Results tagged ‘ Dayan Diaz ’

Notebook: Clutch hitting

Saturday night’s game has been postponed due to rain, and will be made up in a doubleheader at Vermont, as the Lake Monsters do not return to “The Joe” this year. Tickets for tonight’s game can be exchanged for any remaining regular-season home game.

All season long, the ValleyCats have struggled to get clutch hits. The ‘Cats have watched opponents execute better in the late innings, suffering an unlucky 4-10 record in close games despite playing nearly even in blowouts. On Friday night, that all changed, led by one of the newest members of the team.

Rafael Valenzuela joined the ValleyCats in Jamestown on Tuesday, the first of three position players assigned to Tri-City this week. Friday marked his first game at Joe Bruno Stadium, and it was a good day to debut – a pleasant evening in front of a sellout crowd of 5,267 fans.

After several fruitless opportunities in the earlier innings, Valenzuela strode to the plate with two on in the eighth inning to face NYPL saves leader Tanner Peters. He swing at a 3-1 fastball and flicked a high line drive the opposite way, slicing into left-center for a clean double. Justin Gominsky scored and Valenzuela replaced him on second, listening to his first ovation from the hometown crowd.

“I was nervous,” Valenzuela said of playing at Joe Bruno Stadium for the first time. “All the guys were talking about how great the atmosphere is and how great the fans are, and I was just happy I was able to give them a big hit tonight.”

Valenzuela was tentatively expected to open the season in Troy after playing at Rookie League Greeneville last season, but he broke his hamate bone in June and missed the first month. The infielder played four games in the Gulf Coast league on a rehab assignment and was happy to get the call-up to Tri-City this week.

“I spent most of my time with these guys during Spring Training, so being back with my friends here was really nice,” he said.

Drew Muren was intentionally walked to load the bases and Chris Epps struck out, preserving the tie game for Ryan McCurdy. With two outs, McCurdy took a strike and then turned on a fastball, driving a hard grounder two feet to the fair side of the third-base bag for a two-run, game-winning hit.

Manager Stubby Clapp was happy to see his team come through in the clutch. “That’s huge,” he said. “It’s good timing, if it’s going to start now.”

Don’t overlook the work of center fielder Justin Gominsky, who led off the inning with a hard single that bounced off pitcher Drew Bailey. Gominsky also singled to open the sixth inning, staying with a tough curveball on an 0-2 count and driving it up the middle, but was stranded at third.

A scout was in the press box before the game during last week’s homestand when the Michael Bourn trade went down. The scout, who covered the Midwest and saw some of Gominsky in college, said he thought Bourn could be a close comparison for Gominsky’s ceiling – great arm, good speed, little power but a good hit tool.

Also, make sure not to overlook another ValleyCat with an even stronger arm: reliever Dayan Diaz. He came on for Juri Perez with a man on and no outs in the seventh inning, and completed it with this sequence: 94 mph fastball past Jordan Tripp; 94-mph fastball up the ladder chased by Xavier Mackliln; fastball on the inside corner to freeze Jacob Tanis.

He got another strikeout to open the eighth inning, allowed a single, induced a ground ball but got the wrong end of a bang-bang call on the back end of the double play and allowed a soft roller with eyes through the 3-4 hole, giving the Lake Monsters some life. But Diaz got two strikes and reached back for a 95-mph fastball, and Chad Lewis had no chance.

Diaz, despite working out of the bullpen, has now earned five victories, tied for the NYPL lead.

The ValleyCats pulled to within five games of the division-leading Lake Monsters, exactly where they were through 47 games last season. Though they have three teams to catch, the ‘Cats can still dream of a comeback.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that all four teams have played at about the same level this season. Although five games separate the top and bottom of the division, every team has a run differential within 12 runs of the others:

*Also of note: Auburn has a winning percentage 100 points lower than Staten Island does, but the Doubledays have a notably higher run differential. The Yankees are a ludicrous 15-3 in one-run games.

Though they have struggled to win close games this season, the ‘Cats hope that last night may have been a turning point.

“It’s important to get the ball rolling at home,” McCurdy said. “We’ve got a couple games here, then we go on the road for a couple and a big homestand. It’s always fun to play at home, and over the last month or so, we really have to get going.”

Meanwhile, Valenzuela says he wouldn’t mind a playoff push – after missing the first half of the season, he wants to be a part of as many games as possible.

“I would like to play a lot of baseball still,” he said. “I really want us to get hot and keep playing a lot of games.”

Kevin Whitaker

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.

Kevin Whitaker

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

Notebook: First W

Next time Stubby Clapp plays the lottery, he might want to consider choosing the numbers 6 and 18.

On June 18, 2011, Clapp earned his first win as a manager as the ValleyCats downed Vermont, 10-0. The victory came ten years to the day after another, even more memorable milestone: his MLB debut.

Clapp pinch-hit in the bottom of the eighth inning for the Cardinals against the Cubs, a game the Redbirds won 6-2.

“I struck out, and I remember walking back to the bench and not even touching the ground,” he said. “I was so excited to be there, it didn’t even matter what happened.”

(AUDIO: Clapp remembers major league debut)

Clapp also recalled that it was Father’s Day, and that he couldn’t find his dad (Stubby II) because, “he was putting a tile floor in my sister’s house and had the radio playing while they were working.”

Today, of course, is Father’s Day, and we appreciate all of our fathers and everyone else who has helped make their children’s lives better.

