Results tagged ‘ Drew Muren ’

Notebook: Weird baseball

If you quickly saw the final score of yesterday’s game, and saw that Connecticut won 15-9, you might assume that there wasn’t a whole lot of drama. And boy, you would be wrong. Let’s try to make some sense of what happened…

-Even as of the third inning, this was a pretty remarkable game. The ValleyCats, breaking a recent trend, jumped out to a first-inning lead and kept hitting the ball well, eventually racking up 10 hits in their first two times through the order. Jacke Healey, who came into the game with two hits in 45 at-bats, matched that total in the first three innings with a homer and a double in his first two times up. But the ‘Cats scored only five runs, leaving the maximum six in scoring position (seven total).

Also in the third inning, Bubby Williams did this to our press box window:

Allow me to describe what we were thinking: “Oh, hey, he fouled that ball right towards us.” *thud* “Oh, wow, that hit the window.” [one second passes] “Oh, crap, the window’s falling.” The ball didn’t shatter the window – it bounced back onto the concourse – but it did dislodge it from the frame, sending the pane down right above my usual seat. I was standing on the other side of the room at the time – marking down a pitching change on the whiteboard (see later), because Connecticut went to the bullpen after only two innings – or else it would have come down right on my head.

This could not have happened on any other day. During games, we always open the press box windows to get a better feel for the sounds on the field. If the window had been open, the pane would have been blocked and could not have fallen into the press box. But because yesterday’s start was during the middle of the day, and because it was a sweltering 96 degrees outside, we kept the windows closed to preserve a bit of cool air in the press box. And of course, it was the one day a foul ball came up.

-That might not have even been the weirdest play of the game. In the sixth inning, some poor ValleyCats baserunning turned a single into a 4-5-2-6-5-2-1 double play – and the pitcher made both putouts.

With Matt Duffy on second base, John Hinson hit a grounder well to the second baseman’s left. Colin Kaline (yes, the grandson of the famous one) gloved the ball but could not get it out in time to retire Hinson at first. But Duffy took a very wide turn at third base and then lost his footing a bit; Kaline threw over to third and the runner was hung up.

Duffy – not the most nimble runner on the ValleyCats – stayed alive long enough to force five throws as Hinson rounded the bases. Pitcher Rayni Guichardo eventually tagged Duffy out going back to third, looked up and saw John Hinson about 30 feet from the bag, trying to advance during the rundown. Guichardo never broke stride, ran over and tagged out Hinson for a double play that I am sure I’ll never see again.

-Compared to that play, the fact that the ‘Cats ran themselves out of the 11th inning with a 1-3-2-5 caught stealing was trivial. A two-out rally put men on the corners, with the game-winning run on third, but submarine righty Daniel Bennett used a third-to-first move to pick off the runner at first and start the wild play. Making things even more interesting, both runners were Johnsons (Neiko at third, Zach at first).

-There was a sellout crowd of 4,686 fans on Wednesday – quite an attendance, given the 11 a.m. start. But the vast majority of the fans were camp groups on a fixed schedule, which had to leave by the time the game went to extra innings. The oppressive heat, as high as 96 degrees, understandably drove some other fans away, so by the time the 12th inning rolled around, there were only a handful of spectators in the park. Jeff Holm – who did not start and only entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 11th inning as part of a double-switch – naturally took the first strike he saw well over the left-field fence, giving the Tigers their first runs in five innings and a 9-7 lead.

Matt Duffy and Brandon Meredith reached base to lead off the Cats’ half of the inning, but after two quick outs, it looked like the game would finally end. Drew Muren worked a 2-2 count and fouled two pitches off. With absolutely no energy in the ballpark – it felt more like the late innings of a blowout amateur game – Muren capped a four-hit night with a line drive double to right field, tying the game.

-And, of course, the final score looked more like a blowout, as Kristian Bueno allowed four walks, three hits and a grand slam in a six-run, 44-pitch 13th inning.

-The game took a total of four hours and 40 minutes, which we believe is a ValleyCats franchise record. It was the longest game played in the New York-Penn League in more than a year, going back to a 4:48 15-inning Williamsport-Vermont contest on July 6, 2010.

