Nearly every athlete will repeat the mantra, “control what you can control”. While at Duke, Michael Matuella’s right arm seemed to be in control of a future destiny.
As a sophomore for the Blue Devils in 2014, Matuella allowed just 55 baserunners and struck out 69 over 58.1 innings. Towering at 6-7 on the mound the downward angle of his 97-mph fastball along with a developing change, and an advanced feel for the curve and slider, Matuella was on the track as a possible first-overall pick in the 2015 first-year player draft. This, despite dealing with spondylolysis in the lower back.
Then, a little more than two months ahead of the June draft. the dreaded MRI confirmed a different destiny: “Tommy John” surgery.
Almost two years after his selection by the Texas Rangers in the third round – and in the process getting first-round bonus money, a reported $2 million – Matuella finally has his pro career underway. The innings are limited, the results aren’t always pretty, but Matuella is healthy and ready see his long months of rehab pay off.
I had a chance to interview Matuella a little over two weeks ago in preparation for a feature writeup. Here is that interview:
How did you get started in baseball?
Matuella: I’ve been playing as long as I can remember. I have an older brother; he’s four years older than me. I just remember just going out in the yard and playing with him and my dad. That just grew as I started playing travel ball, at whatever age that was, through middle school.
Obviously, I played in high school and my coach, he really pushed me to be the best that I can be there. He saw the potential in me to go Division I. I had the offer to Duke and I absolutely loved it. I had another offer to Maryland, but from the first visit I had there, I loved the place and the people. Duke is really where I took off, where I had the little velocity jump and where I started to figure some things out. My command really improved and it shifted my mentality to a more aggressive one. That’s how I got here today.
Who was your high school coach?
Matuella: Chris Rodriguez
What were some things that he said or did that helped you along to where you are now?
Matuella: I remember, this was the fall of my sophomore year. I was on JV my freshman year and by the fall of my sophomore year I started doing some workouts and he told me I was just as good as his seniors on the team and I could go Division 1 wherever I wanted if I put in all of the work. I think I hadn’t really thought of it like that until that point, but then I realized like, “Wait, this could be a possibility.” That’s when I really started dedicated myself to becoming the best I could be.
Did you have any inkling that professional sports could be a career for you until that point?
Matuella: I would say that point came even later. I admit, I was just thinking step by step at that point. Then, once I got to Duke, probably my freshman year, that I really decided, “Alright, I want to pursue this and I want to see what I can do.” I didn’t know if it was possible yet. My sophomore year, that’s when I realized that this is going to be a thing for me if I keep putting in the work. It definitely started in high school where I was going from working hard and playing and enjoying the game, obviously competing and wanting to win, to where I said, “I can actually maybe take this a step further” and that’s what carried over again at Duke.
You went to Duke, which is not known as a powerhouse, but the program has turned out some players, Marcus Stroman being at the top of that list. What sort of things have happened to help turn that program around to where they are starting to produce some talent?
Matuella: I would say the coaching staff was a big one. Chris Pollard, he didn’t actually recruit me. There was an entirely new coaching staff when I get there my freshman year. I think he’s done a really good job, not only developing players physically, but also really hammering home the mental side of things. I think that’s been really huge for everyone. I really benefitted from that kind of stuff. A lot of people spend time on the physical side, but not as much on the mental side. I think that that’s a huge reason.
Once you see a couple of guys like Stroman that get drafted, and then there was my class. The class above me had three or four guys drafted, then my class had three guys. Basically, it’s been three to four guys every year the past four or five years or so. It’s good to see some more guys go into pro ball.
That’s (ACC) a tough league, especially that they’ve added Louisville and Notre Dame during your time.
Matuella: It’s a lot of fun playing in it though. You know every weekend there’s going to be a really good opponent and you have to really be ready and locked in. I always looked forward to those ACC weekends.
Does that sort of competition helps, not only the program, but the individuals to have that competition against other potential top prospects? How did that help you looking ahead to getting drafted and prepare you for the pros?