Saturday night’s lineup, surprisingly, featured only one change from the first game – on Opening Day weekend, teams usually shuffle their players so team scouts can get a look at everybody; across the field, Vermont’s lineup featured five new faces. Tri-City has a thin bench for this level – just four position players (and now three for tonight’s game*) – but I still expected some more turnover.

*Jacke Healey sprained his ankle while running out a close play at first in the third inning and collapsed on the grass behind first base for a few minutes. He walked off on his own and is said to be day-to-day, but is not on the active roster for tonight’s game.

That one change, of course, was a big one – Kellen Kiilsgaard was the designated hitter, playing his first professional game. Kiilsgaard struck out swinging in his first at-bat, but made up for it in his final three appearances, hitting a home run, a deep sacrifice fly and a double.

The home run – the first of what will likely be many this year at Joe Bruno Stadium, the best park for homers in the NY-Penn League – was a low line drive that got out of the park quickly, clearing the roughly 370-foot fence in right-center. His double was also well-hit, a hard liner into the right-field corner off a left-handed reliever.

Kiilsgaard was drafted in the 30th round of last year’s draft and did not play last summer while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He was asked about that after the game.

“I always looked at that and thought, ‘If I was healthy, I would have been drafted higher,’ so I just go out and try to prove that every day when I’m on the field,” he said.

The game really dragged through the early and middle innings; 2:55 for a 10-0 game is not unusual, but we were at about two hours and seven minutes through six full innings when the score was just 4-0. Vermont’s catchers come out to the mound frequently, and the first two pitchers for both teams worked somewhat slowly, giving plenty of looks and throws to runners on first base.

The hosts broke the game open in the seventh inning – thanks in no small part to former ValleyCat Jeiler Castillo, who did his best Randy Consuegra impression, walking three batters on 13 pitches, most of which were nowhere near the plate – on Matt Duffy’s three-run double, which was smoked to center field and two-hopped the wall. Hector Rodriguez, who entered the game for Healey, joined the fun with a stand-up triple that took two bounces to the wall in right-center an inning later.

The ‘Cats will run mostly the same team out there again tonight, making only one change from last night’s closing lineup: Ryan McCurdy will catch, with Miles Hamblin DH’ing and Justin Gominsky the odd man out. 5 p.m. start, listen live on tcvalleycats.com.

To the notebook:

-Jonas Dufek, on the early-season-college-rookie pitch count (he threw 51), looked solid in his first professional outing. The radar gun was back last night, and while I don’t know that it’s accurate, it generally aligned with scouting reports last season and did so again last night for Dufek, who sat 88-91. He showed a tight slider but went more frequently to his curve, fanning a left-handed hitter with one off the outside corner. Dufek only retired four batters on his own in the first while allowing two hits and two walks, benefitting from two baserunner kills (though he would have been out of the first earlier if not for an error), but he settled down after hitting a batter in the third to get a strong 1-2-3.

-The hardest thrower of the night was righty Dayan Diaz, who allowed just one hit in his three innings of work. Diaz sat 92-94, hit 95 on the stadium gun a couple times (including one on the outside corner to freeze Jacob Tanis in the fourth) and touched 96 once. He went to a slider for his secondary pitch, sending lefty Jeff Bercume down looking with a backdoor slider to end the fifth.

-Travis Smink walked none in three innings, throwing 22 strikes against just nine balls and facing the minimum, thanks to two double plays. But aside from Smink, the ‘Cats again struggled to find the zone at times – though they threw a shutout, the hosts actually walked more batters (five) than they struck out (four), hitting another. That makes 11 walks and four hit batsmen in two games, a long way from the control-freak 1-2 of Carlos Quevedo and Bobby Doran last year.

-Vermont starter Argenis Paez took the loss, but he did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground – he induced nine groundouts in 4.2 innings, all to the left side, and did not give up a single fly ball to the outfield. There were a few line drives, however, leading to five hits, and he only notched one strikeout.

-The Lake Monsters have been letting their starters go further than most NYPL teams do for their first appearance, at least that I’ve seen. Seth Frankoff threw 81 pitches on Friday and Paez reached 77 last night.

-For the second consecutive night, both teams were aggressive on the basepaths. The ‘Cats helped out Paez in the fourth and fifth, as Johnson and Rodriguez were caught stealing in a three-batter span, but Hinson, Muren and Gominsky were all successful on attempts. On the other side, Vermont again had success testing Miles Hamblin, swiping second twice (once on a delayed steal, the first time I’ve seen that play) and being caught only when a runner left early on a first-and-third pickoff play.

-Outfield defense: again solid. Gominsky ran down a couple balls in the gaps and Kiilsgaard moved well to cut off a line drive to his left. Gominsky threw out Bercume at the plate on a two-out single to end the second inning; the ball was in short center field and Gominsky didn’t release it fast, but the throw was on a line and perfectly on target to get the runner by a step.

-The infield defense was much-improved, as well; the ‘Cats committed two errors, but one was a pickoff throw that went straight through the webbing of Zach Johnson’s glove. Rodriguez looked very smooth at shortstop, showing nice footwork on a couple double-play turns.

-The ‘Cats executed a perfect hit-and-run in the sixth, when Johnson singled behind a running Hamblin.

-Vermont catcher Dan Pettiti did great work behind the plate, blocking numerous wild offerings from Castillo and others.

-Drew Muren had another terrific game, going 2-for-3 with two walks, two runs and another stolen base. Through two games, he has looked like the best baseball player on this team.

Here’s Travis Blankenship and Adam Champion signing autographs for young fans before the game. Check out last night’s post for more pictures.

Adam Champion and Travis Blankenship sign autographs

Kevin Whitaker

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.