-Entering the game, the Tigers and ‘Cats ranked 11th and 13th in the league, respectively, in batting average. So naturally, they each racked up 19 hits on Wednesday. (Connecticut jumped over five teams with yesterday’s outburst.) It was a season high for both teams, and the most for the ValleyCats since reaching 20 in a 17-9 victory over Hudson Valley on 7/31/08. And I probably don’t have to tell you that it was the most hits ever for the ‘Cats in a loss.

-Miles Hamblin, a left-handed hitter, pinch-hit in the 12th for Kellen Kiilsgaard, a left-handed hitter who pinch-hit for designated hitter Hector Rodriguez in the ninth. If you’re counting, that’s three players who occupied the DH slot.

-Through nine innings, the ValleyCats drew three walks. All three were earned by Neiko Johnson. Johnson, who added two singles in the game, only batted leadoff because Justin Gominsky was scratched about a half-hour before game time. His walk rate is through the roof – 17 BBs in 88 plate appearances – and if you look at his college numbers from Kentucky, this is no fluke.

-Meanwhile, the ‘Cats issued 11 walks of their own, blowing by their previous season high of eight. Tri-City entered the game allowing just 3.46 walks per nine innings, the fourth-best rate in the league. 10 percent of the ValleyCats’ walks so far this season came last night.

-The ValleyCats sent 65 hitters to the plate, Connecticut 69.

-Today was the first time in more than four years that the ValleyCats allowed 15 runs in a game (7/16/07 at Mahoning Valley).

-Williams had four singles and reached scoring position three times, but he never scored. The ‘Cats stranded 17 runners for the game – 12 in scoring position – and had three others killed on the bases. (Connecticut left 15 on base.)

“Too many walks and not enough clutch hitting. That’s what lost it for us,” Muren said.

And the best part is: after playing nearly eight hours of baseball in a 21-hour span, the ‘Cats and Tigers get to do it all again, traveling to Norwich for a doubleheader today before finishing the season series on Friday.

Still, they may be playing for less time in today’s doubleheader than they did in a single game yesterday. Williams, who caught all 13 innings and 253 pitches for the ValleyCats, said that he lost seven pounds of water weight during the game.

“It was warm back there behind the plate. A couple of those innings got long,” Williams said. “But I guess I’m just used to it…I live in Kansas City, and in August, it’s 110 degrees all the time there.”

“There’s worse places [to play], trust me,” Muren said. “Down in Florida…I’ve heard nothing but horrors from down there. You drink a lot of water and Gatorade, and you’ll be fine.”

Both bullpens will be taxed during tonight’s twin bill. The two sides used a combined 13 pitchers on Wednesday, adding to seven lineup changes that created a complicated scorecard:

A couple other notes from the series:

-One of the most interesting revelations of the first 31 games is Brandon Meredith’s speed. He doesn’t look like a fast guy – 6-2, 225 lbs. is not a sprinter’s frame – but he covers the gaps really well and can turn it on from first to third. Meredith tripled again on Tuesday (his fourth of the season, tied for third in the league) and scored from first on Muren’s double last night.

Meredith said he’s aware that people don’t peg him as a speedster. “I love it. That’s why I always go for triples,” he said. “When it’s in the gap, I’m going for three for sure.”

-Ryan McCurdy was hit by a pitch on consecutive at-bats on Tuesday. If that were to happen to anybody, of course it would be McCurdy, who was pegged three times in 27 plate appearances in 2010.

Two games in Connecticut tonight, starting at 6:05 p.m. Listen to Erik and Matt on the broadcast on tcvalleycats.com, with a chance of hearing Erik descend into madness if one goes deep into extra innings.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Right (field) place, right time

You know the Little League cliché: the worst player gets sent to right field. From Lucy Van Pelt to Timmy Lupus, right field has been memorialized as the least-important position, the place for the hopeless goofball.

Well, right field was pretty important at Joe Bruno Stadium on Sunday evening, as it was the site of the five biggest plays in Connecticut’s 3-1 win.

It started with a couple near-homers in the middle innings. Miles Hamblin – facing lefty Matt Crouse, his teammate at Ole Miss just one month earlier – drove a fastball well over the right-field wall, landing it near the tennis courts more than 400 feet away. But it was ruled just foul – the ball crossed the foul pole too high to get a clear look from an angle – and Hamblin eventually went down swinging.

The very next batter was Connecticut third baseman Jason King, a fourth-round draft pick this year who showed some power in batting practice. He drove a line drive hard the opposite way, sending Drew Muren back to the wall … and leaping … and making the catch above the wall, taking a home run away from King. I thought initially that it might be one of those catches where the fielder jumps and catches the ball five feet from the fence, and his momentum carries him over – which describes about half of the “home run robbing” highlights that you see on Top 10 – but I asked Drew about it after the game, and he said it would have been gone.

But in the ninth inning, the Tigers hit two blasts that Muren could do nothing about. King led off the inning with another opposite-field blast that reached the visitors’ bullpen – snapping a streak of ten consecutive outs for Connecticut, and 20 of 21 – and Zach Maggard followed with a no-doubter to right-center, also an opposite-field homer.

Zach Johnson gave the right-field corner a fitting farewell with a two-out RBI double in the bottom half of the ninth, plating the Cats’ only run.

Notebook:

-Kyle Hallock gave up four hits in six innings, two of which were infield singles that leadoff hitter Chad Wright barely beat out. He had success early pitching with his slow stuff and then got everything going by the third inning, getting four or five of his six strikeouts with offspeed pitches against his 87-89 mph fastball. John Sickels of Minor League Ball had a brief writeup of Hallock this morning, which you should check out.

-I’ve seen a startling number of good changeups this season. Hallock told me before the season that his changeup was his out pitch (though not without some thought) and Juri Perez has a very good slowball, and we’ll get our first look at Nick Tropeano tonight, who Baseball America said might have had the best changeup among draft-eligible college players in the nation. A couple opponents have shown nice changeups as well, including Crouse last night.

-The most interesting moment of last night’s game: Ebert Rosario coming in with one on and two out in the ninth, throwing his warmup pitches, only to leave the mound with a smile before throwing a pitch. The story: Rosario had been suffering from strep throat for the previous couple of days, so he didn’t suit up for the games and wasn’t on the lineup card … and last night, manager Stubby Clapp forgot to add him back in, so he was ineligible to play. The mistake became unfortunate when Garrett Bullock, pitching without the platoon advantage, allowed Maggard’s two-run homer on the second pitch.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Hit parade

Manager Stubby Clapp, on last night’s victory:

“It’d be nice to put up 14 hits every day. We’d win a lot of ballgames.”

Of course, 14 hits don’t quite guarantee a victory, as the Lowell Spinners found out last night. The visitors matched the Cats’ hit total but committed four errors, including three in a costly fifth inning, as the ValleyCats jumped above .500 for the first time with a 12-8 victory.

I thought Zach Johnson summed up the crazy game pretty well in his first response after the game, saying, “We got down early, came back, got back down, came back and then we pushed through at the end with some extra runs … it was a good win.”

Both teams hit 14-for-39, a .359 clip, despite what looked like a very wide strike zone. Between well-hit line drives, soft shots that found holes and bad plays, lots of runners reached base – neither defense converted even half of the balls in play into outs (Tri-City was 13/28, Lowell 15/32).

We’ll likely be playing in similar conditions tonight. Rain fell heavily about an hour before the game and will slightly delay the start, and there is a small front of light storms that is scheduled to pass through during the game. As a getaway day for Lowell, the visitors probably hope for more outs and a quicker game than last night’s season-long 2:59.

A few more thoughts:

-Who leads the NYPL in runs scored right now? I posed this question to Erik and Dave this morning, and even after they figured out that it was a ValleyCat, it still took six or seven guesses for them to correctly identify Brandon Meredith. I was shocked when I saw him atop the leaderboard, but his eight runs are best in the league. He’s only hitting .227 and has usually been in the lower half of the lineup, but he’s drawn seven hits in as many games and the ‘Cats have been productive behind him.

-Starter Jonas Dufek just didn’t have a good night. He wasn’t wild, not walking anyone until the final batter and going to three balls only once (in a ten-pitch at-bat), but his secondary stuff wasn’t particularly sharp and he missed a couple spots. Balls in the air will eventually kill you in this park, especially when the wind blows out – though there wasn’t much doubt about either homer – and he should be better in his next start.

-Have I mentioned yet that Drew Muren has a good arm? He chased a line drive to the right-field wall, maybe 20 feet from the line in the corner, and didn’t pick it up very cleanly, but still was able to gun down Travis Shaw at second base. The throw was right on a line, didn’t bounce and hit Hector Rodriguez perfectly to get the out by a step.

-I may have missed a pitch, but I had Travis Smink with 17 strikes and zero balls in two innings.

