Results tagged ‘ Jacke Healey ’

Helmbold’s hot dogs, Healey’s homer

Fans enjoyed their favorite ballpark franks for just two quarters Wednesday night as Helmbold’s presented 50 Cent Hot Dog Night.
The festivities included three qualifying heats during the early innings with the winner of each heat earning a trip to the final round during the 7th inning. ValleyCats Box Office/Ticket Manager Jessica Kaszeta gave it a valiant effort in the qualifying round but didn’t make it to the finals.
Longtime ValleyCats employee John “Murf” Murphy also took part in one of the heats falling just short of a berth in the finals.
Everyone’s favorite pig, Ribbie, was in the house tonight to help officiate the contest and our friend’s Brian Cody & Chrissy Cavotta from the Fly Morning Rush dropped by to emcee. The participants competed to see who could eat ten Helmbold’s Minis in the shortest amount of time with Joe “The Machete” Manchete winning in impressive fashion.
Also winning in impressive fashion was the home team on the field. The second game against Brooklyn was a see-saw battle. The ‘Cats were on the board early thanks to a lead off home run from Neiko Johnson, but the Cyclones rallied in the middle innings. All-Star starter Kyle Hallock struck out six but departed after five innings with the score tied at two.
Trailing 4-3 in the 8th inning, shortstop Jacke Healey launched a grand slam to give the ValleyCats the lead for good. Joan Belliard finished off 2 and 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the victory.
The ‘Cats are still in the playoff hunt and will go for the series sweep against Brooklyn tomorrow. After winning tonight’s Old Brick Mayors Race, Troy Mayor, Harry Tutunjian is also still in the hunt for the season title. He celebrated with his likeness after tonight’s win.
Thursday at “The Joe” is Back to School Night with postgame fireworks. With only three home games remaining in the regular season, this may be one of your last opportunities to catch a game in 2011.

CTDA had a table by the front gate, educating fans on transit options in the Capital Region.

Neiko Johnson, shown here batting after Healey in the eighth, led off the first inning with his first professional home run.

Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

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: 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

Sweep Notebook

My apologies for not finishing this sooner. This notebook is obviously a bit dated now, but hopefully it’s still of interest.

The ValleyCats had their best homestand of the season, sweeping a pair of games with division-leading Vermont. Tri-City hammered the Lake Monsters 10-1 on Monday night and pulled out a 5-3 victory on Tuesday, edging to within five games of Vermont in the standings.

Monday’s outburst was fueled by a two-homer, seven-run third inning, but Kik&eacute Hernandez and Wilton Infante each tripled later in the contest. The last time the ValleyCats had two homers and two triples in a game was way back on July 22, 2004: Mario Garza and Kevin Vital homered, while Vital and Brandon Barganier tripled. The ‘Cats scored two in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game but ultimately fell to Staten Island, 6-5 in 13 innings.

If you had asked me three weeks ago who would rank second on the team in home runs right now, it would have taken me a long, long time to guess Jacke Healey. Yet that’s exactly where the shortstop lies right now after his leadoff blast sparked a seven-run third inning on Monday night. Exactly one month into the season, Healey was scavenging for playing time, hitting .129 as the clear fourth man in a middle-infield rotation. But he homered in consecutive games in mid-July and did so again this week, coming within a couple feet of hitting the giant inflatable Uncle Sam more than 400 feet away against Vermont.

Healey has been solid all year and made a nice play on Monday on a chopper over the second-base bag. But the bigger story has been his power surge. Healey is now slugging .571 in 13 games since July 19, which is very valuable combined with his good glove at short. He put on a laser show in BP before Tuesday’s game, hitting five homers and some more line drives.

This isn’t the first time Healey has shown a power surge – this spring, the shortstop set a Youngstown State University record with 12 homers. He also led the Penguins with 59 RBI.

I would have been much more likely to guess Dan Adamson, who homered later that same inning to remain tied with Healy at four. Adamson, of course, hit the big walk-off homer on Friday night, and has been in the middle of quite a few big innings for the ValleyCats. As of Thursday night, he leads the team with a .848 OPS (edging out Tyler Burnett), tied for first in slugging and second in OBP.

