Results tagged ‘ Joan Belliard ’
The construction of the roster is a bit different than last year’s. In 2010, the only American-born players with experience in the Houston organization had played in Tri-City the previous year. This year, five American players join the team after spending last season in Greeneville (or, in one case, the Gulf Coast League). They come largely at the expense of international players – whereas 11 foreign-born players suited up on Opening Day a year ago, only six are on this year’s roster.
The two youngest members of the team will be two of the most interesting pitchers to watch. Fifth-round draft pick Nick Tropeano and Venezuelan righty Juri Perez are the only 20-year-olds on the roster, and each currently seems likely to claim a spot in the starting rotation. Perez is not a prototypical pitching prospect, standing at just 5’11”, but 60 strikeouts in 51.2 innings as an 18-year-old at Greeneville in 2009 earned some attention. Perez missed most of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can come back at full strength. Tropeano also does not fit the standard model – his fastball tops out around 90 mph from the right side – but he has excelled at Stony Brook and the Cape Cod League, thanks to advanced secondary pitches and command that could serve him well in the NY-Penn League.
Sixth-round pick Brandon Meredith headlines a group of experienced position players that includes just one foreign-born, infielder Hector Rodriguez. Meredith and first baseman Zach Johnson had two of the better bats in college, while tall center fielder Andrew Muren was throwing darts to home plate last night. Outfielder Kellen Killsgard, formerly a two-sport athlete at Stanford and once one of the nation’s top QB recruits, returns to action after missing the 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
I was a little surprised that reliever Travis Blankenship was assigned to Tri-City for a second season. Blankenship posted the second-lowest ERA for the ValleyCats last year in 30.2 innings of relief, and while he certainly doesn’t have the most powerful stuff, I’ve always thought he profiled well as a situational lefty – he throws from a low arm slot and relies heavily on offspeed stuff that breaks to the glove side. He had some command problems last season, but hitters did not make good contact off him, and I would have expected him to get a shot to test himself against tougher hitters. He could be one of the first players to be called up from Troy if an opening appears in the Lexington bullpen.
Joan Belliard and Adam Champion join Blankenship as returning players to the Tri-City pitching staff. Belliard always felt like a shaky option in relief – five homers in 36.1 innings will do that – but his performance was actually strong – a 3.72 ERA and a strikeout per inning. Though he had a rough July, allowing at least one run in every appearance, he gave up just two runs (one earned) in 17.2 innings in all other games. Belliard logged more innings than any other Tri-City reliever in 2010, just as he did at Greeneville in 2009.
Jacke Healey and Ryan McCurdy are the returning position players. McCurdy appears to be returning to a third-string catcher role behind Miles Hamblin and Bubby Williams, while Healey will see time as a powerful shortstop in a versatile infield.
Ebert Rosario, who will start his first full season on the mound, has taken the long road to Tri-City. Rosario was a third baseman in the Astros’ system for four and a half seasons but was converted to the bullpen in the middle of 2010. He struck out 12 batters against only two walks in 10.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League. Last year, the ValleyCats saw a similar project – converted shortstop Jorge De Leon – succeed in the bullpen. De Leon saved six games and led Tri-City with a 0.64 ERA; he is having success this year in Lexington, with seven saves, a 2.81 ERA and a reduced walk rate.
The ‘Cats arrived in Troy last night, and had their first workout at Joe Bruno Stadium. They will meet the press at Media Day tomorrow afternoon, and on Friday, the 78-game season begins against the Vermont Lake Monsters.
The ValleyCats got more hits, drew more walks, and committed fewer errors than Jamestown last night. Yet somehow the game wasn’t even really close, and it was the Jammers who won. As has been the case often this season, Tri-City just could not bring home runners, stranding 12 and only scoring three times.
What was even stranger was the way it happened. On the other side, Jamestown only had eight hits and three walks, but seven runs scored. This came despite the fact that the ValleyCats struck out a season-high 17 batters (which I believe is tied for the second-most in the NYPL this year). You’d think the team with more strikeouts would be the one with trouble bringing runners around, but alas, that was not the case.
Now, of course, there were a couple contributing factors that I didn’t mention – three passed balls and two balks certainly contributed to the Jammers’ success. But in the end, Jamestown just came up with more hits in key situations. That, in a nutshell, has been the story of the ValleyCats’ season thus far.
The ‘Cats are 11th in the 14-team league in hitting, with a .237 batting average. They actually get on base at an above-average clip (.334), thanks to an outstanding walk rate, but they have struggled incredbily to bring those runners home. In just about any clutch situation, the ValleyCats just can’t hit: .201 with RISP, .182 with bases loaded, and .156 with RISP + 2 outs.
The problem is made worse by the fact that opponents actually perform slightly better in key situations. Tri-City pitchers have allowed a .265 batting average this season, but .277 with RISP, and .319 with RISP + 2 outs.
I generally subscribe to the theory that “clutch” performance is generally random, although I do see how “clutch” ability (or, rather, the lack thereof) could exist at the lower levels. But one has to assume that the gap between the ‘Cats and their opponents in clutch situations will close somewhat.
As seven-run performances go, it’s tough to beat the one displayed by the ValleyCats last night. Chris Blazek, Murillo Gouvea, Joan Belliard and Brandt Walker combined for 17 strikeouts and only three walks, and allowed a rather pedestrian eight hits. They really didn’t deserve to allow seven earned runs, but sometimes that’s how this game goes.
It was great to see Gouvea pitch well, given his recent struggles. He struggled to put away the first four hitters – hitting a batter on 3-2, allowing an eighth-pitch single and going seven pitches on another – but was lights-out after that, retiring eight in a row at one point.