Matuella: I think a lot of the talent you see in the ACC – and you see that in other leagues as well, like the SEC and these other top programs that are turning out pro guys – you’re seeing professional level talent. I think it really prepares you, especially knowing you can do well in that setting, that prepares you for pro ball mentally, to where I was like, “I know I can get guys out like this.” Obviously, it’s a step up to pro ball, but for me, it gives me confidence to know, “Alright, I’ve been there before” and “I’ve done well against guys like that.” It gives me confidence to know that if I can pitch my game, I’ll be fine.
So, when you start hearing potential 1/1, what does that say in your mind during that stretch when you’re looking ahead to 2015 and you think, “My gosh, I could be first overall.”
Matuella: I really tried not to think about that at all. I tried to just focus on the work I had to do in and the preparation I had to put in for the 2015 season. Sure, you hear the rumors, but you try not to get distracted by it. You just try to focus in on and lock in on the daily routine and what you have to do to get better.
So, tell me about the back injury. I tried to pronounce it before I came here and still can’t get it right.
Matuella: It’s called spondylolysis. It sounds a lot worse than it is. It’s basically a lot of people have it. It’s something that I manage. I’ve been asymptomatic for two years. I don’t feel it. It’s something that once you do the rehab and once you develop a stronger core and basically develop strength all around that, you just don’t feel it.
Is it upper or lower back?
Matuella: Lower back. You can have it on any of the vertebrae, but I guess it’s more common to be lower.
Was it something that was spurred by all the pitching motions and the twists and turns?
Matuella: You just never know what contributed to it. There’s probably a number of things. Pitching, probably, contributes to it, but also weightlifting. Really a lot of stuff, the running, jumping. There’s a lot of guys, I think they estimated that probably 20 percent of athletes have that injury, but they don’t know they have it because it’s not causing any issues. So, for me, I’m at that point – and I’ve been at the point for a while now – where it’s not a big deal for me. It’s not that I’m frustrated with people – and I’m not frustrated by the question – but some people are really scared by it. I feel like a normal person and I don’t think it’s a big deal at all.
Then you get the “Tommy John” stuff. How long after the back injury did that start?
Matuella: I was cleared to throw in January 2015, which was basically when our spring practices started. It was March 27 in my last game when I injured it. It was only about two-and-a-half months.
Was it something that suddenly came up? Did you have issues before?
Matuella: It was pretty sudden. After my first start, I took the next weekend off, just because I was feeling some tightness in my forearm. We got the MRI and it showed that it was fine. So, I basically went on with a clear head. We felt that the innings might be too much, after I had gone out there for six innings.
They threw me back out there for one inning and then three innings and then four innings. I basically felt it on one pitch. I didn’t feel any popping sensation or pulling sensation. It just felt like a lot of pain in there, so I didn’t think it was UCL until we got the MRI and saw that it was. That was frustrating.
What was your mindset at that point, which, of course, you couldn’t be happy?
Matuella: I was honestly shocked. I couldn’t believe it when the doctor told me the news and he showed me the MRI. I just couldn’t believe it. It didn’t cross my mind that was going to be what it was. Obviously, after that it was pretty tough for the next couple of days to process it and then reset my focus and acknowledge that “Tommy John” was going to happen. So, I started to focus on what I had to do each day to get better and come back from that.
Did you have any worries that you wouldn’t recover from it?
Matuella: No, I never did. I came out fully confident. It’s interesting at how common it is now. People just do it and it’s not a big deal. A lot of people have done it and a lot of people recover from it.
Did you have any worries as to how that was going to be perceived in the draft and where you might go and would you have to come back to Duke another year?
Matuella: I definitely knew that there were going to be some teams turned off by that. I think for me it wasn’t worry as much as I was annoyed because I know how I worked and I know how good I can be and I know that this isn’t going to be a big deal for me in the long run.