The outfielder has fanned 48 times in 182 plate appearances, an ugly number that leads the team by 10, but it’s not all bad as he also has 22 walks (second on the ‘Cats). He started the season in center field, was moved to left for Wilton Infante shortly thereafter, but he was shifted back to center two weeks ago. He has looked good patrolling the middle of the outfield; the shift has certainly been an improvement for the Tri-City defense. He ran down a fly ball to the deepest part of the warning track in the top of the third on Monday.

Adamson went 0-for-4 in four plate appearances on Tuesday, which was unusual – it marked the first time in 22 games this season that Adamson did not reach base at home. Only Brooklyn superstar Darrell Ceciliani has had a longer such streak this season.

But Adamson’s streak is nothing compared to what Tyler Burnett has done recently. Burnett leads the team in OBP at .397, in large part because he has reached base in every game he has played since June 30th: 30 consecutive games. His streak is the longest in the NYPL this season by six games, and the longest active one by nine. The ValleyCats have been three-hit once and four-hit three times in that span, including three shutouts, but Burnett has constantly been producing. He hit his third homer of the season on Tuesday, a no-doubter to right field that gave the ‘Cats a seventh-inning insurance run.

Burnett’s defense has been coming along nicely at first, while Mike Kvasnicka continues to improve at Burnett’s natural position, third base. Kvasnicka made a pair of great barehanded plays on drag bunts on Monday, throwing out Hendry Jimenez by a step in the first inning and getting speedy outfielder Chad Mozingo in the third. He made a poor play in the seventh inning, drifting on a popup that fell past his glove on the infield (Healey should have called him off but let Kvasnicka take the play the whole way, for whatever it’s worth), but has otherwise looked decent at the hot corner recently. (Kvasnicka recovered to throw David Freitas going for second on that play.)

Jake Buchanan, first five starts: 17 IP, 15 R, 6 BB, 19 SO, 6.88 ERA
Jake Buchanan, last three starts: 16.2 IP, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 SO, 1.08 ERA

Most of the damage came from a two-inning, seven-run start at Auburn on July 16, but he’s certainly turned things around since then with three dominant starts. Buchanan has lowered his season ERA from 6.88 to 4.01, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue that trend. The righty allowed only two hits and one walk against Vermont on Monday; the hits, both clean singles, came in the second inning. He found his breaking ball after that and was unhittable from the third onward, fanning Hendry Jimenez with a hook in the third and freezing Jack Walker with a fastball to end the fifth. Buchanan’s best inning was his last one, as he got Connor Rowe to chase a curveball in the dirt for his third whiff, then induced a pair of easy ground balls in his third time through the top of the order. He was pulled after six scoreless innings and 73 pitches.

Alex Sogard wasn’t as dominant but pitched fairly well, scattering four hits for two runs in 3.1 innings. The lefty again went to his curveball often, even against opposite-handed hitters, and fanned Blake Kelso with a pair of hooks off the inside corner. He was pitching inside to righties with his fastball as well and getting ahead in counts – he went 0-2 on the first three batters and didn’t walk any. He allowed a home run to Justin Miller that was very, very wind-aided – I actually looked down because I was sure it was going to be an easy fly ball, but the wind from a nearby storm carried the ball over the wall and just beyond a leaping Infante’s glove. After the storm and some light rain had passed, star catcher David Freitas tagged a Sogard fastball in the fourth much harder, but without the wind it went for a double off the wall in left-center.

Murillo Gouvea had another good outing on Tuesday, allowing one run in 2.2 innings. He was living a bit dangerously at times – both his strikeouts came on high curveballs – but got the job done. Gouvea had a 12.78 ERA two weeks ago, but has allowed just one run in 10.1 innings since, fanning 15 batters in that span (3 BB).

With a one-run lead, two outs and a man on in the seventh inning, Jim Pankovits took out lefty Travis Blankenship and brought in Brandt Walker to face right-handed slugger David Freitas. Blankenship had walked the previous batter, but had only thrown eight pitches and Pankovits has generally been reluctant to play matchups with the southpaw. I was glad to see the change, as although Blankenship has actually been tougher on righties thus far (LHB .194/.390/.226; RHB .133/.278/.133), that screams “sample-size fluke” to me: Blankenship is the classic model of a LOOGY, relying heavily on breaking stuff from a low arm angle.

