Notebook: Busting slumps
Entering last night, the ValleyCats had scored eight runs in their last five games. Five games, spanning 135 outs. On Thursday, they matched that total with only one out, as the first eight runners reached base and scored.
Entering last night, it had been more than a week since a ValleyCat drove in a teammate with a base hit. On Thursday, three ‘Cats did so in the first inning, and Matt Duffy did it again with one out in the second.
So, what happened? Why the offense?
Beyond the usual explanations of baseball being a funny game, you can look to the opposing starter for some clues. Stetson Allie entered the season as arguably the best major-league prospect in the NYPL, but he hasn’t shown it this year. The righty, who has thrown 100 mph in the past, was only around 91-93 last night, reportedly in line with his other outings this season.
Allie paired his diminished stuff with horrible command, not a good combination for a pitcher. After he got ahead 0-2 on John Hinson, Allie threw only six of his final 19 pitches for strikes, allowing a clean double to Hinson on a full count and eventually hitting consecutive batters with the bases loaded. With the ‘Cats up 2-1 and the bases loaded, Allie left the game without an out to his credit.
Manager Stubby Clapp said after the game that Allie’s wildness helped the hosts’ hitters beyond the results in the box score.
“He wasn’t really around the zone, and it gave our guys a chance to settle in and see some pitches before they needed to hit,” he said. “When pitchers attack the zone real quick, it puts the guys in swing mode, and sometimes they’re not swinging at good pitches.”
A lineup that has struggled to bring teammates home this season had no such trouble in that first inning, as the bottom of the order greeted Vince Payne with four consecutive singles. Duffy, a first-pitch line drive into left to plate two; Drew Muren, a perfectly-placed bunt single dropped down the line; Kellen Kiilsgaard, a clean line drive into left field that scored two, his first hit in nearly two weeks; and Neiko Johnson, a soft flare off the end of his bat that found green behind the first baseman, scoring Muren. Hinson, batting a second time, capped the rally with a sacrifice fly, the first of 24 outs that the Spikes needed.
Duffy floated a double into the right-field corner with one out in the second inning, scoring Brandon Meredith all the way from first with the Cats’ ninth and final run.
Will this break the ‘Cats out of their slump? Stubby wasn’t sure. “We’ll find out tomorrow,” he said. “One day’s good; let’s see if we can get it two days in a row.”
Some other notes:
-Neiko Johnson was 2-for-4 with a stolen base – he’s 11-for-13 in that department, incidentally, the only ValleyCat to steal many bases at a high rate – but may have been more impressive in the field. Playing shortstop for the first time in three weeks, Johnson was not only errorless in five chances, he made two highlight-reel plays. With two on and nobody out in the second inning, Kirk Singer hit a hard smash up the middle; Johnson dove to his left, snared the ball and flipped with his glove to Hinson, a spectacular force that nearly became a double play (pictured below). He went to the dirt for another ball to his left in the sixth inning, helping Travis Smink get out of a jam.
“It was a pretty tough play…it kind of skidded off the mound,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think I was going to get there, but I did, and I just made a good flip to Hinson.”
Johnson is penciled back into the lineup at shortstop tonight. Jacke Healey had a Web Gem on Wednesday, getting a good jump on a grounder up the middle, diving to his left and adjusting to a rough hop on the fly before throwing the runner out at first.
-Jonas Dufek had another sharp outing on Wednesday, getting hung with a tough loss. He struck out a season-high five batters, throwing his curveball more often than usual to go with his usually sharp two-seamer. Both runs came in the second inning on a walk, two seeing-eye grounders and a wild pitch.
-Dayan Diaz was electric as always on Thursday, picking up Quezada in the second inning and pitching into the sixth. He was 93-94 with his fastball, blowing it by several hitters and getting a couple of his seven strikeouts with the occasional secondary pitch. Diaz is now tied for second in the league with four wins and has fanned 37 batters in 26 innings, the third-best K rate among relievers.
We hope to be back at it tonight for the rubber match; the forecast is not ideal but the tarp is off now and there’s a spot of sunlight. As always, listen live on tcvalleycats.com and follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the game.