Results tagged ‘ Ryan McCurdy ’

Blues, BBQ & Baseball

A busy day at “The Joe” kicked off with a press conference to announce the arrival of Houston’s first round draft pick, George Springer. The former UConn standout, who was selected 11th overall in this June’s draft, met with the local media Tuesday afternoon.
Blues legend Ernie Williams brought down the house with his annual Blues, BBQ & Baseball Night performance. Gates opened early for our final installment of Tunes for Tuesday this season.
Our friend “Cuppy” from Dunkin’ Donuts greeted fans throughout the night and accompanied our honorary managers as they exchanged lineup cards. Dunkin’ Donuts also provided gift cards to a select number of lucky fans throughout the night.
In celebration of the team’s 10th Anniversary Season, ValleyCats President Bill Gladstone introduced Senator Joe Bruno to the crowd and thanked him for his role in bringing the team to Troy. Following those remarks, Senator Bruno tossed out the ceremonial first pitch.
Tuesday’s game also marked Brooklyn’s first visit to “The Joe” since last year’s championship series. 4,802 fans packed the ballpark to watch the series opener against the Cyclones, and they were not disappointed.
The ‘Cats picked up right where they left off last fall, plating four runs in the first inning. Matt Duffy opened the scoring with an RBI single and Ryan McCurdy drove in two more with his first of two hits on the night. Adam Champion pitched five strong innings to earn the win and Zach Johnson provided some more support with his fifth home run of the year.

Catcher Ryan McCurdy tags Xorge Castillo, who was thrown out by right fielder Drew Muren while attempting to score from third on a single in the ninth inning.

After the game, Springer signed autographs for fans alongside pitcher Dayan Diaz.
With only four home games remaining, come cheer the ‘Cats on as they look to make a final push for the playoffs. Wednesday night is 50 Cent Hot Dog Night, presented by Helmbold’s, and will feature hot dog eating contests throughout the night. On the field, the team will look to take a second straight game from the downstate Mets affiliate.
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Notebook: Little expectations, big numbers

According to simple math, an average team should sweep about one of every four doubleheaders. Entering last night, the ValleyCats – admittedly not quite an average team for most of their history – had played 19 doubleheaders in the last six years and swept exactly none of them. But that all changed on Friday, as the ‘Cats dominated Hudson Valley in the opener and eked out a 2-1 win in game two for their first sweep of a doubleheader since the Pence/Zobrist days of 2004.

At the center of it, of course, was Rafael Valenzuela. The infielder singled in the first inning of game one and added three more hits – all doubles – throughout the night. Valenzuela – who will start in right field tonight, his first professional appearance in the outfield – drove two balls to the center-field wall and took an 0-1 pitch the opposite way into the left-field corner, scoring three runs and breaking open the first game, which the ‘Cats ultimately won 9-2.

Since August 2, when he joined the team after making a short rehab appearance in the GCL, Valenzuela leads the NY-Penn League with ten extra-base hits. He ranks second in slugging (.762), tied for second in RBIs (10) and tied for third in batting average (.429).

“Having someone like him in the lineup not only makes everybody else better, but it makes the clubhouse better,” manager Stubby Clapp said. “When he got hurt in extended [spring training], we knew it was going to be a bit of a blow to us, and having him back has been important.”

Valenzuela, who said he has no idea what his numbers are (do they ever say they keep track of that?), does not have the pedigree of a player expected to have such success – he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Arizona last summer. In a way, that makes him right at home on this team.

The ‘Cats had three undrafted free agents in the lineup in the first game (and will do so again tonight), and all three made a rather large impact. Four innings before Valenzuela’s bases-clearing double, catcher Ryan McCurdy pulled a low grounder to the same spot for a three-RBI hit of his own, capping a five-run first inning that gave the ‘Cats the lead for good.

Valenzuela and McCurdy are joined by Neiko Johnson, who has cemented a spot in the everyday lineup with a .424 on-base percentage, fourth-best among NYPL qualifiers. Listed at a generous 5’9”, Johnson has a small strike zone, and he knows how to use it. Despite seeing limited playing time in the first third of the season, the utility player has drawn 33 walks, third-best in the league. And this is no fluke – going back to his college days, Johnson routinely walked in 20 percent or more of his plate appearances.

