Results tagged ‘ Opening Weekend ’

A Weekend Of Firsts

After many days of preparation, with most of the staff
putting in 12+ hour days during the week leading up to Friday’s Opening Day,
Opening Weekend 2010 has come and gone. We had a lot of firsts this weekend and
we even made history.

There was no better way to start the season if you are a
ValleyCats fan. Scratch that, just a baseball fan in general. The ‘Cats scored
their first run of the year in their first inning of offense. Mike Kvasnicka,
the Astros first round supplemental pick (33rd overall), hit his
first professional home run on the first pitch he saw as a ValleyCat.

Tri-City also notched its first walk-off victory of the
season. With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Enrique Hernandez led
off the inning with a single to left. ValleyCats Manager Jim Pankovits wasted
no time and put the speedy veteran Ben Orloff into the game to run (“Walk-off”
Orloff was a part of pretty much every walk-off win last year). Wilton Infante
laid a nice sac bunt down to push Ben Orloff over to second base. With one down
and a runner on second, Oscar Figeroa lined a pitch down the third-base line
that just stayed fair (I’m talking
inches here). Orloff scored all the way from second to give the ‘Cats their
first victory of the young season. The ValleyCats bench erupted, along with the
crowd of 5,380 (the first sell out of the season), exploded out of the dugout,
and mobbed Figeroa as he rounded second. It was Figeroa’s first walk-off hit.

“I was thinking and concentrating on one pitch,” said
Figueroa. “I was looking for fastball middle in. That’s what he threw me,
fastball middle in. When I hit the ball, I was thinking ‘God, please make that
ball fair.’ When the guys got to me at second base, that was really exciting. I
never in my life have been in that situation. It was awesome.”

The excitement carried over to game two the following night
as the ValleyCats organization reached a huge milestone. Heading into this season, 992,109 people had walked through the front gates
at “The Joe” since the ValleyCats debuted in 2002. Now, the total is over one million. To
celebrate, ValleyCats employees gave out more free stuff than ever before.
Ushers were armed with gift certificates, t-shirts were tossed almost every
half inning, the “Giveaway Gun” made its debut, and special prizes were given
to some lucky fans (including four tickets to Country Fest and a baseball
signed by Nationals rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg). It was day for the fans;
a big thank you from the ValleyCats front office staff for years of dedication.
But who was the millionth fan? No one will ever really know, but the front
office staff here has deemed the entire crowd in attendance on June 19 the
millionth fan (remember, we are celebrating all year round).

Other Baseball
Notes (including the first game against the Spinners):

As fellow ValleyCats Network (VCN) member Kevin Whitaker has
pointed out already, the ‘Cats bullpen this season has been exceptional. It has allowed two runs in 22 innings of work so far. Pankovits and his staff
have told me that they will be more reliant on the bullpen this year. Last year,
a lot of the starters had a predetermined pitch count. This year, Pank has more
control of the pitching staff and has said he is not afraid to pull someone
early if his stuff isn’t there. These first couple of games have been a test, a
measuring stick if you will. The ValleyCats aren’t going to send out four
relievers every game. That’s absurd, and is a quick way to exhaust your
pitchers. Pank is just seeing what talent is available to him. David Martinez
has been one of the standouts. In six innings of work so far he is 1-0, has a
perfect ERA, and has only let up two hits.

If people are worried about Mike Kvasnicka because he is 0
for his last 12 with two walks, chill out. It’s early. It generally takes
hitters longer to adjust to the wooden bats, but that isn’t always the case
(J.D. Martinez anyone?). Kvasnicka will turn it around. The guy led the team in
average at .355 this season for the Golden Gophers, with eight homers and 50
batted in (he batted .341 last season). Lowell Spinners outfielder Bryce Brentz
(team mate of ValleyCat Tyler Burnett), the Red Sox first round supplemental
pick (36 overall, just three spots later than Kvasnicka) is batting .077 so far
this season. He was considered one of the best bats in this year’s draft. Are
the Red Sox worried about him? Absolutely not.

