Results tagged ‘ Juri Perez ’

Notebook: Cannons

At some point, teams are going to stop testing the ValleyCats’ outfield arms. Right?

Connecticut learned this lesson the hard way, watching three runners get thrown out at the plate in the final two games of this week’s series. Different outfielders were responsible for all three kills. Brandon Meredith picked one up last night – the first time he had ever thrown out a runner at the plate, he said – to erase what proved to be a critical run in the ValleyCats’ 6-5 victory. His throw wasn’t particularly strong but was right on target as Samir Rijo ran into his second out in as many nights.

Drew Muren and Justin Gominsky started the action on Monday. Muren’s throw home in the third reached home plate about 15 feet ahead of Rijo, who tried and failed to knock the ball loose from catcher Bubby Williams. Gominsky made a strong throw home after ranging to his right on a Colin Kaline single to end the seventh inning.

Kellen Kiilsgaard, the only outfielder without an assist, has also shown a strong arm in practice – as you’d expect from a former high school standout and college quarterback.

The real story of Tuesday’s game, however, came on the other side of the ball. The ‘Cats, who managed only one run on eleven hits in the first two games of the series, scored six times in the finale.

Manager Stubby Clapp shook up the lineup a little bit for the game, sliding John Hinson down a couple spots. As The Record’s Ed Weaver pointed out this morning, it seemed to work. Justin Gominsky, who said he rarely led off in his amateur career, singled twice from the top of the lineup, coming around to score both times.

“He made me look good. Thanks, Gom,” Clapp quipped after the game.

“There was no rhyme or reason except just to shake things up a bit, to get some guys different opportunities at different spots in the lineup,” Clapp said. “If I could make a lineup the first day of the year, in short-season A, and they hit there in the big leagues, I’d be a genius and I’d be rich.”

Meredith, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a stolen base, didn’t think the team’s approach changed much from the previous two games.

“I didn’t really think there was much different, I just think we were finding holes,” he said. “Luck was on our side tonight.”

Even beyond the balls that found holes, luck certainly seemed to be smiling on the ValleyCats in the final contest of a six-game homestand. Look at the box score and find a category in which the ‘Cats came out on top – it’s not easy. Connecticut outhit the hosts 14-9, had more extra-base hits, drew more walks, and even drove in more runs (two ‘Cats scored on wild pitches). But the Tigers stranded 10 runners on base while Tri-City left only four on, getting their hits at the right times.

In one particularly notable inning, Connecticut hit two clean singles, drew a walk and a hit by pitch, yet brought only five batters to the plate and did not score a run. Matt Duffy snagged a hard line drive by the third-base bag with the bases loaded, doubling off the runner from third, and Meredith’s throw from left field ended the frame. 13 Tigers reached base in the final four innings, but only three scored –seven were stranded and three were thrown out or doubled up on the bases.

Notes:

-Connecticut has a roster full of major-league blood. Colin Kaline is Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline’s grandson, catcher Patrick Leyland’s father is Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland and outfielder Bo McClendon is the son of Lloyd McClendon, an eight-year MLBer who is now Detroit’s hitting coach. More surprisingly, 66-year-old Jim Leyland has a son who is younger than I am.

-In addition to the two outfield assists, we saw some great infield defense on Monday, courtesy of Hinson. The second baseman made a diving play for a soft grounder to his left to end the first inning and went to the ground again in the third, this time to his right. He got up and fired to first, where Zach Johnson made a great stretch and pick to get the out.

-Juri Perez, this homestand: two starts, 10+ IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 16 SO. He appears to be rather good at this sport. All 15 outs he recorded on Tuesday came on ground balls or strikeouts.

-The ValleyCats have exactly zero sacrifice bunts in 11 games this season. As a fan of not giving away outs, this pleases me greatly. (It’s probably coincidence, but the two teams with by far the most sacrifice bunts so far are Aberdeen and State College, at 8 and 9 respectively – nobody else has more than three – and those two teams are dead last in scoring.)

The ‘Cats go on the road for five games. Erik will be with the team for the entire trip, broadcasting the games live and updating you on the ValleyCats’ travels via various VCN channels.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: K-fest

The ValleyCats, as most winning teams do, got 27 outs on Thursday night. Unlike in most games, though, Tri-City’s fielders had little to do with that. The home team earned 16 strikeouts* while walking only three batters and evened their record with a 3-2 victory.

*Three more batters were put out 1-3, meaning the seven players in the field combined to make only eight plays on batted balls.

Nine of those K’s came from starter Juri Perez, who was lights-out in his five innings. Perez commanded his fastball well early on, throwing it 90-91 with good run into a righty’s hands and getting a few strikeouts with it, and often went to a high-70’s changeup as his out pitch.