Add in Johnson’s versatility – he has started games at five different positions this year – and the fact that he has been one of the only ValleyCats to add real value with his basestealing ability (16 of 19 on steal attempts for a team that has been caught more often than any other), and he’s clearly been one of the key parts of the Cats’ late-season charge.

In fact, this marks one of the biggest distinctions between the 2011 ValleyCats and last year’s NYPL champions: the 2010 team’s everyday lineup was comprised almost entirely of first- and second-day draft selections. In addition to Johnson, Valenzuela and McCurdy, Chris Epps – a recently-promoted outfielder and the walk-off hero from earlier this week – was a 45th-round selection, while Chase Davidson (who tore up Greeneville and was just added to the roster) was also taken late on day three.

A fourth undrafted free agent, Andrew Walter, made his second start with the ValleyCats and had an interesting evening. The righty pegged three batters, walked two others and threw a few pitches to the backstop, but he allowed only one hit and would have held the Renegades scoreless if not for a two-out passed ball in the second.

Walter struck out five batters, all swinging, going up the ladder with fastballs to get the first three and then fanning lefties Juniel Querecuto and Jeff Malm in order with inside curveballs.

“Walter was a little bit shaky, but he was good enough to keep us close and keep them off-balance,” Clapp said. The ‘Cats have won both games started by the young righty.

Travis Blankenship – a former third-day draft pick himself – replaced Walter after the righty hit Kyle Holloway for the second time and pitched much more conventionally. Blankenship needed only 33 pitches, 25 of them strikes, to record nine outs and preserve a one-run lead. Ryan Cole – dubbed “Cardiac Cole” after the game by Clapp – allowed two hits in the ninth but held on for his eighth save of the season.

Lost in the offensive outburst of the first game was a terrific pitching performance from Adam Champion. The southpaw, making just his third pro start, threw 80 pitches over six innings, striking out five and allowing only one hit over his final five frames.

“It was an easy game for McCurdy to call,” he said. “It was basically, sinker away and let them hit it, and they just kept beating it into the ground. It’s easy baseball when you just throw to a spot and keep pitching.”

Champion worked as a reliever for last year’s championship team and started 2011 in the ‘pen, even returning there after making a spot start against Staten Island. But with two great outings in August, he may force his way into a suddenly crowded rotation even as the hectic schedule settles down after the All-Star break.

“I’ve been a starter my whole life,” Champion said. “It’s pretty easy to go from relief to starter. I just go back to my roots, and basically do what I have done in the past, and keep the routine.”

The ‘Cats, winners of seven of their last ten games, look to keep it rolling against the Renegades tonight. The broadcast will probably have started by the time you read this; as always, if you can’t make the game, listen live online.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Clutch hitting

Saturday night’s game has been postponed due to rain, and will be made up in a doubleheader at Vermont, as the Lake Monsters do not return to “The Joe” this year. Tickets for tonight’s game can be exchanged for any remaining regular-season home game.

All season long, the ValleyCats have struggled to get clutch hits. The ‘Cats have watched opponents execute better in the late innings, suffering an unlucky 4-10 record in close games despite playing nearly even in blowouts. On Friday night, that all changed, led by one of the newest members of the team.

Rafael Valenzuela joined the ValleyCats in Jamestown on Tuesday, the first of three position players assigned to Tri-City this week. Friday marked his first game at Joe Bruno Stadium, and it was a good day to debut – a pleasant evening in front of a sellout crowd of 5,267 fans.

After several fruitless opportunities in the earlier innings, Valenzuela strode to the plate with two on in the eighth inning to face NYPL saves leader Tanner Peters. He swing at a 3-1 fastball and flicked a high line drive the opposite way, slicing into left-center for a clean double. Justin Gominsky scored and Valenzuela replaced him on second, listening to his first ovation from the hometown crowd.