For me, it wasn’t worry like, “Am I going to do this?” or “Am I going to be able to come back and pitch again?” It was more like, teams shouldn’t be thrown by that. I was hoping they would judge me based on what I would do going forward versus the injury.
You dropped to the third round. Obviously, the Rangers saw something in you and were able to sign you above what they would normally pay a third-rounder. Tell me about those conversations with the Rangers.
Matuella: The Rangers, they were probably one of the teams that contacted me the most and they were the most interested from the beginning. So, I was happy that they did a lot of research on me and I really appreciated how much research they did on my back issue and, obviously, everyone knows about “Tommy John”.
I had talked with them prior to actually getting picked by them. They had put together a plan for me moving forward about they wanted to me to do and where they wanted me to go and a timeline for certain things. I was super impressed and super happy that they were so invested and put so much time and thought into what my program would be. It was awesome and I’m really happy to be with the Rangers.
Who helped you through the process? “Tommy John” is common and all that, but there are still some guys who go through this and never really get it back. Who helped you mentally through that process? I met you ten minutes ago and you’ve got such a positive attitude.
Matuella: Definitely my parents are a big one. They’re always there to talk and always there to keep me positive whenever I’m feeling down, or I’m feeling upset by things.They were always at Duke, too, which was awesome. They came for every weekend series. So, I got to see a lot of them and they’re always available to talk whenever I want.
My coaches at Duke at the time were really helpful. They were very positive with me. I had a couple of teammates that had undergone “Tommy John”. One was about a year earlier and one was about six months earlier. I had talked to them about what the process was like, so that was really helpful. There’s really so many people. I talked with my coaches. They were super upset for me because you never want to see an athlete go down with that type of injury. They weren’t upset about me not being able to pitch for the team. They were upset for me as a person not being able to pitch, which I thought was really nice.
The coaches I had for three years there and even afterward, I still stayed in contact with them when I went back there to take classes this fall taking classes. They’ve were super thoughtful and just caring, really overall caring. They asked how I’m doing and wanting me to do well for me, not just for the program. Obviously, I want to do well for the program. I love representing Duke and I loved representing Duke while I was there. A ton of people, as you can gather.
You pitched last year at Spokane and you get the one start in and here you are again. Take me through that process. That had to be more mental than physical.
Matuella: That was a lot tough mentally than the first time around, because the first time around I was like, “Alright, I’m going to get the surgery, not a big deal.” There’s no expectations of re-injury. Then it was like, “Whoa, what just happened?” and “How did that happen again?” So, there was a lot of frustration and a lot of questions of why it happened and how did that happen again. But it doesn’t do a lot of good to ask “what if?” or going back and thinking in the past. It was really tough because I had come off an injury that I’d spent 14 months to that point rehabbing.
To go down and know that you’re done for the season again and you won’t be able to pitch again until opening day – not that I was here opening day – but it wound up being ten months. That was tough and that was definitely a lot tougher to walk in and focus on what I was doing each day. I think, looking back, I’m even stronger for it, mentally and physically, to be able to push through as tough a time like that. Not that I had to go back to square one, because I didn’t have to have surgery again, but to really get knocked on my butt again. It wasn’t fun, but I’m glad I avoided surgery.
Did you pitch at instructionals?
They basically shut you down until spring?
Matuella: Yeah, I didn’t begin my throwing until the beginning of October, so they gave me plenty of time to heal up.
How do you feel now?
Matuella: I feel good. Overall, I feel good.
Results aside, how much more do you appreciate being on the mound than you did in 2015?
Matuella: Coming back from the first injury and the surgery, I definitely appreciated every time I stepped on the mound, whether that was a bullpen or that was pitching in an extended game or at Spokane. But this time around, even more so knowing it’s been a couple of years since I’ve had a chance to go out there and compete the way I’m supposed to compete. It makes you appreciate it. You just never know with certain things and so many guys that go down with injuries and it stinks. But you just deal with it and you appreciate what you have each day.