-One day after being pinch-hit for in the ninth inning, Joantoni Garcia pinch-hit for Roberto Ramos in the eighth. Ramos was 2-for-3 on the night, though both hits were bunt singles; I suppose Lowell didn’t think he could get away with a third. Garcia hit into an inning-ending double play – on a beautiful turn at short by Rodriguez – so the Spinners might have been better off with Ramos’s speed.

-Matt Duffy scored from first on a double in the third inning, which probably won’t happen very often. He was running on the 3-2 pitch (with two outs) and Miles Hamblin hit a perfectly-placed grounder that rolled all the way to the right-field wall.

-The ‘Cats hit three triples in the game, as Kellen Kiilsgaard, Johnson and Meredith each had three-baggers. That was the first three-triple game for Tri-City going back to 2005, the earliest year for which we have easily-accessible stats.

-Duffy, by the way, was 4-for-5 and leads the league with a .483 batting average, keeping the tradition of success for Houston’s 20th-round draft picks alive and well.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Late-game drama

With 9-3 and 10-0 decisions in the first two games of the season, the one thing lacking was late-game drama, and it appeared the trend would continue when Vermont took a four-run lead into the eighth inning on Sunday. But the the ValleyCats rallied for three runs on three hits, bringing up John Hinson in the highest-leverage situation of the short season: down one, first and third, two outs.

Hinson drove the ball hard to the opposite field – just as he had done in the previous two at-bats, for a double and a single – and Ryan McCurdy, leading off first, said that he thought it would be a game-tying hit. But shortstop Sam Roberts stepped to his backhand, jumped softly and snared the line drive to end the inning.

Matt Duffy singled with two outs in the ninth but advanced no further, and Vermont took the game and the series, 6-5.

Now, the ‘Cats go away from home for the first time this season. The rookies have taken road trips before in college, but manager Stubby Clapp commented on some differences that they will have to adjust to.

“They’ve been on the bus rides, but they’ll need to get used to the system, the organization we use on the road,” he said. “We don’t have our own facilities, we have to deal with the opposing team’s schedule and go from there.”

As I write this, the ‘Cats seem to be handling the change of scenery just fine, taking a large lead at Connecticut in the opener of the three-game series.

Abbreviated notebook:

-Drew Muren and Duffy have been in the 3-4 slots all three games so far, and if they keep playing like this, they’ll hold that position all year. Muren drew three walks last night while Duffy had three hits. Muren was caught stealing for the first time in three attempts when Vermont guessed right and pitched out on 0-2; it worked out okay for the ‘Cats, as with a new count in the second  inning, Duffy smacked a first-pitch double and eventually scored.

-Muren had the defensive play of the night in the ninth inning, preventing a potentially key insurance run by gunning out Xavier Macklin at the plate on a single. Muren had to range to his right and was not able to come in very far to field it, but he threw a dart to home plate, beating a surprised Macklin by 10 feet.

-The first eight balls in play off Euris Quezada were all on the ground, none hit all that hard; two went for hits, but both were slow rollers back through the box and over second base for singles. The Lake Monsters finally elevated a couple balls the second time through, though only two of the five fourth-inning hits were struck very hard. After three runs scored, he bounced back nicely, striking out Michael Fabiaschi with the bases loaded and inducing a soft grounder from Chad Oberacker to end the inning.

Quezada didn’t throw all that hard, topping out around 88, but had a strange release point and hitters seemed to have trouble picking up his breaking stuff in particular. He certainly seems to have potential to pick up more velocity – he got a late start to his pro career (signed out of the Dominican Republic and debuted at 20, two years ago) so his mechanics are probably not a finished product, and at 6’6”, 240 lbs., he seems to have more strength to tap.

-Travis Blankenship last night: 23 pitches, 12 strikes, no runs. Having seen a lot of the lefty last year, I can tell you that was a very Blankenship-like outing. He fell behind the first four hitters but got two out, then retired Jordan Tripp on a harmless fly ball to right.

-You don’t see this often: catcher Beau Taylor assisted three of Vermont’s first five outs – two whiffs were put out 2-3 and Muren’s CS.

-For the third straight game, Vermont’s starter went up there in pitches – J.C. Menna threw 87, which would be on the high side for an August game and is certainly a lot for an Opening Weekend contest at this level.