“I was nervous,” Valenzuela said of playing at Joe Bruno Stadium for the first time. “All the guys were talking about how great the atmosphere is and how great the fans are, and I was just happy I was able to give them a big hit tonight.”

Valenzuela was tentatively expected to open the season in Troy after playing at Rookie League Greeneville last season, but he broke his hamate bone in June and missed the first month. The infielder played four games in the Gulf Coast league on a rehab assignment and was happy to get the call-up to Tri-City this week.

“I spent most of my time with these guys during Spring Training, so being back with my friends here was really nice,” he said.

Drew Muren was intentionally walked to load the bases and Chris Epps struck out, preserving the tie game for Ryan McCurdy. With two outs, McCurdy took a strike and then turned on a fastball, driving a hard grounder two feet to the fair side of the third-base bag for a two-run, game-winning hit.

Manager Stubby Clapp was happy to see his team come through in the clutch. “That’s huge,” he said. “It’s good timing, if it’s going to start now.”

Don’t overlook the work of center fielder Justin Gominsky, who led off the inning with a hard single that bounced off pitcher Drew Bailey. Gominsky also singled to open the sixth inning, staying with a tough curveball on an 0-2 count and driving it up the middle, but was stranded at third.

A scout was in the press box before the game during last week’s homestand when the Michael Bourn trade went down. The scout, who covered the Midwest and saw some of Gominsky in college, said he thought Bourn could be a close comparison for Gominsky’s ceiling – great arm, good speed, little power but a good hit tool.

Also, make sure not to overlook another ValleyCat with an even stronger arm: reliever Dayan Diaz. He came on for Juri Perez with a man on and no outs in the seventh inning, and completed it with this sequence: 94 mph fastball past Jordan Tripp; 94-mph fastball up the ladder chased by Xavier Mackliln; fastball on the inside corner to freeze Jacob Tanis.

He got another strikeout to open the eighth inning, allowed a single, induced a ground ball but got the wrong end of a bang-bang call on the back end of the double play and allowed a soft roller with eyes through the 3-4 hole, giving the Lake Monsters some life. But Diaz got two strikes and reached back for a 95-mph fastball, and Chad Lewis had no chance.

Diaz, despite working out of the bullpen, has now earned five victories, tied for the NYPL lead.

The ValleyCats pulled to within five games of the division-leading Lake Monsters, exactly where they were through 47 games last season. Though they have three teams to catch, the ‘Cats can still dream of a comeback.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that all four teams have played at about the same level this season. Although five games separate the top and bottom of the division, every team has a run differential within 12 runs of the others:

*Also of note: Auburn has a winning percentage 100 points lower than Staten Island does, but the Doubledays have a notably higher run differential. The Yankees are a ludicrous 15-3 in one-run games.

Though they have struggled to win close games this season, the ‘Cats hope that last night may have been a turning point.

“It’s important to get the ball rolling at home,” McCurdy said. “We’ve got a couple games here, then we go on the road for a couple and a big homestand. It’s always fun to play at home, and over the last month or so, we really have to get going.”

Meanwhile, Valenzuela says he wouldn’t mind a playoff push – after missing the first half of the season, he wants to be a part of as many games as possible.

“I would like to play a lot of baseball still,” he said. “I really want us to get hot and keep playing a lot of games.”

Kevin Whitaker

Home Improvement

Friday, August 5th marked our 3rd Annual Home Improvement Night at “The Joe.” The stadium concourse was set up as a home show with displays from Dwight Plumbing & Heating, Eco Water, Capitaland Home Improvement, Tech Valley Recycling, Kepner Kitchens, Curtis Lumber, Culligan Water, Huff n’ Puff and Bath Fitter.
Game sponsor Trustco Bank also had a display and brought out one of SouthPaw’s favorite guests, Trusty, who joined SouthPaw on the field for a ceremonial first pitch and also participated in the t-shirt toss.
A new promotion took place on the field tonight with Caddie from Catseye Pest Control helping a contestant round up Rowdy in between innings.
Tonight also marked some improvement at home for the team on the field. The ValleyCats rallied late to earn a 3-1 victory in the first of four games against division leader Vermont.
Starter Juri Perez went six strong innings but the offense didn’t kick into gear until the bottom of the 8th. Newcomer Rafael Valenzuela drove in a run to tie the game at 1-1 and South End Tavern Player of the Game Ryan McCurdy plated two runs with a clutch two-out hit. Ryan Cole closed out the victory after two stellar innings of relief by winning pitcher Dayan Diaz.

