Pregame Meal: Sunday, August 5th

By Matt Appel (@mattappel)

The ValleyCats will aim to clinch yet another series win Sunday night with a victory of Mahoning Valley. Rain might have something to say about that, but as of right now, the plan to is play this ballgame, which is scheduled for a 5pm start. It’s Community Heroes night at “The Joe”, and in honor of that, players’ head shots on the scoreboard in left will be super-hero themed. Holy promotion, Batman!

-Hitters did not take BP before today’s game, but in what is becoming a Sunday home game tradition, the pitchers took some rips in the cage. The hurlers are divided into two teams: starters and relievers. Once the ball is put in play, it is up to Stubby Clapp, who is throwing the pitches, to decide if they contact would, in a real game situation, get down for a hit. The worst place for one of the pitchers to hit the ball is anywhere near center, because Stubby will typically say that Andrew Aplin would have ran it down. The starters hung on for a tough-earned 5-4 win over the relievers in today’s action. The highlight of the game was pitching coach Rick Aponte pinch-hitting and laying down a beautiful sac bunt. In warm-ups, Brady Rodgers went yard.

-There are some ‘Cats pitchers that actually have pretty-good looking swings. Vince Velasquez leads that group and the last time these two sides matched up, the righty hit 3 doubles. He is also the only one of the bunch that can switch-hit. For every Velasquez, there is a Juan Minaya, who by the way he swings, probably hasn’t hit in quite a long time. Probably a good call by Juan to decide to pursue the pitching route.

-While he was getting ready to hit, Jamaine Cotton approached me with a bit of an issue. Cotton, who pitched 2.1 spotless innings of relief last night, was a little upset that he didn’t get a mention on Twitter last night for his valiant effort. My apologies, Jamaine. Cotton has really excelled out the pen this year, with an ERA of 1.19 in 15 appearances.

-Huge night last night for the ValleyCats, as their three home runs powered their 8-3 win. The three bombs, including back to back shots by M.P. Cokinos and Dan Gulbransen, gave the ‘Cats the outright NYPL lead with 26 home runs. That’s really surprising to me, because when I think of the team offensively, I think of aggressive base running and timely hitting. The ValleyCats now lead the league in home runs, stolen bases, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. It’s not hard to see why they are 33-13.

-I was so impressed with Neiko Johnson’s performance last night. Johnson, who doesn’t start more than twice a week at the most, made the most of a great opportunity to play second, his natural position. Neiko went 3-for-3, his first home run of 2012, and stole two bases as well. Stubby Clapp added after the game that he’s stuck with a pretty good problem right now: not enough spots in the lineup to play everyone who’s hitting. Neiko’s forced his way into tonight’s lineup, and how could he not after the way he played last night?

-Another good start for Lance Day Saturday night. Day improved to 3-0 in 4 starts for the team. With Day winning last night, the current 6 ValleyCat starters are a combined 23-6. Once again, not hard to see why they have been the best team in the league pretty much since the get-go.

-Joe Bircher starts tonight for the ‘Cats. The lefty only has one win this year, but as received two or three no decisions in games that he pitched well enough to win. He enters the game with a 3.86 ERA, the highest of any ‘Cats starter, but still respectable. He will oppose Luis Morel, who has bounced around between the staring rotation and ‘pen this year for the Scrappers.

-Batting Practice Hero: Today’s unconventional BPH award will go to Brady Rodgers, who not only went yard in the warmups, also added a key RBI single for the starters. Brady can hit, as this is his second impressive “Pitchers BP” performance. The former Sun Devil apparently can do no wrong.

Tonight’s Lineup:

Sclafani SS

Johnson CF

Elkins 2B

Wierzbick 1B

Heineman DH

Tucker RF

Dineen 3B

Morales C

Gulbransen LF

Bircher LHP

ValleyCats righty Lance Day during Pitcher’s Batting Practice Sunday

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