Results tagged ‘ Oscar Figueroa ’

Walk-off Notebook

6,130 fans were on hand to see Friday night’s game – the fourth-largest crowd ever at The Joe – and they saw the most exciting contest there this season. The ValleyCats fell into a 5-1 hole and seemed headed for another disappointing loss, but Adam Bailey’s seventh-inning grand slam tied the game. Lowell scored in the ninth to force extras, where the ‘Cats have had bad luck this season – 1-6 in those games entering Friday – but Dan Adamson hit a no-doubt, walk-off homer to left-center, giving the ‘Cats a dramatic 7-6 victory.

Adamson certainly strikes out a lot – his 44 whiffs lead the team – but he has been arguably the most productive ValleyCat, pacing them with a .828 OPS. (The team OPS rankings are pretty ridiculous right now, by the way; Adamson is only one-thousandth ahead of Tyler Burnett and Ben Heath, who are each at .827.) Last night’s walk-off was certainly his biggest hit of the season. Adamson said afterward he didn’t know if it was gone right away – he put his head down and ran hard to first – but everyone else sure did. Bailey, in the on-deck circle, threw his bat and began celebrating as soon as the ball left the bat.

Bailey made a great play to end the top of the inning. Speedy centerfielder Felix Sanchez drew a one-out walk and tried to tag on a long foul ball by Jose Garcia, but Bailey fired a from right field to nail Sanchez at second.

Aside from a pair of late walks to Sanchez – one which came back to hurt, one which didn’t – the Tri-City bullpen came up big. Jason Chowning allowed two runs plus on einherited but fanned four in 2.2 innings. The enigmatic Murillo Gouvea had his second strong outing in a row, scattering two hits amidst four strikeouts in two frames. Closer Jorge De Leon did not allow a hit in his two innings of work, and Brandt Walker earned the win with a scoreless eleventh.

The Spinners’ only run in the final six innings came in the ninth. Sanchez earned a walk off De Leon, and when I say “earned” I mean it, as he fouled off six to keep a 12-pitch at-bat alive. Sanchez was bunted over to second and took third when catcher Buck Afenir got crossed up on a pitch. With the infield in, Kolbrin Vitek hit a two-hopper at shortstop Oscar Figueroa, but Sanchez’s speed forced a wide throw home.

It was a shame to see the game turn on a Figueroa error, because the shortstop otherwise played brilliantly in this series. He made a great play in the second inning, ranging far up the middle to grab a Joantoni Garcia grounder and making the throw to first. He also showed great range to his right, getting a couple balls that seemed sure to get through the third-base hole, but each time the batter was too fast to make a play.

Figueroa also had a great pick and tag in the first inning to nail Sanchez on a steal attempt. Afenir made a great throw on the play and Andrew Robinson did a good job of holding on Sanchez, who leads the NYPL with 18 steals. Afenir also threw out David Renfroe trying to take second in the eighth.

Robinson was making his first professional start – and his first in 15 months, as he was a spot starter at Georgia Tech in 2009 and a full-time reliever in 2010 – and seemed a little off his game. The righty came into Friday with the best walk rate in the NYPL, but had some control issues against Lowell. He only issued one walk – and that came only when Brandon Jacobs worked a nine-pitch at-bat in the fourth – but worked into a lot of hitters’ counts, falling behind five of the first seven Spinners. Both runs he allowed in the second were unearned, although the first reached base when Robinson failed to corral a soft grounder.

Lowell starter Madison Younginer, a highly-touted 2009 draft pick, has a very unconventional delivery, bringing the ball back behind his body to knee-level and slinging it above his head. It hasn’t worked very well for him so far this year – 7.78 ERA, 18 BB and 18 SO entering Friday – but the ValleyCats had trouble with it. Adamson doubled in the second, leading to the first run of the game, but Burnett picked up the only other hit off the righty.

The ‘Cats had much more success against the Lowell bullpen. Tyler Burnett led off the seventh with a single off Charle Rosario, Mike Kvasnicka drew a walk and Afenir singled up the middle, loading the bases. Adamson fanned, but Bailey delivered the team’s first grand slam of the season. It was his third longball of 2010 and his second hit to clear the second fence in right field, landing just behind the CSEA sign beyond the foul pole.

Burnett went 3-for-4 and extended his hit streak to 10 games, and again got things started in the eighth. Tyler Lockwood sent both Wilton Infante and Kik&eacute Hernandez down swinging with breaking balls in the dirt, but Burnett singled to right and Kvasnicka followed with another walk. Afenir singled up the middle yet again, and Sanchez’s throw was much too soft to catch Burnett at the plate.