Rafael Valenzuela, playing his first game at Joe Bruno Stadium, tied the score with an eighth-inning double.

Watch Ryan McCurdy take a pie to the face upon being named the South End Tavern Player of the Game: http://makeagif.com/i/uHmoSr
5,267 fans took in the ValleyCats victory, the eighth sellout of the season. Following the final out, Guilderland Martial Arts put on an exhibition prior to the always spectacular Price Chopper fireworks.
The ‘Cats are home again tomorrow for Adventure Sports/Outdoors Night as they look to sweep this brief two-game homestand. Tickets are still available and Boy/Girl Scouts will be invited to sleep over on the field following the game.
Photos taken by Garrett Craig. For more pictures from every ValleyCats event, visit our Seton Health ‘Cats Camera page.

Notebook: Weird baseball

If you quickly saw the final score of yesterday’s game, and saw that Connecticut won 15-9, you might assume that there wasn’t a whole lot of drama. And boy, you would be wrong. Let’s try to make some sense of what happened…

-Even as of the third inning, this was a pretty remarkable game. The ValleyCats, breaking a recent trend, jumped out to a first-inning lead and kept hitting the ball well, eventually racking up 10 hits in their first two times through the order. Jacke Healey, who came into the game with two hits in 45 at-bats, matched that total in the first three innings with a homer and a double in his first two times up. But the ‘Cats scored only five runs, leaving the maximum six in scoring position (seven total).

Also in the third inning, Bubby Williams did this to our press box window:

Allow me to describe what we were thinking: “Oh, hey, he fouled that ball right towards us.” *thud* “Oh, wow, that hit the window.” [one second passes] “Oh, crap, the window’s falling.” The ball didn’t shatter the window – it bounced back onto the concourse – but it did dislodge it from the frame, sending the pane down right above my usual seat. I was standing on the other side of the room at the time – marking down a pitching change on the whiteboard (see later), because Connecticut went to the bullpen after only two innings – or else it would have come down right on my head.

This could not have happened on any other day. During games, we always open the press box windows to get a better feel for the sounds on the field. If the window had been open, the pane would have been blocked and could not have fallen into the press box. But because yesterday’s start was during the middle of the day, and because it was a sweltering 96 degrees outside, we kept the windows closed to preserve a bit of cool air in the press box. And of course, it was the one day a foul ball came up.

-That might not have even been the weirdest play of the game. In the sixth inning, some poor ValleyCats baserunning turned a single into a 4-5-2-6-5-2-1 double play – and the pitcher made both putouts.

With Matt Duffy on second base, John Hinson hit a grounder well to the second baseman’s left. Colin Kaline (yes, the grandson of the famous one) gloved the ball but could not get it out in time to retire Hinson at first. But Duffy took a very wide turn at third base and then lost his footing a bit; Kaline threw over to third and the runner was hung up.

Duffy – not the most nimble runner on the ValleyCats – stayed alive long enough to force five throws as Hinson rounded the bases. Pitcher Rayni Guichardo eventually tagged Duffy out going back to third, looked up and saw John Hinson about 30 feet from the bag, trying to advance during the rundown. Guichardo never broke stride, ran over and tagged out Hinson for a double play that I am sure I’ll never see again.

-Compared to that play, the fact that the ‘Cats ran themselves out of the 11th inning with a 1-3-2-5 caught stealing was trivial. A two-out rally put men on the corners, with the game-winning run on third, but submarine righty Daniel Bennett used a third-to-first move to pick off the runner at first and start the wild play. Making things even more interesting, both runners were Johnsons (Neiko at third, Zach at first).