Do you worry so much with results at this point as opposed to going out there and getting your work in?
Matuella: Obviously, you want to get results, too. This season is a lot about me being to get through it healthy, but I’m not going to happy unless I’m pitching well and doing what I need to do on the mound to pitch well.
If you get through the season with the health as opposed to the results, which are you happier with?
Matuella: Obviously, I need to be healthy and I need to be able to move forward and pitch and have a full season under my belt. But, like I said, it’s not like I’m going to be happy if I’m pitching, but doing crappy every outing. There needs to be both in order for me to be happy.
First outing, you got some pitches up, but got through it and then you had a couple of rough outings. What’s been the fine line for you right now to have success?
Matuella: Making sure that I’m commanding the fastball. I think you’re going to hear that out of anyone on the team that you talk to. That’s a big emphasis the Rangers have. For me, I need to make sure that I am committing to pitch down in the zone as opposed to committing to pitch in the zone. You’re going to get hurt if you stay up too much. You’ve got to mix up the eye level at some time, but I think I do a better job if I stick to a pitch down in the zone. I just need to keep working on that. I had a really good bullpen this past week, so I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.
How was it pitching against Tim Tebow in your first outing?
Matuella: I really don’t pay attention to hitters that I’m facing. I’m just kind of looking at it like, there’s a left-handed hitter up there. After the first swing, you could read that he wasn’t going to time a fastball, so we just kept pounding fastballs. It was nice to see a big crowd there, I’ll say that. It’s really impressive that he brings the crowd everywhere he goes.
Obviously, he was a big story, but that was a big story involving you, too, a convergence of two stories.
Matuella: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. The adrenaline was high. It was a lot of fun being able to look around and soak it all in and like, I’m back in the game. I’m here with an affiliate and a sold-out game. It was just a lot of fun.
Are you getting an idea of how long they will let you throw, maybe 50-60 pitches?
Matuella: I’m not entirely sure. I’m sure it will be a little bit longer. I think the more important thing this year is that I take the ball every six games. You don’t want to get too crazy with the innings, given the back-to-back injures, which is why I’m not too sure when it’s going to expand. I doubt I’ll ever go 100 pitches; I’m not entirely sure of that this season. Obviously, I want to pitch as much as I can, but I understand the plan the Rangers have in place for me.
Are you throwing much of the breaking ball right now?
Matuella: A little bit. I’ll start incorporating it some more, but the Rangers big emphasis is on establishing fastballs and fastball command. So, I’m really trying to stick to that.
When you get a call to major leagues, who is the first person you call?
Matuella: My parents. That will be a great conversation to have and I look forward to that one. Definitely, my parents.
Who is the next non-family member?
Matuella: Does my girlfriend count? She’s been there for me and she’s been super helpful mentally to be able to block stuff out. She’s the one that helps keep me really positive in times when I’m struggling. There’s been, obviously, a lot of those over the past couple of years.
What’s the biggest thing mentally you’ve learned through all this?
Matuella: The biggest thing is to stay consistent. Stay pitch-to-pitch and not focus on the outing-to-outing, but each pitch. You have to be consistent with your approach on every single pitch with a routine, and with how you step on the mound. Basically, doing the same thing every time, no matter what happened the pitch before, whether you struck the dude out on a great pitch, or he just hit a bomb. You step in knowing that this pitch is the only pitch that matters.
Is there an inspirational poster moment or quote that has stuck in your mind?
There’s an article that came out in 2010 in Sports Illustrated that’s called, “What Makes Roy Run?” It’s about Roy Halladay and basically his story about how he was a first-round pick and he made it all the way to the big leagues in his second year. He fell flat on his face and he really struggled and got demoted all the way down to single-A.