Gouvea sat 89-91 with his fastball, mixing in a slow curve and a slider. It took him 30 pitches to get through the second inning but he settled down after that, although he still went all the way up to 73 pitches for 3.2 innings. Facing the heart of the order, he struck out the side in the third, doing so with three different pitches – 90 inside to get Marcell Ozuna to chase, an 80-mph slider that Ryan Fisher chased low, and a 73-mph curve that froze Sequoyah Stonecipher.
He reverted back to his old self for a bit in the fifth inning, walking the first two batters with a wild pitch mixed in, and it came back to hurt him. But all in all, it was a very good showing.
Joan Belliard was also strong, fanning six in 3.1 innings. Ozuna struck out in his first three at-bats, and was determined not to do so in his fourth. He took Belliard’s first pitch out of the stadium to left field, easily the longest homer to date at Joe Bruno Stadium. Reports vary as to where exactly the ball traveled, but best I can figure is it landed on top of the “Creating Fans for Life” building behind the scoreboard in left, which I estimate at 450 feet or so.
Belliard’s other big mistakes were the two balks in the fifth that brought Stonecipher around to score from second. Jim Pankovits didn’t really contest the first, but the second one brought him out for a 2-3 minute discussion, culminating in his ejection. The balks were called because Belliard didn’t come set before delivering; I wasn’t watching his motion very carefully, so I don’t really have an informed opinion on the validity of the calls.
Tom Shirley didn’t make his scheduled start because of some knee problems, but all signs point to him getting back on schedule later this week. If he stays healthy and pitches as well as he has, he could move through the system very quickly.
In Shirley’s absence, Pankovits went a little unconventional and called upon reliever Chris Blazek to start, with the expectation that the lefty would throw only one inning. Blazek sure got his money’s worth, throwing 28 pitches and giving up a pair of runs. He had the same stuff as usual, but was a lot looser with his control than I’ve seen, falling behind often and issuing a four-pitch walk to Stonecipher; only 12 of his 28 pitches were strikes. By the end of the inning, his fastball was down to 82-84 mph (from 87-88), part of the reason the left-handed Aaron Senne was able to pull a line drive to right to score the second run.
I was pleased with Mike Kvasnicka’s defense in his first start behind the plate, so I have to point out that he really did not have a good showing on Monday night. Jamestown didn’t really run on him at all, but he had problems recieving, allowing three passed balls and a wild pitch.
First baseman Nick Stanley had a pair of terrific plays to his backhand. The second one was more spectacular, as Stanley dove to the hole, picked the ball cleanly and completed the 3-1 play to Belliard.
It was nice to see catcher Ryan McCurdy have success in his first at-bat with Tri-City. The undrafted free agent from Duke, who was activated the day before, entered in the ninth to catch for Kvasnicka and batted second in the Tri-City half. He pulled a groundball double down the left-field line, advancing Ben Orloff to third, from where he would eventually score.
Orloff passed the qualification cutoff in Monday’s game and now leads the NYPL with a .382 batting average. His .460 on-base percentage is also best in the league. He was on his way to improving those numbers with a line-drive base hit to lead off Tuesday’s game, but the hit also brought down the rain, washing away the official records. Orloff is batting .432 over his last ten games.
Well, yesterday’s season opener was great: we got a 4-3 thriller, capped by a walk-off double off the bat of Oscar Figueroa. The game moved along quickly (2:30), it was close and exciting the whole way, and we had a sellout crowd of 5,370.
You can read my gamer here. After sleeping on it for a night, I’m wondering if I kinda buried most important story: the ValleyCats’ pitching performance. Pitching is usually ahead of hitting at the beginning of the season, but the Tri-City stat line from yesterday was ridiculous: 15 strikeouts, 0 walks.
Honestly, the walk-off victory is great for fans and for those of us who cover the game, but given how each team played, yesterday’s game shouldn’t have been that close. Connecticut only got seven runners on base and managed to bring home three of them – teams aren’t usually that efficient at driving runners in. The ValleyCats, on the other hand, smacked 12 hits and added a walk, but only got four runs out of it. If both teams hit as well today as they did yesterday, I’d expect something more like a 5-2 ‘Cats win.
And even those seven baserunners understate the pitching performance yesterday. Enos’s first double was a lazy, 300-foot fly ball that just happened to land right on the line, where Bailey couldn’t get to it. If that ball goes in pretty much any other direction, it’s an easy out. His second one was struck much better, but even that one hung up in the air for a very long time; if Infante’s playing a step or two farther back (and he was positioned very shallow for most of the game), he runs that one down too. Stanley got his glove on two more hits – if he’s another step to the line or even leaning that way, he probably makes those plays. Connecticut really only had two or three clean, no-doubt hits.
Carlos Quevedo’s stuff was absolutely electric. The top of Connecticut’s order couldn’t touch anything he had – they were swinging through high fastballs all night. His approach is dangerous, as working up in the zone results in fly balls that can become extra-base hits – like Enos’s two moonshots – or eventually homers, but it sure worked last night. He only lasted 4.1 innings – presumably, he was on a 70-ish pitch count (69 when he came out), as he was still effective, coming off a strikeout and just about to face three batters who he had fanned twice apiece – but that’s a great sign for the ValleyCats looking forward. Blazek will be on very low pitch counts and we probably won’t see him for more than an inning at a time as he returns from surgery, but he’ll be a great asset in the bullpen. And for three other relievers to come in and be practially untouchable – th eonly hit after the sixth was a line-drive double off Blankenship – is a great sign for Tri-City.
We at the ValleyCats Network felt that our opening day went about as well as the players’. The production was very smooth, and the fans seemed to enjoy our show. Here are some behind-the-scenes photos of VCN’s opening night: