Pregame Meal: Saturday, August 18th

By Matt Appel (@mattappel)

May the force be with you, ‘Cats fans! It’s my favorite night of the year: Star Wars Night! I’ll spare you the embarrassing amount I know about Star Wars by saying I’m very excited, and it’s typically a promotion the fans get really into. As for the team, they’ll face the Staten Island Yankees in the first of three here tonight. These teams head into this series with completely different outlooks on 2012. The ValleyCats are the presumable favorites to go all the way, and are virtual locks for the playoffs. The Yankees, on the other hand, can’t get this season over with soon enough. Staten Island is a New York-Penn League-worst 17-39, and would be 24.5 games behind Tri-City if the two played in the same division. The ‘Cats will try to get back to their winning ways after dropping last night’s walk-riddled affair 12-4 to the Cyclones.

-It’s behind the team at this point, as it should be, but the 9th inning of last night’s game was just about as bad an inning as this team has had this year. And I think that says a lot. Last night’s 9th was one of the very few, and I mean very few times, that this team has really struggled to get outs. The fact that Travis Ballew, a reliever with typically impeccable control, walked two batters and hit two others is an indication to chalk that frame up to a fluke. We’ve all been spoiled by the way this team has played so far, and it can be tough to remember that sometimes teams don’t look perfect.

-I don’t think there is one player on this team that routinely takes advantage of the coaching advice around him like M.P. Cokinos does. Almost every round of batting practice, M.P. is either talking to hitting coach Mark Bailey, or whatever Astros instructor is currently with the team. When Astros rover Ty Van Burkleo was here a few weeks, he was really trying to get M.P. to stay in with his front side more, and it immediately paid off, as Cokinos has been pretty hot ever since, and his power has picked up.

-Astros Minor League Coordinator Paul Runge is in Tri-City this week working with the players. Today during BP, Runge was very vocal during the third round, which consists of Jarrod McKinney, Dan Gulbransen, Emilio King, Catfish Elkins, and Preston Tucker. Runge made sure every player got down a bunt that would, as he put it, be “good in the 7th game of the World Series.” He also had Catfish bunt two or three times every round, to stress to the second basemen that his ability to bunt for a hit is something he needs to utilize more. It was great seeing Runge interact with the players by being tough on them, but also encouraging them on what they need to do to be the best ballplayer they can be.

-Not really a ton of long balls in batting practice today, but by far the best of them was an opposite field shot Emilio King hit during his final round. Emilio tends to go to right field a lot in the cage, and he got one up that just kept on going until it disappeared over the Valvoline sign in right-center. On the very next pitch, Emilio hit a very similar ball that hit off the very top of the wall.

-Aaron “0 ER” West goes tonight for the ‘Cats. The former Washington Huskie has been the best pitcher in all of the NYPL this year, and has gone at least 6 inning in five straight starts. West doesn’t walk any batters, and doesn’t really give up any hits, which as far as I’m concerned, is a pretty good combo. In his 50 innings, West has allowed just 5 earned runs (!!!!), and also has issued just 5 free passes. He’s been amazing, and I think just about everyone knows that by now. But what you might not now, is that Aaron is also a sensational ping-pong player. He and Preston Tucker had a great rally during a game in the clubhouse around 1pm today, and West, without fail, returned the best Tucker had to offer. From what I can gather, West and Juri Perez are the two best players on the team.

-Batting Practice Hero: This might be the most unconventional BPH we have the rest of the year. Today’s award goes to Catfish Elkins, for not hitting home runs, but laying down some of the greatest BP bunts I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying players don’t taking bunting in BP seriously, but it’s typically not their main focus, which is understandable. With Paul Runge behind the cage today, however, the pressure was on. When Catfish got in the cage, Runge yelled, “two down the third base line, one down the first. Go.” Elkins preceded to execute the bunts to perfection, and garner a compliment from Runge, which doesn’t appear to be easy to do. Catfish continued to lay down beauties throughout his round, and for that, the ‘Cats second basement gets today’s nod.

Today’s Lineup:

Sclafani SS

Batista DH

Tucker RF

Wierzbicki 1B

Heineman C

Elkins 2B

Dineen 3B

Gulbransen LF

King CF

West RHP

Do or do not. There is no try.”

-Yoda, Jedi Master

Christian Moronta, who had two hits in his team debut last night, taking some extra swings before batting practice Saturday.

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