looked at that and thought, ‘If I was healthy, I would have been drafted higher,’ so I just go out and try to prove that every day when I’m on the field,” he said.

The game really dragged through the early and middle innings; 2:55 for a 10-0 game is not unusual, but we were at about two hours and seven minutes through six full innings when the score was just 4-0. Vermont’s catchers come out to the mound frequently, and the first two pitchers for both teams worked somewhat slowly, giving plenty of looks and throws to runners on first base.

The hosts broke the game open in the seventh inning – thanks in no small part to former ValleyCat Jeiler Castillo, who did his best Randy Consuegra impression, walking three batters on 13 pitches, most of which were nowhere near the plate – on Matt Duffy’s three-run double, which was smoked to center field and two-hopped the wall. Hector Rodriguez, who entered the game for Healey, joined the fun with a stand-up triple that took two bounces to the wall in right-center an inning later.

The ‘Cats will run mostly the same team out there again tonight, making only one change from last night’s closing lineup: Ryan McCurdy will catch, with Miles Hamblin DH’ing and Justin Gominsky the odd man out. 5 p.m. start, listen live on tcvalleycats.com.

To the notebook:

-Jonas Dufek, on the early-season-college-rookie pitch count (he threw 51), looked solid in his first professional outing. The radar gun was back last night, and while I don’t know that it’s accurate, it generally aligned with scouting reports last season and did so again last night for Dufek, who sat 88-91. He showed a tight slider but went more frequently to his curve, fanning a left-handed hitter with one off the outside corner. Dufek only retired four batters on his own in the first while allowing two hits and two walks, benefitting from two baserunner kills (though he would have been out of the first earlier if not for an error), but he settled down after hitting a batter in the third to get a strong 1-2-3.

-The hardest thrower of the night was righty Dayan Diaz, who allowed just one hit in his three innings of work. Diaz sat 92-94, hit 95 on the stadium gun a couple times (including one on the outside corner to freeze Jacob Tanis in the fourth) and touched 96 once. He went to a slider for his secondary pitch, sending lefty Jeff Bercume down looking with a backdoor slider to end the fifth.

-Travis Smink walked none in three innings, throwing 22 strikes against just nine balls and facing the minimum, thanks to two double plays. But aside from Smink, the ‘Cats again struggled to find the zone at times – though they threw a shutout, the hosts actually walked more batters (five) than they struck out (four), hitting another. That makes 11 walks and four hit batsmen in two games, a long way from the control-freak 1-2 of Carlos Quevedo and Bobby Doran last year.

-Vermont starter Argenis Paez took the loss, but he did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground – he induced nine groundouts in 4.2 innings, all to the left side, and did not give up a single fly ball to the outfield. There were a few line drives, however, leading to five hits, and he only notched one strikeout.

-The Lake Monsters have been letting their starters go further than most NYPL teams do for their first appearance, at least that I’ve seen. Seth Frankoff threw 81 pitches on Friday and Paez reached 77 last night.

-For the second consecutive night, both teams were aggressive on the basepaths. The ‘Cats helped out Paez in the fourth and fifth, as Johnson and Rodriguez were caught stealing in a three-batter span, but Hinson, Muren and Gominsky were all successful on attempts. On the other side, Vermont again had success testing Miles Hamblin, swiping second twice (once on a delayed steal, the first time I’ve seen that play) and being caught only when a runner left early on a first-and-third pickoff play.

-Outfield defense: again solid. Gominsky ran down a couple balls in the gaps and Kiilsgaard moved well to cut off a line drive to his left. Gominsky threw out Bercume at the plate on a two-out single to end the second inning; the ball was in short center field and Gominsky didn’t release it fast, but the throw was on a line and perfectly on target to get the runner by a step.

-The infield defense was much-improved, as well; the ‘Cats committed two errors, but one was a pickoff throw that went straight through the webbing of Zach Johnson’s glove. Rodriguez looked very smooth at shortstop, showing nice footwork on a couple double-play turns.

-The ‘Cats executed a perfect hit-and-run in the sixth, when Johnson singled behind a running Hamblin.

-Vermont catcher Dan Pettiti did great work behind the plate, blocking numerous wild offerings from Castillo and others.

-Drew Muren had another terrific game, going 2-for-3 with two walks, two runs and another stolen base. Through two games, he has looked like the best baseball player on this team.

Here’s Travis Blankenship and Adam Champion signing autographs for young fans before the game. Check out last night’s post for more pictures.

Adam Champion and Travis Blankenship sign autographs

Kevin Whitaker

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