The ValleyCats do have areas they need to fix. The defense
needs to get together. This team is 2-2. They have committed four errors in
their two losses and only one in their two wins. They have given up seven unearned
runs. Just not acceptable. I know it is early on in the season, but this trend
cannot continue. The pitching staff has been great, but the D needs to tighten
up behind them. I could see this team playing a lot of close, low scoring games
this year, and there is nothing wrong with that. Tri-City is a National League
affiliate and the NL is notorious for their “small ball.” Playing it here just
gets them more prepped for the big leagues.

All-in-all, not a bad way to start the season. There are a
few kinks to work out, but who doesn’t have that? Answer: everyone does. It’s
still early. We have not even come close to seeing this team’s potential. The
Stedler Division will be a tough battle this year. The Lake Monsters have
started the season off tied for the best record at 3-1, the Tigers always play
the ValleyCats tough, and the Spinners have a few first round picks on their
hands, and might get another one in Anthony Raunado when he finally signs after
playing a little bit in a summer league. The talent is definitely there for the
ValleyCats, and it should be interesting to see how they use it.

By Evan Valenti

Kvasnicka at 3B; weekend roundup

From a long-term perspective, the most important part of Sunday night’s loss was not the outcome of the game. Instead, it was the transition of one of the most promising young ‘Cats: Michael Kvasnicka started at third base for the first time, after playing the first two games in right field.

Although he was primarily an outfielder in college and was seen by many teams as a catcher, the Astros drafted Kvasnicka to play third base. The 33rd overall pick from the University of Minnesota has played everywhere on the diamond, but spent most of his time in the outfield and will be raw as third basemen go. He’s been taking grounders there all week, but today was the first time Kvasnicka was at the hot corner in live action.

He had plenty of chances to prove himself, too. Most notably, Alex Nunez led off the third inning by laying a bunt down the third base line, challenging the rookie’s chops at the new position. Kvasnicka picked the ball up nicely, and his throw almost pulled first baseman Tyler Burnett (moved off the hot corner to make room for Kvasnicka) off the bag, but he got the out. It wasn’t a terribly difficult play as drag bunts go, and most third basemen will get that out, but it was nice to see Kvasnicka handle himself well on it.

Kvasnicka had four other fielding chances at third, and handled them all with ease. The second batter of a game hit a slow chopper to third; Kvasnicka smartly checked off a double-play throw to second, set himself and threw to first, getting PJ Polk by a step and a half. The two other grounders Kvasnicka saw were easy – a two-hopper right at him in the fifth and a soft broken-bat grounder leading off the sixth – and he caught a high popup in foul territory; he had to come back towards the infield late to catch the ball, but he made the play.

One other ball went through Kvasnicka’s zone – a hard, one-hopper through his left side in the fifth inning off the bat of Matt Mansilla. It was a clean base hit, but he had a chance at making a great play if he made a little better read and/or moved better to his left. Not that we should be holding him to these standards yet, but I’d imagine a good percentage of big-league third basemen would have at least gotten a glove on that ball.

But overall, I think Astros fans have to be optimistic about what we saw from Kvasnicka defensively today. ValleyCat fans should be encouraged, too, as the move should strengthen the Tri-City defense. Kvasnicka right now is a downgrade at third from Burnett (who made a nice diving play in the first inning of Saturday’s game), but Burnett at first should be an upgrade over Nick Stanley, who did not technically commit an error in two days but saw three hits go off of his glove. Also, if any of the outfielders who have been DHing are average defenisvely in right, that will probably be a net plus to the ‘Cats run prevention. Kvasnicka made a fielding error trying to pick up a blooper in right in the first inning on Friday, three-hopped a throw home 20 feet up the line on Saturday and took a couple other awkward routes to balls in the outfield this weekend. That also frees up the DH spot for Stanley, should management decide they want his veteran bat in the lineup.

In fact, if you’re looking for a source of worry regarding Kvasnicka’s development, I’d take a look at his performance against lefties. The switch-hitter famously had no trouble adjusting to the speed of the professional game from the left-handed batters box, blasting an opposite-field homer and a double to the same place on the first two pitches he saw. But Connecticut turned him around in his last two at-bats yesterday and for all four today, and Kvasnicka looked shakier as a right-handed batter. From the right side, he’s 0-for-6 with three strikeouts, two popups to second base, and a weak grounder to third. He was up in a key situation in the eighth inning today with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth, but was way behind an 87 mph fastball from Logan Hoch and then chased an offspeed pitch in the dirt for strike three. Six at-bats is obviously a tiny sample, and I’ll keep an eye on this one throughout the season.