-There was a sellout crowd of 4,686 fans on Wednesday – quite an attendance, given the 11 a.m. start. But the vast majority of the fans were camp groups on a fixed schedule, which had to leave by the time the game went to extra innings. The oppressive heat, as high as 96 degrees, understandably drove some other fans away, so by the time the 12th inning rolled around, there were only a handful of spectators in the park. Jeff Holm – who did not start and only entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 11th inning as part of a double-switch – naturally took the first strike he saw well over the left-field fence, giving the Tigers their first runs in five innings and a 9-7 lead.

Matt Duffy and Brandon Meredith reached base to lead off the Cats’ half of the inning, but after two quick outs, it looked like the game would finally end. Drew Muren worked a 2-2 count and fouled two pitches off. With absolutely no energy in the ballpark – it felt more like the late innings of a blowout amateur game – Muren capped a four-hit night with a line drive double to right field, tying the game.

-And, of course, the final score looked more like a blowout, as Kristian Bueno allowed four walks, three hits and a grand slam in a six-run, 44-pitch 13th inning.

-The game took a total of four hours and 40 minutes, which we believe is a ValleyCats franchise record. It was the longest game played in the New York-Penn League in more than a year, going back to a 4:48 15-inning Williamsport-Vermont contest on July 6, 2010.

-Entering the game, the Tigers and ‘Cats ranked 11th and 13th in the league, respectively, in batting average. So naturally, they each racked up 19 hits on Wednesday. (Connecticut jumped over five teams with yesterday’s outburst.) It was a season high for both teams, and the most for the ValleyCats since reaching 20 in a 17-9 victory over Hudson Valley on 7/31/08. And I probably don’t have to tell you that it was the most hits ever for the ‘Cats in a loss.

-Miles Hamblin, a left-handed hitter, pinch-hit in the 12th for Kellen Kiilsgaard, a left-handed hitter who pinch-hit for designated hitter Hector Rodriguez in the ninth. If you’re counting, that’s three players who occupied the DH slot.

-Through nine innings, the ValleyCats drew three walks. All three were earned by Neiko Johnson. Johnson, who added two singles in the game, only batted leadoff because Justin Gominsky was scratched about a half-hour before game time. His walk rate is through the roof – 17 BBs in 88 plate appearances – and if you look at his college numbers from Kentucky, this is no fluke.

-Meanwhile, the ‘Cats issued 11 walks of their own, blowing by their previous season high of eight. Tri-City entered the game allowing just 3.46 walks per nine innings, the fourth-best rate in the league. 10 percent of the ValleyCats’ walks so far this season came last night.

-The ValleyCats sent 65 hitters to the plate, Connecticut 69.

-Today was the first time in more than four years that the ValleyCats allowed 15 runs in a game (7/16/07 at Mahoning Valley).

-Williams had four singles and reached scoring position three times, but he never scored. The ‘Cats stranded 17 runners for the game – 12 in scoring position – and had three others killed on the bases. (Connecticut left 15 on base.)

“Too many walks and not enough clutch hitting. That’s what lost it for us,” Muren said.

And the best part is: after playing nearly eight hours of baseball in a 21-hour span, the ‘Cats and Tigers get to do it all again, traveling to Norwich for a doubleheader today before finishing the season series on Friday.

Still, they may be playing for less time in today’s doubleheader than they did in a single game yesterday. Williams, who caught all 13 innings and 253 pitches for the ValleyCats, said that he lost seven pounds of water weight during the game.

“It was warm back there behind the plate. A couple of those innings got long,” Williams said. “But I guess I’m just used to it…I live in Kansas City, and in August, it’s 110 degrees all the time there.”

“There’s worse places [to play], trust me,” Muren said. “Down in Florida…I’ve heard nothing but horrors from down there. You drink a lot of water and Gatorade, and you’ll be fine.”