Walker retired Freitas to end the inning, and froze a pair of Lake Monsters in the next inning with fastballs on the outside corner. The ValleyCats’ other flamethrower, Jorge De Leon, came on to close the game out in the ninth. He fell behind his first three hitters 2-0 and brought the tying run to the plate with two outs, but Ben Heath made a nice sliding catch on a Jason Martinson popup to end the game.

Either Vermont has some great relievers or the ValleyCats are falling into a dangerous habit of giving up on at-bats late in games: Vermont’s last pitcher Kevin Cahill fanned five ‘Cats in 1.2 innings on Monday; and Tuesday’s final reliever, Mark Herrera, struck out four in 1.1 IP. So that’s nine outs, nine strikeouts to end games for the ValleyCats, who did have three singles scattered through those innings. I’m guessing it’s a combination of good pitching and poor approach, as I’ve seen this a little bit in the past from the ‘Cats.

Astros news: #8 overall draft pick Delino DeShields, Jr. has officially signed with Houston, for $2.15 million. Although it would be great to see DeShields in a ValleyCats uniform, it won’t happen unless the 18-year-old really, really lights up the Appy League out of the gate – he’ll be going to Greeneville next week.

Kevin Whitaker

Midseason Report

Today marks the midway point in the NY-Penn League season. 38 of the 76 scheduled games are remaining, although some teams have a couple more due to weather postponments. Tri-City has played 36 games and stands at 15-21. The ValleyCats seem certain to finish out of the cellar for the first time since 2006 – they’re already eight games up on 8-30 Lowell – but the record is still a bit of a disappointment to a team that has seemed inconsistent.

The pitching was scary good early in the year, while the offense was scary in a completely different sense, threatening the Mendoza line with a June batting average of .192. But both sides have gone closer to league-average levels. At the midway point, the ‘Cats are batting .243 and rank eighth in the league with 170 runs scored. Their ERA is up to 4.08, and only four of the league’s 14 teams have allowed more than their 179 runs.

Quite a few ValleyCats have heated up in the past week or two. Mike Kvasnicka was batting just .152 and slugging .207 ten days ago, but has been on fire for the past week. In his last eight games, Kvasnicka is batting 15-for-36 (.417) with two homers, six extra-base hits and 11 RBI.

A couple of reserves have earned more playing time with recent hot streaks. Tonight’s DH Buck Afenir has gone 5-for-11 in the team’s last ten games to raise his season batting average to .314. Afenir’s biggest hit came at Cooperstown on Saturday, when his pinch-hit double in the ninth inning brought home Dan Adamson with the game-tying run. Shortstop Jacke Healey had only four hits on the season at the start of last week, but homered in back-to-back games against Brooklyn and Aberdeen, then had consecutive two-hit games at Vermont over the weekend.

Kik&eacute Hernandez has been unstoppable for the entire month of July. The second baseman hit just .152 in the first month of the season but has hit safely in 20 of 21 games this month, upping his season average to .295.

Here’s a look at where everybody in the NYPL stands thus far, sorted by run differential:

Photobucket

The last column represents the number of games Tri-City has remaining against each team. As you can see, the schedule was pretty front-loaded, and the ValleyCats will generally face easier opponents from here on out. That starts with a three-game home series against Lowell tonight – the Spinners come in having lost 13 of their last 14 contests. Only 14 of the ‘Cats’ 39 remaining games come against teams that currently have a positive run differential. (Note: this assumes they will not make up the rained-out game against Jamestown, which will only be played if it has playoff implications at the end of the season.)

The ValleyCats have unlucky this year – we would have expected them to win 17 games based on their run differential, when they are actually 15-21. And they’ve faced a tough schedule to this point, playing a lot of games against the league’s better teams. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the ValleyCats to play .500 or even a bit better in the second half.

Their playoff chances, however, are still very remote. Brooklyn currently has the league’s best record, at 25-13. If the ValleyCats played like the league’s best team in the second half, they would finish at 41-35 or so. Five teams are currently on pace to have a better record than that, and another two aren’t far behind. So even if the ‘Cats play .650 ball from here on out – which only one team did in the first half – they would still probably have no better than a 50-50 shot at reaching the postseason.