Perez allowed two hits – a soft grounder through the left side and a line drive back up the box – and generated soft contact on his other balls in play, getting five of his six outs on grounders.

In his Opening Day start, Perez lost his command after four innings, eventually leading to a four-run rally that broke open the game. It looked like we might be headed for a repeat performance in the fourth inning of last night’s game, as Perez issued a one-out walk to Garin Cecchini, started the next batter with two balls and then fell behind Boss Monaroa 3-0, missing many fastballs badly. But Perez simply switched to his best pitch of the night, throwing three consecutive changeups to strike Monaroa out looking and end the inning.

But despite Perez’s performance and seven strikeouts from three other pitchers, the ValleyCats still entered the bottom of the eighth in a 2-2 tie, after the Spinners struck twice off Brad James in the top of the inning. Center fielder Justin Gominsky went the other way with the first pitch he saw, lifting a soft line drive over the first baseman’s head and a couple feet to the fair side of the chalk. Gominsky sprinted into second, beating the throw from shallow right field for a leadoff double.

“It’s always fair until it’s foul,” he said, pronouncing “foul” with a trademark Minnesotan accent (sounding more like “fall”). “I was running it out whether it was foul or not.”

Drew Muren reached on a perfectly-placed bunt single, putting runners on the corners with no outs for NYPL hits leader Matt Duffy. Duffy hit a grounder to shortstop Jose Garcia’s left; he took a look at Gominsky, who stopped, then flipped to second. Gominsky broke for home, the second baseman threw to first and completed the double play but allowed the game-winning run to score.

The perfect play would have been to get the out at second and then throw home; Gominsky is fast, but because he hesitated to watch the play unfold, a throw home from second probably would have had him out. But that’s a difficult and unnatural play to make; in hindsight, the Spinners probably wish they had played the infield all the way in, allowing Garcia to look Gominsky back and then throw out Duffy at first.

The quickest game of the year was finished in two hours, 27 minutes, but many of us were a bit surprised that it even started. Heavy rain fell overnight and in the morning, and lighter drops showered the field throughout the day, but the clouds cleared about 90 minutes before game time and held off throughout the evening.

More thoughts from the notebook:

-The Spinners started a few familiar faces, including the memorable double-play tandem of Jose Garcia and Joantoni Garcia, confusing broadcasters since 2010*. The team added a third J. Garcia over the winter, pitcher Jason. None are related to each other, however; they hail from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the Bronx, respectively, meaning Lowell only needs one from Cuba or somewhere to hit for the J. Garcia cycle.

*Lowell also has two Monaroas – first baseman Boss and outfielder Moko – brothers from Australia who were signed as international free agents in 2008. This is definitely the league’s most interesting roster to read.

-Fun fact: if Lowell left fielder Seth Schwindenhammer ever reaches the majors, he’ll have the longest name of anyone to wear an MLB jersey, breaking Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s record by one letter. Don’t get your hopes up too high, though; ‘Hammer’ is 3-for-20 with 13 strikeouts in his second time through the NYPL.

-Last night was not exactly an offensive showcase. The two teams combined for 25 strikeouts and just 11 hits, two of which were bunt singles (Muren’s in the eighth and Gominsky’s, which stopped atop the third-base chalk, in the third).

-Officially, catcher Miles Hamblin has one professional stolen base, a successful steal of home. The full story is a lot less exciting, however – Hector Rodriguez attempted a suicide squeeze with Hamblin on third in the seventh inning and missed, but the catcher could not cleanly handle the pitch. According to the literal interpretation of the lovely Rule 10, if a runner starts towards the next base on the pitch and the play would ordinarily be ruled a wild pitch or passed ball, it goes down as a stolen base, with no exceptions for a play at the plate. It was a confusing play even in real time, as most of us thought Rodriguez had fouled the pitch back and Hamblin would be sent back.

-The Cats’ 16 strikeouts is a league-high for a nine-inning game this season. Staten Island, remarkably, has struck out 17 in each of its past two games, but both went to extras.

-Reason #136,251 why the win statistic is flawed: Brad James got the win on Thursday for being the game’s least effective pitcher, blowing a 2-0 lead in the eighth but watching his offense score in the bottom of the inning. Wins are a bad tool for evaluating starting pitchers, for reasons that have been well-discussed by now, but for relievers they are completely useless.

If you’re reading this while locked inside a windowless room with no means of escape, then I suppose you have an excuse for not being at the ballpark for tonight’s game, but you can still listen live online. Jonas Dufek vs. Raynel Velette, first pitch at 7:00.

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

2011 Roster released

Today’s big news was the announcement the 2011 ValleyCats roster. Here’s the press release, and the full list of players.

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.

Fielding practice

Kevin Whitaker

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