Pregame Meal-Road Edition: Thursday, June 20th

By Matt Appel (@mattappel)

Good late afternoon/early evening ValleyCats fans! The team is currently getting ready to play the first of a six-game homestand that will begin in Lowell and end in Connecticut. While I’m not on the road with the team for this trip, there is certainly a lot to recap from the recently-completed sweep at home of the Vermont Lake Monsters. For those interested in following along with the live stream of tonight’s road contest versus the Spinners, go to the MiLB Gameday Audio page and click on the Lowell Spinners. First pitch is at 7:05 pm

-The 3-0 start for Tri-City is the first since 2005. Even last year, which ended with a franchise-record 51 wins, began for the ‘Cats with a 1-2 mark. Ed Romero said in his post-game remarks that the key so far has been aggressiveness at the plate, clutch hittng, solid defense and good pitching. Interestingly enough, this hot start is the first time the ‘Cats is actually the first time they’ve began the season perfect more than one game into the schedule since 2005 as well. Remember folks, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

-My suspicion before Opening Night was that the offense would wind up leading this team in 2013, and three games through the 76-game season, I’m looking pretty good with that prediction. The ValleyCats right now lead the New York-Penn League with 26 runs scored, 4 home runs, and a solid .330 batting average. The key in each game for Tri-City versus Vermont was the multi-run inning. The ‘Cats had three multi-run innings in all three games, nine in total, which resulted in them trailing for only half an inning the entire series. Granted it’s an extremely small sample size (small enough that it’s almost not even worth it to mention), but after three games, there are nine players for the team hitting at least .385. Snapshot or not, there are a lot of hitters that look like they’re starting the year hot. While the team’s numbers with RISP weren’t fantastic (.244 during the sweep), the offense struck quickly and often. It also helped that Vermont couldn’t catch the ball the whole series. Highlighted by some really crucial mishaps in the Tuesday night 9-6 ValleyCat win, the Lake Monsters showed an inability to hit, field, or pitch when needed to, a combination that isn’t exactly conducive to winning a lot of games.

-While the offense led the way, the pitching more than held it’s own during the homestand. Outside of a Vermont 4-run 8th inning on Tuesday that turned a laugher into a save situation, the ‘Cats pitching held Vermont to just 7 runs in the remaining 26 innings, which comes out to a 2.42 ERA. All three starters, Evan Grills, Tanner Bushue, and Michael Feliz, went at least 4 innings with no more than 2 runs allowed. The other halves of the duo starting rotation, Kevin Comer, Adrian Houser, and Andrew Walter, all flashed solid potential, save Houser’s rough 8th on Tuesday night. Feliz, out of all these hurlers, was the strongest, and really surprised me. In only five innings, the Dominican righty notched nine K’s, and certainly had more gas in the tank, but per Houston pitch count limits, was taken out. For the time being, the team has a lights-out closer in Chia-Jen Lo, who is currently on a rehab stint with Tri-City. His ninth inning on Tuesday was a thing of beauty, and frankly, one of the better innings of relief you will see a pitcher throw at this level all year. Lo’s talent has already fooled hitters at higher levels in his career, so that was no surprise.

-Highlight of the homestand was probably Christian Garcia’s appearance in the 9th inning of Wednesday night’s victory. The 2009 graduate of Spa Catholic, the Gansevoort, NY native was the 29th round selection of the Astros in 2012, and was assigned to Tri-City to begin this year. With the local media dying to see Garcia throw before the team began its road trip, Ed Romero gave Garcia the ball to close out the 8-2 lead for the ‘Cats, and the righty did just that, striking out Lake Monsters 2B Chris Wolfe to end it. Garcia received a nice hand from what was a super-home crowd for him during his post-game on-field interview with ValleyCats Media Relations Manager, Chris Chenes.

-It was on the road in 2012 that the ValleyCats played their best baseball, but to expect the same level of play away from The Joe two years in a row might be a bit much. Most teams in the NYPL struggle mightily away from their home stadiums, for whatever reason. The fact that the 2012 Tri-City squad didn’t lose a game on the road for the span of a month last year was super rare for a team comprised mostly of guys just a few months away from college. To see the ’13 ValleyCats come anywhere close to that club record would mean great things potentially on the horizon for this Ed Romero-led roster.

-One day later, and not much of an update on Mark Appel Watch 2013, which is closer than you may think to being the new name for this blog. For those who may have missed it, at his press conference in Houston yesterday, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said that he would like to see Appel begin his pro career with a stop here in Tri-City. While that is certainly not an official confirmation (so no, we do not have an estimate of a date), all signs appear to be pointing in the direction of Appel in Troy sometime within the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned for more, as we will pass along any possible information we receive when we get it.

-The rotation for the Lowell series is as follows: RHP Edison Frias tonight, LHP Randall Fant tomorrow night, and then the piggybacking duo of Kevin Comer and Evan Grills on Saturday

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