But that doesn’t mean the season is lost. The ValleyCats seem very likely to post their best record since 2006, and may be able to reach .500 by the end of the season. For a team that seemed incapable of scoring a run one month ago, that wouldn’t be a bad ending.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Brooklyn series

This weekend was a little crazy for those of us working at the ballpark – with a 5:00 Sunday game and an 11:00 am matinee Monday to close the three-game series, the schedule was really compressed. As a result, I didn’t get a chance to write anything about Brooklyn yet, so here’s a weekend roundup:

Fortunately, the players were not adversely affected by the odd schedule – the ‘Cats played their best ball of the series by far on Monday, defeating Brooklyn 7-4 to avoid a sweep. The first game was ugly and the second loss was disappointing, but at the end of the day, losing two of three to Brooklyn is pretty much what we should have expected. The Cyclones are the best-hitting team in the league and they had three of their four best starters this season lined up for the weekend, so winning this series would have been very difficult. Brooklyn is two games behind Lowell but leads the league in run differential at +52 (Jamestown is second at +41, Vermont is at +40).

Brooklyn is actually one of the least patient teams in the league, but they make up for it by absolutely hitting the crap out of the ball. Its .290 batting average is 21 points better than anyone else in the league, and the Cyclones lead the league in doubles, triples and homers. As a result, they have a 13-run lead on the rest of the NYPL despite ranking second-to-last in walks. The home run category is the most impressive – they have hit 31 homers, while Auburn is second at 21 and Jamestown ranks third with 17. (They have hit more homers on the road than at home – and have only allowed eight longballs – so it’s not as if their power is the result of playing in a bandbox.)

The Tri-City pitching staff has been homer-prone this season, allowing a league-high 26 dingers, including five in this series. Carlos Quevedo found this out the hard way, giving up two bombs in an outing that was unimpressive by his very lofty standards. Rylan Sandoval took the second pitch of the game off the scoreboard well beyond the left-field fence – his fourth homer in his last ten games – and Cory Vaughn hit a two-run shot in the third inning. Quevedo gives up his homers in bunches – the only two he had allowed to this point also both came in the same game, at Vermont in June.

But the righty settled down after that, holding the Cyclones scoreless for three more innings to notch his sixth consecutive quality start. Quevedo got a bit lucky in the fourth, escaping the inning unharmed despite allowing two clean doubles, as Ben Heath gunned down the first runner trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. He didn’t have his best stuff early on and left his fastball up a bit, but was perfect in his final two innings, throwing 20 of his 21 pitches for strikes in those two frames and mixing well to keep hitters off-balance. Quevedo was successful against league batting leader Darrell Ceciliani, inducing a pair of groundouts and a harmless fly ball in three at-bats.

Quevedo fanned two more batters without a walk. He has walked two batters in 40.1 innings, easily the lowest BB rate in the league. His SO/BB ratio is now an insane 14…I can’t find sortables for that statistic, but I would bet that tops the NYPL as well.

The ‘Cats got an offensive boost from an unlikely source in Jacke Healey. The shortstop came into the game with only four hits on the season, but hit a two-out shot to deep left-center that left the park. The two-run homer gave Tri-City a 5-3 lead it would never relinquish. Healey, a bench player known more for his slick glove, also made a great sliding forehand in the fourth inning, retiring Brian Harrison at first by half a step.

After the game, Healey said the guys in the dugout were teasing him all game because his girlfriend came to visit him the night before. Manager Jim Pankovits quipped, “Maybe we should bring her with us on the road.”

Brooklyn added a third homer, when Jeff Flagg led off the ninth inning with a moonshot that landed in the Tri-City bullpen. The wind here usually blows out to right field, but was going towards left at a pretty good clip on Monday; 9 out of 10 days at this ballpark, Flagg’s ball is an easy flyout. Michael Ness was unfazed, however, snaring a J.B. Brown comebacker and doubling off Joe Bonfe at first to end the game.