Both bullpens will be taxed during tonight’s twin bill. The two sides used a combined 13 pitchers on Wednesday, adding to seven lineup changes that created a complicated scorecard:

A couple other notes from the series:

-One of the most interesting revelations of the first 31 games is Brandon Meredith’s speed. He doesn’t look like a fast guy – 6-2, 225 lbs. is not a sprinter’s frame – but he covers the gaps really well and can turn it on from first to third. Meredith tripled again on Tuesday (his fourth of the season, tied for third in the league) and scored from first on Muren’s double last night.

Meredith said he’s aware that people don’t peg him as a speedster. “I love it. That’s why I always go for triples,” he said. “When it’s in the gap, I’m going for three for sure.”

-Ryan McCurdy was hit by a pitch on consecutive at-bats on Tuesday. If that were to happen to anybody, of course it would be McCurdy, who was pegged three times in 27 plate appearances in 2010.

Two games in Connecticut tonight, starting at 6:05 p.m. Listen to Erik and Matt on the broadcast on tcvalleycats.com, with a chance of hearing Erik descend into madness if one goes deep into extra innings.

Kevin Whitaker

Scenes from the road: Hudson Valley

The ValleyCats started their first road trip outside the Stedler Division last night, traveling south to Hudson Valley. The Renegades took a 3-1 lead in the first inning and held it through seven, but the ‘Cats scored five times in the ninth for a thrilling comeback victory.

Some scenes from Dutchess Stadium:

Erik and I noticed that the ‘Cats hit very well in batting practice, including Jacke Healey, above. Infielder Hector Rodriguez even took one out of the park – something he has never done in 145 professional games.

The position players go through their pregame stretching routine. Below, starting pitcher Kyle Hallock loosens up while catcher Ryan McCurdy talks strategy with pitching coach Gary Ruby. Hallock uncharacteristically ran into some trouble early on, allowing three runs in three hits, but he would not let another runner reach second base, striking out five and retiring the final eight hitters.

The middle innings moved very quickly – neither starter threw more than nine pitches in the fourth or fifth frame. Reliever Lenny Linsky walked two ValleyCats in the seventh, prompting this mound visit, but got out of the inning without allowing a run.

Catcher Ryan McCurdy led off the ninth inning with a double, sparking the eventual game-winning rally.

The series continues tonight at 7:05 p.m. Our hardware issues should be fixed tonight, so you can listen to Erik and Matt broadcast the game from Dutchess Stadium at tcvalleycats.com.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Silly rules

Baseball is a weird sport:

On Friday night, with runners on first and third, Miles Hamblin started running from third as Hector Rodriguez squared for a suicide squeeze. Rodriguez missed the bunt, but the ball bounced off the catcher’s glove and rolled behind the umpire and Hamblin scored standing up. Because he broke as the pitcher was throwing, according to the rules, he was credited with a steal of home, even though he would not have scored had the pitch not gotten by the catcher.

On Saturday night, with runners on first and third, Zach Johnson broke for second on the pitch. The catcher’s throw was on line but not quite in time to catch Johnson, who slid in safely just ahead of the tag. Matt Duffy attempted to score from third on the play, but the second baseman turned after trying to tag Johnson and threw home, beating Duffy to the plate by five feet. Because Duffy was caught stealing home, Johnson does not get credit for a steal of second, even though it would have been a steal if not for the event that did not affect the play at second.

Oh, Rule 10, how I missed you.

I generally agree with the cliché that says baseball is great because there is no clock, but it certainly can have its disadvantages. An 18-minute rain delay last night was followed by four innings that featured nine runs, 15 hits and eight walks; the fifth inning did not even start until about 9:00. Naturally, this happened on getaway day for Lowell and in the middle of a grueling homestand for us.

Fortunately, the second half of the game was much quicker than the first, keeping the total time (not counting the delay) under eight hours. That was due in large part to Dayan Diaz, who was electric in three innings of relief. Diaz consistently hit 94 and 95 on the radar gun and got five strikeouts against no walks, throwing 37 of 55 pitches for strikes.

