Notebook: Quality starts

Despite a blowout loss last night, the ValleyCats’ home series against the league-leading Staten Island Yankees ended about as well as they could have expected: with two victories in three games. The biggest reason was starting pitching, as Jonas Dufek and Euris Quezada combined for 11.1 innings of one-run ball in the wins.

For Dufek, this was nothing new: with six scoreless innings on Saturday, the righty has not allowed a run in 20.1 frames, the last 18 of which have come in three wins at home. This most recent start was his best yet; in six innings against one of the league’s best offenses, Dufek allowed just two walks and two hits – both grounders, one of which stayed in the infield. In past starts, Dufek had been working in and out of frequent jams, but on Saturday he was just great.

In particular, Dufek worked out of the zone frequently, getting a lot of swings and misses. The Yankees rank near the bottom of the league in walk rate; Dufek said after the game that he knew they were going to be aggressive, and he exploited it well.

The more surprising start came from Euris Quezada 22 hours later. Up to that point, Quezada had not put together any particularly good outings; in his first five starts, he never recorded more than 12 outs and never allowed fewer than three runs.

But Quezada came out looking very sharp in the first inning on Sunday, and maintained that performance until hitting a bit of a wall with two outs in the sixth. Quezada had a tick more velocity than usual, up in the 91-93 range. But most of his damage was done with the slider, which probably accounted for more than half of his 62 pitches. The 83-84 mph offering, usually thrown over the inner half to righties, generated four or five of his strikeouts and allowed Quezada to retire 11 straight hitters during his second time through the order.

Quezada lowered his ERA nearly two runs to 7.04.

Some other notes from the weekend:

-John Hinson made a great play in the third inning of Saturday’s game, leaping to grab a high line drive and doubling off Jhorge Liccien by inches at first. He also turned a fantastic double play in the ninth inning on Monday, making a lightning-fast exchange to get Shane Brown by half a step at first.

-The ValleyCats’ outfield defense was on display again on Sunday. Neiko Johnson took a couple games to get readjusted to the outfield, but he made a great read to come in on a low line drive by Mason Williams. Three innings later, Justin Gominsky robbed Williams of an extra-base hit, flying all the way from the third-base side of center to the right-field gap to run down a high fly ball.

-Stubby Clapp put nine righties in the lineup against southpaw Evan DeLuca, who came in with the league’s fourth-best ERA. It worked out well, as the ‘Cats racked up 12 hits in the game, including five off DeLuca and two when the Yankees followed with a left-handed reliever.

-The Cats’ outburst on Sunday could have been even greater – they scored eight runs in eight innings despite having three runners caught stealing.

-Brandon Meredith has such sneaky speed. He absolutely flies from first to third, and then you look at him (6’2”, 225 lbs.) and you just think, how did he do that? He hit a gapper to right-center in the sixth inning of Sunday’s game and Stubby held up a stop sign as he headed towards second; Meredith never slowed down and slid into third without a throw for his third triple of the season.

-Though his final line was ugly, Dayan Diaz looked great on Monday. He retired the first six batters he faced in order, striking out four with even more electric stuff than usual. His fastball, usually at 95, ticked up to 96 a couple times and even hit 97 in a big spot, going up the ladder to strike out Mason Williams with the bases loaded in the sixth.

Diaz’s fastball isn’t just fast, it has some life too, most noticeably when it ran back to the inside corner to send the left-handed Williams down looking in the fourth. I wouldn’t worry too much about the rocky sixth inning; he’s thrown three innings without faltering before, and with a reliever’s frame and a reliever’s arsenal, he’s likely to have shorter and shorter outings as he climbs the professional ladder.

-Tip for any Yankees fans that read this: former first-round draft pick Cito Culver can’t hit from the left side. I’m far from the first person to say this, but his swing there is not pretty and the numbers have backed it up – he’s 19-for-113 (.168) from the left side in the NYPL in the last two years. Manager Stubby Clapp said after the game that he left a tiring Diaz in to face Culver in the sixth because he wanted to keep Culver on that side (which worked out okay for the Yankees, as Diaz issued a seven-pitch RBI walk). On the flip side, he can mash lefties (20-for-45), as Adam Champion found out when he gave up a double to the center-field wall in the first inning.

Division rival Connecticut is in town tonight and 11 a.m. tomorrow. Listen to the game live, as usual.

Kevin Whitaker

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