Healey wasn’t the only middle infielder to hit well on Monday. Second baseman Kik&eacute Hernandez, whose 13-game hit streak snapped in the series opener, went right back to stroking the ball in the final two games, picking up three singles in each contest. Like most of the ValleyCats, Kik&eacute started the season slowly, but he is batting .347 in July.

Mike Kvasnicka also recovered from a Saturday 0-fer to strike the ball well. He blasted a big two-run homer in the eighth inning on Sunday, pulling the ‘Cats within one run, and added a double and two singles over the final two games. Kvasnicka’s early-season struggles have been well-documented; hampered by a hand injury, he was batting .108 at the end of June and continued to struggle into the next month. Hopefully, this weekend marks something of a turning point.

Kvasnicka did strike out three times in the final two games, however; he now has 23 whiffs in 118 at-bats. That’s not a horrific rate for a player in his first month of professional ball – three other ‘Cats have at least as many – but it’s something to watch over the final month and a half of the season. I wasn’t as worried about it when he was among the league leaders in walks, but he has drawn just one free pass in his final 11 games while striking out at the same rate. Two innings after the homer, Kvasnicka came up with the tying run on first and nobody out, but went down looking on three pitches.

“I’ve been [practicing] my right-handed swing a lot because we haven’t seen a lot of lefties,” Kvasnicka said of his homer, his first from the right side this season. “But I got an at-bat lefthanded [in the 10th], and I was thinking about mechanical things to make the switch back over, and I wasn’t ready to hit because of it. I had been swinging the bat well lefty, but I let the mental side take over for a few pitches there.”

“In the last week and a half, I’ve had a lot of lineouts,” he continued. “Baseball’s a cruel game in that sense – once you start feeling good, you’re not going to be hitting .400 the rest of the year. There’s been definite progress in the cage work and in batting practice, so it should come around.”

Evan thought Kvasnicka should have bunted in the tenth; I disagree. Although it is practially standard managerial practice, a sacrifice bunt down one run in the ninth or extras generally hurts a team’s chances of winning the game. According to Baseball Prospectus’s extensive study in Baseball Between the Numbers, a successful sacrifice down one run with a runner on first will actually decrease the offensive team’s win expectancy by as much as 5%. Given the slightly lower-scoring environment of the NY-Penn League and the increased chance that the opponent will make an error on the play, you can probably make an argument that it’s a break-even proposition, but then you need to account for the fact that Kvasnicka – who did not lay down a single sacrifice bunt in three years at Minnesota and has yet to bunt this season – is probably not the world’s best bunter. If you think Kvasnicka’s a true .170 hitter, then yes, a bunt makes a lot of sense with better batters coming up – but I don’t believe that, and I doubt Pank does either.

Dan Adamson made a fantastic diving catch on a bloop to end the fifth inning on Monday. The ball looked like it would fall in shallow left-center, and I thought Healey and Wilton Infante were the two that might have a shot at it, but Adamson came from out of nowhere, laid out full extention and made the catch. Adamson’s defense was crucial a day earlier, when he gunned down James Schroeder trying to stretch a base hit into a double leading off the seventh. Monday’s other great play came from Vaughn, who threw an absolute lazer to gun down Infante – one of the fastest ValleyCats – tagging for third on a fly ball that was hit pretty well to right field. Vaughn’s throw reached third on the fly.

Tom Shirley was having his best outing of the year on Saturday – a pretty impressive feat for a guy who hasn’t allowed an earned run all year – so it was a shame to see him come out after three innings and 44 pitches after re-aggrivating his knee injury. He said it was “just a little strain.” Pankovits said, “We don’t think it’s serious – it wasn’t serious before – but we’re being cautious with him.” Shirley’s knee caused him to miss his start last week against Jamestown.

Shirley fanned four batters in three innings and had his best stuff of the year. Whereas he’s been working in and out of jams this season – he had allowed 18 baserunners in 14 innings entering Sunday – the southpaw allowed two walks and no hits against a tough Brooklyn lineup (albeit one without two of its top hitters). He was sitting 88, dialing as high as 91 and dropping as low as 85 when behind in the count, but his offspeed stuff was the best I’ve seen from Shirley this year. I don’t believe he threw his curveball (67-73) for a strike, but it was around the zone every time, instead of being completely a junk pitch, and his slider (79-80) was an effective offering.