A couple more scattered thoughts:

-Stats do lie, part 2: Catcher Ryan McCurdy allowed four of four runners to steal successfully last night. Bad game for him, right? Well, no. All four steal attempts came with Euris Quezada pitching. Quezada did not show a good pickoff move and was very slow to the plate, so all four runners had great jumps to beat McCurdy’s good throws. Part of that is inexperience – Quezada is a very raw 22, as he was signed at age 20 and came straight to America instead of playing in the Dominican league – and part of that is simply Quezada’s massive frame (6’6”, 240), which is not conductive to snap throws or a quick motion. McCurdy also caught Quezada’s first start and, as the ValleyCats’ best defensive catcher, may continue to play with the tall righty.

-Quezada threw only nine of 27 pitches for strikes in the first inning, which is not exactly stellar. In fairness, there were no high strikes early on last night, and no low ones either. He settled down afterward, sandwiching a spot of wildness in the third with 13/15 and 5/7 strike rates in the second and fourth innings.

-Three Johnsons were in the game last night: Neiko at short, Zach at first and Matty in left for Lowell. I was hoping for (M.) Johnson to ground out, (N.) Johnson to (Z.) Johnson, but sadly, that never happened.

-The ‘Cats aren’t taking batting practice before today’s game, and it sure doesn’t seem like they need it – Tri-City is atop the NYPL in all three triple-slash categories (.275/.380/.387) and leads the league with 52 runs scored despite playing one fewer game than many teams.

Back at it tonight for game four of six, as the Connecticut Tigers come to town with quite a few familiar faces on their roster. Listen live on your iPhone/Droid or online.

Kevin Whitaker

Notebook: Clutch failures

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.

Kevin Whitaker


Roster Move; Martinez mashes

Sunday Update: Outfielder Renzo Tello has also been promoted to Lexington. Tello went 2-for-4 and scored a run last night at Staten Island.

Today, I enjoyed an afternoon away from civilization, playing a round of golf (and actually playing quite well, by my extremely low standards). It wasn’t until I got back home later in the evening that I learned of the transaction that would send shockwaves throughout the baseball world.

What? Oh, right, there was that one too. But Houston made a roster move that hit a bit closer to home, promoting pitcher Brenden Stines and assigning Ryan McCurdy to the ValleyCats.

McCurdy will bolster the Tri-City catching depth, as the third true backstop on the roster behind Ben Heath and Buck Afenir. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Duke Univeristy, McCurdy was originally assigned to Greeneville, where he recieved only seven at-bats.

The catcher joins former teammate Michael Ness on the ValleyCats, another Duke alum in his rookie year of professional baseball. As a senior this year, McCurdy batted .280 for the Blue Devils. He has never hit for much power – he only managed seven extra-base hits in his final collegiate season, all doubles – but he ranked second on the team among starters with a .407 on-base percentage. McCurdy spent his senior year behind the plate but also played third base, shortstop and second base as an underclassman.

We will miss Stines and his famous ‘stache, and hope he performs well at Lexington. The righty began his pro career at Tri-City last year, posting a 4.93 ERA in 24 appearances. As one of a handful of veterans on this season’s roster, Stines allowed a fair amount of hits but gave up only four earned runs and fanned seven hitters in 7.1 innings.

Speaking of Lexington, another Tri-City alum had a terrific night on Thursday for the Legends. Lexington lost, but that certainly wasn’t the fault of hot-hitting outfielder J.D. Martinez, who went 5-for-5 with two homers and a career-high six RBI. Martinez, who led the NY-Penn League in batting last season, currently tops the Sally League in all three rate categories at .355/.422/.572.

The current ‘Cats are back on track. They lost a pair of ugly games against Batavia earlier this week but were well-served by a day off, as they’ve recovered to win two straight against Staten Island (who came into the series on an eight-game winning streak). On Thursday, they rolled to a 9-2 victory behind two hits apiece from Heath, Ben Orloff and Tyler Burnett; tonight, Tri-City won its first extra-inning contest of the season, 3-2, on Adam Bailey’s 11th-inning single that scored Dan Adamson.

Kevin Whitaker

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