Lowell righty Roman Mendez was traded to the Texas organization today as part of a package that sent Jarrod Saltalamacchia to Boston. The ValleyCats wish the teams had pulled the trigger a couple days earlier, as Mendez threw well and earned the victory on Thursday. Mendez gave up a homer to Ben Heath and a fourth-inning run but was impressive, sitting around 97 mph with the ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun.

Alex Sogard made his second start of the season on Thursday. He threw a lot of curveballs, even to righties, and had a lot of success with his pitch, using it to strike out the side in the second. Unfortunately, the Spinners jumped all over his fastball, tagging the lefty for eight runs in 2+ innings. Kolbrin Vitek made the third out in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd innings for Lowell, which sent nine batters in each of the latter two innings.

The ValleyCats’ bullpen came up big, holding the Spinners no runs and only one hit – a Vitek dribbler past the pitcher – over the final six innings. But the damage was already done. Adamson made a terrific catch on a deep Bryce Brentz fly in the fourth, going way back to catch a ball over his head; Jacobs was so surprised to see the ball caught that he could not score from third base, even though Adamson was nearly 400 feet from home.

Brentz has strugggled all season to the tune of a .178 batting average, but had a terrific Thursday at the plate. The right fielder went 2-for-4 and could have had four hits; Adamson robbed him of one (and Jacobs of a sac fly), and he hit a sharp liner right at Wilton Infante in left field in the ninth. Brentz walked once, doubled and drove in two.

Had Lowell held on to win on Friday and take two of three from the ValleyCats, it would have been the first time the Spinners won a series all season.

Tri-City plays three games this weekend at Connecticut, including a Saturday doubleheader. Reliever John Frawley was sent up from Greenville to help add some pitching depth for the rough stretch.

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.

Notebook: Record crowd

In case you haven’t heard, last night was a big night. We had 7,005 fans at Joe Bruno Stadium for the 5 pm game, easily setting the single-game franchise record.

We owe Time Warner a big thanks for the crowd. Last night was “Time Warner Cable Customer Appreciation Night,” where customers could recieve four tickets for bringing their cable bill to the ticket office. Time Warner also broadcast the game live on TW-3, announced by Robert Lee and James Allen.

Time Warner also took over the Picnic Pavilion with various activities. It had a preview of 3-D television featuring that afternoon’s Yankees-Mariners game, and a station where fans could pretend to be a meterologist, which I bring up solely for the purpose of posting this picture of VCN’s Chris Chenes:

You can check out plenty of other pictures on Vic’s blog.

Things were pretty chaotic here between the record crowd and the Time Warner television crew, but the game ran pretty smoothly nonetheless. The ‘Cats battled back from an early deficit to tie the game at 6-6, but couldn’t push a run across after that, despite 12 hits. More thoughts:

David Martinez was making his first start, and got kind of unlucky to allow five runs. Two of the five were unearned, and he was unlucky with runners on base – Jamestown scored six runs in the first two innings and only stranded one runner. He also generally kept the ball down well – ten of the 13 balls in play were on the ground. Unfortunately, the three balls in the air went for seven total bases, including a two-run Marcell Ozuna homer in the first inning. He sat 89-92 mph as a starter, going to an 82-84 changeup almost exclusively as a second pitch, and held his velocity throughout the game (although that was only 51 pitches).

Martinez’s third run was unearned, because the runner advanced on a bad pickoff attempt. I have asked this before and I will ask again: should a pickoff error count towards an earned run? I realize that fielding errors by pitchers do not and should not count against ERA, because the statistic attempts to isolate pitching performance from fielding performance. But it seems to me that a pickoff is more of a “pitching” play than a “fielding” play, and a bad pickoff throw would seem similar to a wild pitch, which does count against ERA. If the pickoff play is successful and gets an out, it will help the pitcher’s ERA…so why shouldn’t a bad throw by the pitcher hurt it?

Three errors looks bad, and the error on Heath in the fourth inning was one of the ugliest plays you’ll see this year. Aaron Dudley singled to shallow left field, loading the bases, and the runners all stopped at their respective bags. Adamson’s throw missed the cutoff and took four bounces to the plate, where Heath just whiffed on it and nobody was backing him up. A run scored on the play, and the error was ultimately responsible for another. But despite the miscues, the ‘Cats generally played strong defense last night, making a few very nice plays.