-If the people I met and worked with this weekend are any indication, the Oakland A’s are a classy organization, and the NY-Penn League is lucky to have them.

-13,965 fans turned out to “The Joe” this weekend, putting us ahead of last year’s record-setting pace despite some bad weather on Friday. Thanks to everybody who came to the ballpark, and we’ll see you later this week!

Stubby on his first weekend at Joe Bruno Stadium: “It was fun. I love being here, and I know the guys love being here.”

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

Notebook: Opening Day

Last year, the ValleyCats opened their season in highlight-reel fashion: with a walk-off hit in the ninth capping a well-played victory on a perfect summer evening.

Suffice to say, tonight’s game isn’t likely to appear on any highlight reels.

Vermont beat the ‘Cats, 9-3, despite racking up the same number of hits (seven) and fewer for extra bases. The ugly numbers, in ascending order: three hit batters, four wild pitches, five errors and six walks issued by Tri-City pitchers.

“That was the story of the game,” manager Stubby Clapp said after the game. “First-game jitters, whatever it may be for the guys. It’s done, it’s over with, we’ll come back tomorrow.”

The plays didn’t seem indicative of a bad defensive team, necessarily – three of the errors were committed by pitchers, while another was Miles Hamblin’s error trying to throw behind a double steal – it was just a rough night. Things weren’t much prettier at the plate, for either side – the Lake Monsters drove in just four of their nine runs, only one on a well-struck ball, while the ‘Cats drove in just one of three (the others scored on a wild pitch and a GIDP).

Afterwards, Clapp talked about the different “speed of the game,” compared to college ball – something that players have told me about often as the biggest difference. He pointed to one play in particular – in the eighth inning, second baseman John Hinson sat back on a two-hop chopper as the runner came in front of him to second, and leadoff hitter Chad Oberacker beat Hinson’s throw to first for an infield single. Clapp said Hinson had to adjust not only to quicker batters and baserunners, but also to the different speed of the ball off the wood bat – the two-hopper doesn’t get to you as quickly as it does from aluminum.

Keeping in mind that we’re only 1.28% of the way through the season – Clapp even said after the game, “It’s way too early right now to see anything” – a couple notes from the night:

-There were a couple highlight-reel-worthy plays in the game. In the second inning, right fielder Drew Muren went back over the wrong shoulder, turned at the warning track and leaped to catch a deep line drive, crashing into the wall one step after making the grab. It was especially nice for Muren, who played mostly center in college and isn’t as used to the tricky angles and spins that right field provides. Justin Gominsky made a great play in the seventh inning, racing in to snare a sinking liner in shallow center field. (Lake Monsters third baseman Chad Lewis may have topped them both in the fifth, diving to his left to rob Matt Duffy of a single in the hole and completing the throw.)

One game is certainly not indicative of anything, but I do think the outfield defense has a chance to be very good this year. Meredith is not the fleetest of foot in left, though he wasn’t tested today, but Muren and Gominsky looked like good defenders, and Kellen Kiilsgaard and Muren both have great arms.

Starting pitcher Juri Perez looked great at times – such as the first inning, when he fanned the first two batters with a great changeup and a fastball at the knees. But, while the word “inconsistent” is overused in sports analysis, it applies to his outing tonight. He just lost his command at a few points – including both times he reached the bottom of the lineup – walking four batters in four-plus innings and hitting another.

“I was really happy with the way he came out,” Clapp said of his starter. “He’s really aggressive to the zone, aggressive to the hitters, and it looked like he just sort of ran out of gas.”

-Nobody went deep on Friday, or even really hit any flyballs to the warning track – a rarity at homer-friendly Joe Bruno=- Stadium. First baseman Zach Johnson, however, did pull a no-doubter over the left-field wall in the fifth inning; the umpire ruled it foul, but it couldn’t have missed by more than a foot, based on where it landed.

-Vermont shortstop Chih Fang Pan had one of the weaker three-RBI, two-run games you’ll see…he drove in two when he fisted a ball over first base for a single, plated another with a broken-bat grounder that was too slow to turn two on and reached and eventually scored when Joan Belliard threw away a potential double-play grounder. Second baseman Michael Fabiaschi had a line you don’t usually see from a ninth hitter, reaching base on two walks, a hit by pitch and a single.

I have some other notes written down, but it’s really late and we have 77 more of these to learn from.

Kevin Whitaker

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