Some other assorted notes from Opening Weekend:

I mentioned this in my gamer, but Connecticut starter Luis Sanz pulled off an interesting feat on Saturday: he allowed three batters to reach base in innings 2-5, but still faced the minimum 12 batters. Even more interesting was the way he did it. All three baserunners were retired in different ways – Renzo Tello was caught stealing, Tyler Burnett was erased on a double play and Dan Adamson was called out on a stolen base attempt due to batter interference on Tello. The call drew an angry reaction – not to mention confusion – from the crowd, but Pankovits didn’t really argue, and it looked like the right call. It was a 1-2 hit-and-run, Tello swung at a pitch way outside to protect the runner and ended up falling over the plate. Catcher Eric Roof still got a throw off and I think Adamson probably had even a good throw beat, but Tello was definitely in Roof’s path and the catcher sold the call.

Sanz had a really incredible outing, in the literal sense of the word: I was amazed at how he turned on and off his command. He threw six pitches, all strikes, to strike out Orloff, but after getting ahead of Figueroa he completely lost it. He threw only five strikes the rest of the inning, with 14 balls and three free passes mixed in. He was lucky Burnett swung first-pitch and Stanley on 2-0, each hitting into outs, because otherwise it could have taken him a long time to get out of the inning. But just as I was preparing for a long day, he found the switch again, needing only 44 pitches to finish the next four innings.

Murillo Gouvea did not have his best outing tonight. In particular, he had very little command of his pitches. In four innings, he managed to limit the damage to just two walks, but he needed 72 pitches to make it through those frames. He left stuff up in the zone all night, the main cause of the single, double and homer in the first inning, and threw quite a few curveballs that never made it below the hitters’ eyes. But the bullpen generally picked him up, and as a team, when you allow five runs you still definitely have a shot to win.

The story of tonight’s game, rather, was the fact that Tri-City hit just 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position. But while it may seem to read, “the ValleyCats offense sucks,” I don’t really agree. Let’s wait a bit longer before declaring the Tri-City bats dead in the water. For one, they weren’t really that futile today – they just picked up their hits at inopportune times. Tri-City didn’t string together two hits in an inning until the last one, and with four doubles and a triple, the ‘Cats were certainly in dangerous positions often. For another, although they didn’t do much yesterday, it was only two days ago that the ValleyCats racked up twelve hits off the Connecticut opening day starter. Finally, Guichardo is a very good pitcher: he posted a 1.73 ERA as a 17-year-old in the Gulf Coast League last year and pitched well in a start at high-A Lakeland.

The run prevention, particularly the defense, is another concern. But I don’t think the last two sloppy days are much more indicative of Tri-City’s true talent level than the opener, when they were incredibly sharp (one harmless error, 15 K, 0 BB). As shaky as some of the pitchers have looked, the ValleyCats still walked only six batters in 18 innings (not good but certainly no disaster), and that’s with 15 different players taking the mound. Eventually a rotation and a bullpen will be set, and the better pitchers will get more innings. Converted shortstop Jorge De Leon looked very good in the ninth tonight, touching 97 on the stadium gun and inducing four groundballs (the first one a single through the 3-4 hole).

I’m not sure if the ValleyCats have 17 pitchers on their roster because they needed 15 of them this weekend, or if they used 15 pitchers this weekend because they had so many that needed work. Either way, as someone tasked with scoring and covering the game, I’m kind of hoping they get rid of a few soon, just so I don’t have to deal with so many pitching changes.

Kevin Whitaker

VCN Videos

Elliot Travis will be producing videos about the ValleyCats’ season throughout the year. Here’s a video from Opening Day:

And here’s Elliot’s video from the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce Baseball Challenge:

Opening Night!

Well, it’s June 18th, which means Opening Day is finally here!  The ValleyCats are starting their season at Joe Bruno Stadium for the first time since 2006, and VCN has you covered.

Before the game: read about the season opener and check out the 2010 roster.

During the game: Come to The Joe to see the ValleyCats play! But if you can’t make the game, our own Evan Valenti is broadcasting the game live. Listen here.

After the game: Check our website for a game recap. And we’ll have some content right here on ‘Cats Corner, including some pictures and more analysis,