Oscar Figueroa showed great range at short, going to his left to grab a Sequoyah Stonecipher roller behind second base to end the first inning. After completing a 4-6-3 double play in the second, Figgy made a great sliding play on another ball up the middle, getting up to nail Aaron Dudley by a step at first. Possibly the best play came in the ninth. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Jamestown threatened to blow open a one-run game. But Mike Kvasnicka fielded a chopper at third, threw to Enrique Hernandez at second for one out. Kik&eacute saw the runner on third heading home and threw a strike to Ben Heath, catching Daniel Black in a rundown for the second out.

Unfortunately, Ryan Fisher extended the lead anyways, hitting a triple that was the closest ball I’ve seen to leaving the park in dead center, hitting one foot below the yellow piping.

Kvasnicka stroked the ball well at the plate, going 2-for-4 with another walk, and one of the outs was a liner to second. Kvasnicka pulled both of his hits, clean line drives to the outfield. He’s starting at catcher tonight for the second time this season.

Wilton Infante sure had a good night, going 4-for-5 and raising his batting average about 50 points. But he would have been better off going 3-for-4 – he singled in the eighth only after missing a squeeze attempt on a curveball outside, leaving pinch runner Ben Orloff caught dead between third and home with the game-tying run.

In the bottom of the ninth, I saw a play I’ve never seen before. Kvasnicka walked to lead off the inning, and Ben Heath hit a line drive. Kvasnicka broke for second, but the ball was hit right at shortstop Noah Perio, who threw to first to double off Kvasnicka. The throw hit Kvasnicka in the back but somehow bounced right into the first baseman’s glove, in time to double off Kvas. I saw the replay on TW-3 and still have no idea how that happened.

Chris Blazek starts tonight, but will only go one inning. This could be Blazek’s final outing with the ValleyCats, as he is almost finished with his rehab assignment and will likely head back up to Corpus Christi soon. He had not allowed a run this season until Staten Island tagged him for a pair on Saturday.

Kevin Whitaker


Notebook: Kvasnicka catches

The ValleyCats went with a different defensive alignment than usual yesterday. Ben Orloff played his first game at shortstop since July 8, 2009, and handled the position very well. Orloff had only two chances yesterday but made the most of them. He handled a soft grounder in the first inning, but the highlight-reel play came in the fourth, when he reached a grounder up the middle and flipped it to Kiké Hernandez, who barehanded it and relayed to first while falling backwards, getting Brett Anderson by a step for a double play*.

Evan also nominated that as the best play at The Joe this season. I’m sorry, but that honor still belongs to Chad Mozingo, for his catch diving backwards on the warning track that turned into a double play. We’ll all be extremely lucky if that one gets topped this year.

As a senior at UC-Irvine in 2009, Orloff won the Brooks Wallace Award, given to the nation’s best collegiate shortstop, so it was nice to see him play well back at his old position. If you’re looking for some man-love for Orloff, Evan gave you plenty of it this afternoon. Orloff is a very good defender and one of the nicest people on the team. Let’s just say I don’t think he’ll still be leading the team in batting average at the end of the season.

But the defensive assignment that will get more notoriety is the fact that Mike Kvasnicka started at catcher for the first time as a professional. Kvasnicka was seen by many teams as a catcher entering the draft and he played there at times in college, but the Astros announced him as a third baseman, and he’s spent his time at third and in right this year. They still want to have him catch once in a while to stay fresh; he’s been catching bullpen sessions and he was behind the plate in a game situation for the first time last night.

It was only one game, but Kvasnicka looked more comfortable behind the plate than he has anywhere else this year. Connecticut didn’t test him much early on – they put Anderson in motion in the second, but PJ Polk put the ball in play – and the pitchers also made it easy on him, for the most part.

Things finally got interesting for Kvasnicka in the seventh, when the speedy Polk stole second and third. Both bags were stolen more off pitcher Brandt Walker than off Kvasnicka, though. In particular, his release and throw to second base was terrific; Polk had a great jump and I was expecting him to have the base easy, but Kvasnicka made it a close play. He was more to blame for the steal of third, as he had trouble transferring a pitch low and away (to a RHB) into his hand and didn’t make a throw, but given Polk’s jump and the pitch location I’m not sure he had a play anyways.

I can only remember one ball in the dirt from the first seven innings, a relatively harmless one right into Kvasnicka’s glove. However, the rookie did make a really nice play to block an 0-0 pitch from Andrew Robinson with a man on in the eighth; the ball bounced in the left-handed batter’s box and kicked up high, but Kvasnicka moved well to get his body in front of it. (He then got crossed up on the next pitch, expecting fastball and getting curve, but the pitch was down the middle and he was able to catch it before talking to Robinson.)