Murillo Gouvea took the hill next, and I think the book on him is pretty much written at this point: he struggles when he’s not missing bats. When he’s striking out a lot of guys – like his 8 K performance against Jamestown last week – he is an effective pitcher, but in every other outing he’s been hit hard. The first four batters Gouvea faced all reached base. Gouvea allowd four runs and really only pitched well enough to retire two batters; two more gave themselves up on sacrifices.

Mike Kvasnicka threw out his first runner from behind the plate on Sunday, gunning Vaughn at second in the top of the fifth. Kvasnicka has struggled with recieving at times this year, but I’m not worried about his arm. He also made a nice play to throw out a runner at first on a strikeout-wild pitch, when Andrew Robinson’s putaway pitch to Amauris Valdez was well wide but ricocheted off the backstop back towards the plate.

Robinson and Jorge De Leon both looked great on Sunday. Robinson held the Cyclones scoreless for 3.1 innings but left with two on and two out in the eighth, and pinch-hitter Darrell Ceciliani – the NYPL batting leader – singled off De Leon to plate both. Those were the only earned runs allowed by either pitcher in the game’s final 5.1 frames. De Leon flashed 97 mph and was consistently at 95-96 early in his outing, the fastest I’ve seen him sitting at all year. He was left in to throw 2.1 innings and 42 pitches, both easily season highs, which I found kind of surprising – the last time Tri-City stretched him out, he struggled by the end of his second frame. He still pitched well enough to get out of the tenth inning, were it not for a Figueroa throwing error, but he was down to 90-91 mph by the end of the night.

The bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday featured a somewhat humorous play, going down in the book as (Johan) Figuereo picking off Figueroa. The ValleyCats weren’t laughing, however, as it looked at the time to be the final blow to their chances of winning. Of course, fate intervened on behalf of Tri-City, as Figuereo threw two wild pitches – his first two of the season – with two outs and two on to tie the game.

42s were wild on Sunday, as the ValleyCats were all dressed in identical #42 jerseys to honor Jackie Robinson. This was a very nice tribute, but not particularly fun for those of us in the press box who had to figure out who everybody was. We were thankful this happened in July and not, say, a month earlier, as we generally knew each player well enough to identify him.

Saturday featured an electric game, but not in the good sense. From about the fifth inning through the eighth, lighning flashed all around the park every 20 seconds or so, creating an interesting atmosphere to play baseball in. Play continued throughout – the lightning was always in the distance past the outfield, and rain fell only briefly – but the storm sent many of the 4,365 fans scurrying for shelter. The brunt of the storm came after the game, making my drive home fairly adventurous.

The opener was pretty ugly otherwise, except for the eighth-inning triple play. I thought Luis Nieves’s line drive was a base hit off the bat, as did both baserunners, but Figueroa ranged to his left to get the ball fairly easily. I wasn’t thinking triple play at all, but Tyler Burnett called for the ball and Hernandez made the quick turn at second, getting the ball to first just in time to triple off Juan Centeno. I – and most of the people I talked to afterward – thought Centeno was safe at first, but Burnett was pretty adamant afterwards that they got the out.

A.J. Pinera just flat-out dominated the ‘Cats for six innings. Pinera struck out five, gave up only two hits, and never issued more than two balls to any hitter. He got through three different innings on eight pitches or less, and was only at 57 when he was pulled. This was only his second start, so Brooklyn was understandably loath to push him too hard, but it sure seemed like he could have kept going – he fanned four of the last five batters he faced. Naturally, Pinera’s replacement, Brian Needham, opened the seventh inning with four straight balls to Tyler Burnett.

Burnett, incidentally, has drawn 22 walks this season, tied for second in the NYPL. He and seven others are tied atop the league leaderboard with 10 doubles.

The ‘Cats run into another hot opponent this week in Aberdeen, winners of four straight. Brooklyn had posted four consecutive victories before coming to The Joe, while Tri-City met Staten Island on an eight-game streak earlier this month.

Kevin Whitaker

Videos:
Saturday
Sunday
Monday

And check out this ridiculous story about ‘Cats reliever Jason Chowning, courtesy of Astros County.

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