Overall, a very strong first outing behind the plate. If the Astros decide they want him behind the plate – or if, a year down the road, another team wants him there badly enough to trade for him – I saw nothing yesterday that would dissuade them.

Buchanan didn’t have a bad outing last night, allowing three runs in 4.2 innings. He was sitting 88-91 mph with his fastball all night, although the Tigers tagged it for a few hits. He hit Josh Ashenbrenner with a 1-2 pitch and it came back to hurt him, as James Robbins hit a ground-ball single off the glove of a diving Hernandez. His curve was very sharp, as he racked up three strikeouts in the first three innings on 76-77 mph curveballs.

The second-inning run came on a bit of a fluke, as Les Smith hit a grounder that took a bad hop and jumped over Tyler Burnett’s head at first, going for a double. Anderson immediately jumped on a first-pitch fastball for a single to bring home the run, but Buchanan settled down after that. He finished with six strikeouts on the night, getting two more later in the start by climbing the ladder with fastballs.

Buchanan also displayed Houston’s “organizational philosophy”, throwing first-pitch strikes to the first 11 batters he faced (17/20 overall).

The fifth-inning run was anything but lucky, as Londell Taylor took a 3-2 pitch well over the fence in left field. The Tri-City pitchers have generally been excellent this season, but they have been susceptible to the long ball, allowing 11 homers (tied with Hudson Valley for most in they NYPL). Murillo Gouvea has been the worst offender, allowing a league-high four homers.

On the other side, Brennan Smith was starting for the first time after opening the season in the bullpen, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching him. The righty made a seamless transition to the rotation, throwing four scoreless innings.

The ValleyCats had more success against the Tiger bullpen. Tyler Clark, with a herky-jerky delivery and a 69-71 mph curveball, allowed three hits and three walks in two innings, but escaped with only two runs. He could have gotten out of the fifth unscathed when Hernandez hit a possible double-play grounder with the bases loaded, but the relay throw pulled the first baseman off the bag.

Adam Champion didn’t have his best outing. The southpaw entered with two out in the fifth and gave up a bases-empty double to lefty Josh Ashenbrenner, but got out of that inning without further trouble. He fell behind the first four batters he faced in the sixth, however, and it cost him; he pegged James Robbins with his first pitch, and Robbins came around to score on Anderson’s two-out single.

Oscar Figueroa went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs, including the big hit in the sixth inning: a ground-ball single up the middle that may have went off Clark’s bare hand, scoring Bailey.

Patience fueled the ‘Cats’ late inning rallies. Ben Orloff led off the seventh with a 10-pitch walk (though he admitted afterwards that he fouled off a couple pitches he should have hit), Heath’s critical grounder that Anderson booted came after seven pitches, and Burnett drew a seven-pitch, bases-loaded walk (technically, Tyler White only threw six pitches, as the second ball was called because he went to his mouth on the pitching mound).

Dan Adamson led off the eighth with a triple to center, also on a full count. Adamson’s blast short-hopped the wall in the deepest part of the ballpark, and would have been gone most anywhere else on the field. Oscar Figueroa brought him home with a double, but stayed at second when Wilton Infante popped up a bunt.

Then came the game’s deciding play – Ben Orloff grounded through the right side, Taylor picked up the ball in shallow right field as Figueroa was rounding third, and manager Jim Pankovits waived him home. The throw was good enough to beat Figueroa, who slid past the tag and base, and was finally tagged out in a cat-and-mouse game behind home plate.

The ball, as mentioned, was picked up in shallow right field, and Taylor had plenty of time to throw Figueroa out. But I have no problem with Pankovits’ decision. First off, as he mentioned after the game, it’s not exactly like the ‘Cats have been good recently at bringing runners home – this was probably their best shot. And although outfielders should probably make that play on a shallow ground ball, they don’t always succeed – I’ve seen basically that same play at the plate four times this season, and Figueroa was only the second runner to be thrown out (Kvasnicka gunned down the other in last week’s 11-inning contest).

Walker had a long inning, even though he faced only five hitters and didn’t allow a hit. He walked Polk, who stole two bases and scored, and then walked Julio Rodriguez. But his stuff is clearly there, starting with a 94-95 fastball with good sink. He threw a 77-mph curve to freeze Ashenbrenner for his first strikeout, then threw an 83 changeup to set up a fastball that he blew by Robbins to end the inning. Walker needed 26 pitches to get through the five batters.

Nine runners scored last night. Six of them reached base on either a walk or hit by pitch.

The ‘Cats continue to have absolutely no success at bringing runners home – they’re 4-for-25 with RISP in two games this series, stranding 11 runners each game. I remain mystified by their inability to drive in runs. It would make sense that they would struggle to move guys along if they struck out a lot…but they don’t (only 3 K’s last night). I guess it could be partly due to lineup construction – this early in the season, it’s hard to know who your best hitters are, so it’s more difficult to cluster them together, making it more likely that guys who get on base will be left there…but I don’t really think that can explain more than a small part of it. I remain hopeful that this is just bad luck, and the team will start to convert more hits into runs soon.

Kevin Whitaker


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

Game 1 and VCN Behind the Scenes

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:

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Chris, Evan and Gino work on setting up the live broadcast

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Jason and Elliot in the production room

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Elliot gets some video during batting practice

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Jason hard at work before the game…

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…controlling what shows up on this.

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Evan starts his pregame radio show

And a few more random pictures from the night:
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Kevin Whitaker

2010 ValleyCats Roster

In case you missed the news yesterday, we have an official roster for the 2010 ValleyCats. Here’s the press release.

We’ll be providing plenty of information on each player throughout the season. In the meantime, here’s some more information on the roster:

A total of 14 college players will be making their professional debut with the ValleyCats, after being selected in last week’s amateur draft. Foremost among them is Michael Kvasnicka of Minnesota, taken with the 33rd overall pick and signed yesterday. Kvasnicka played the outfield and caught for the Gophers, but Houston sees him as a third baseman, so Tri-City fans will get to watch his transition to the hot corner firsthand. He’s also listed as a utility player, which means we’ll probably see some of him in the outfield, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets a few innings at second base. I wrote more about Kvasnicka after the draft.

A couple of other high draft picks will be joining Kvasnicka in Troy this week. Texas Tech pitcher Bobby Doran and Penn State catcher Ben Heath – selected in the fourth and fifth round, respectively – also were assigned to Troy. Two other pitchers taken in the first ten rounds will don ValleyCats uniforms this year: NC State righty Jake Buchanan and Xavier lefty Thomas Shirley. I also wrote about these Day 2 selections last week.

Buchanan should not be very lonely at Tri-City this year, as he joins a pair of former teammates on the ValleyCats. Left-handed pitcher Andrew Sogard was also drafted out of NC State this season in the 26th round. And first baseman Nick Stanley played for the Wolfpack before being drafted in the 25th round last season.

Eleven foreign players add an international flavor to this season’s roster. Five ValleyCats hail from Venezuela and five from the Dominican Republic, while pitcher Murilo Gouvea is from Brazil. Perhaps the most interesting of these players is Jorge De Leon. In his fourth professional season, the righty played 66 games between Tri-City and Lexington at shortstop, but batted just .206/.246/.286. This offseason, Houston decided to convert him to the mound, and he will be pitching for the ValleyCats this year. His fastball has reportedly been clocked at 97 mph this spring, making him one of the most interesting members of the pitching staff.

Five other members of this year’s roster spent time in Troy in 2009. Stanley played in 63 games for the ValleyCats in his first professional season, batting .230/.308/.354 at first base. Joining Stanley in the infield is middle infielder Ben Orloff, who batted just .165 in 97 at-bats before finishing the season at Greenville, and 1B/U Oscar Figueroa, who appeared in two games last season. Centerfielder Renzo Tello will also return to Troy after playing 45 games for Tri-City last year. The only true pitcher to return to the staff is Brendan Stines, who went 3-0 with a 4.93 ERA out of the bullpen in 2009.

Some other related links:

VCN was able to talk with Astros GM Ed Wade at Yankee Stadium last weekend, when Houston came to New York for interleague play. Here’s Wade’s take on the draft and what to expect at Tri-City in 2010:



The Hardball Times breaks down the 2010 MLB Draft. Houston split evenly between pitchers and hitters, but drafted 25 high school players, more than all but three teams.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball posted a review of Houston’s draft, with mostly positive impressions. Sickels is a big fan of one of our 2010 ValleyCats, fourth-round pick Robert Doran.

Former Astro Morgan Ensberg had an interesting piece describing what went through his head when he was drafted.

Tonight is the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce Baseball Challenge. The annual event lets Chamber members “be a ValleyCat for a day,” dressing in locker rooms, taking batting practice and then playing a seven-inning game at The Joe. VCN will be running a full-scale production of the game in preparation for Opening Day, so stay tuned tonight for a glimpse of the coverage we’ll be bringing you this season. (Update: Team Niagara wins, 2-0. Read about it here.)

Kevin Whitaker

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