He basically emerged as a different pitcher and a different style of pitcher and he emerged as the best pitcher of that generation for a number of years. There’s a lot of details in there about his work ethic and the consistency he had and the mental approach that he had. I actually just read it again the other day. I’ve read it, I don’t know how many times now, but every time it’s super interesting to me. He was my favorite pitcher growing up. I definitely think that article is a cool one.
Following the interview with Matuella, I had a chance to get Crawdads pitching coach Jose Jaimes’s perspective on the progress of Matuella.
How do you see Matuella progressing on the mound in just throwing pitches?
Jaimes: I think so far, we don’t have any concerns results wise. It’s more about him healthy. It’s been almost 16 months basically, since he got hurt last year. He’s going through a little tough time mentally wise. Naturally, he has some concerns about his elbow and his arm, but for the most part he’s getting better. His last bullpen was pretty good, so it’s a process for him just to trust he’s fully healthy. Hopefully, the next start will be better, but we don’t have any concerns about what he can do on the field. It’s more about him staying positive and knowing that all the work he put in the last year and a half is good for him.
Is there any concern about him not wanting to cut it loose and let go?
Jaimes: Yeah, most of the time when guys coming off an injury, it takes them a month just to get through that. They’re afraid to feel something in there. The last bullpen, he actually said, “you know what, I’m going to let it go and whatever happens, happens.” It was a good start for him.
Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (26-22, 4th South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (19-31, 7th SAL Northern)
The Hickory Crawdads continue the second part of a weeklong homestand with a three-game series against the Kannapolis Intimidators.
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Monday-Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
PROMOTIONS: Monday – Make a Difference Monday: Donate a requested item of $5 or more to Foothills House of Hope and receive a free ticket. Click here for requested items: http://m.foothillshouseofhopeministriesinc.com/Donation-Needs-List.html
Tuesday – Dollar Dog Tuesday: Bring pet to the game for $1 each. Dog show each Tuesday night. $1 hot dogs, $2 craft pints and Pepsi products.
Wednesday – Business Card Special: Show your business card at the Ticket Office for a $5 ticket.
TICKETS: $9 dollars for regular seats, $14 for VIP section.
WHERE IS IT?: Clement Blvd., 1 mile west of U.S. Hwy 321, near entrance to Hickory Airport.
PARKING: All parking is $3.
CONCESSIONS: L.P. Frans Stadium has two main concession areas plus the Crawdads Café. The concession stands have your basic ballpark food: Hot dogs, burgers, chicken sandwich, BBQ, etc. The Crawdad Café has a menu that features more diverse items, including the Mac & Crawdog, Banana Foster Bites, Fried Pickles, Sloppy Burger, and more. Click here for the menu http://www.milb.com/documents/3/3/4/185907334/cafe_menu_6eeko6n2.pdf
Probables (Kannapolis / Hickory):
Monday: LHP Bernando Flores vs. RHP Kyle Cody
Tuesday: TBA vs. RHP Michael Matuella
Wednesday: RHP Jimmy Lambert vs. RHP Edgar Arredondo
Recent Series History:
So far in 2017, the teams have split the 12 previous games played, including a 2-2 series at L.P. Frans in April. Hickory has not lost a home series to the Intimidators since 2014 and are 42-28 there since 2009. The Crawdads won three of five at Kannapolis earlier in May.
About the Crawdads:
Hickory opened the homestand by losing three of four and dropped to 9-16 at Frans this season. The Crawdads enter the series losers of 7 out of 8 and 8 of 10… Hickory is often playing catch-up and often in a big way. The Crawdads have been outscored 139-88 over the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning 24 times, while the Crawdads have 25 total runs in the first inning. In 43 games, opposition has scored at least one run in the first three innings… Pitching continues to make its effects felt on a disappointing first half. Hickory is last in the SAL in ERA (5.45), WHIP (1.54), hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed and are next to last in walks allowed. For the season, Hickory has given up seven or more runs 21 times in 50 games, 15 of those during the last 29… The Crawdads continues to slug their way into runs. They are second in the SAL in homers with 42, but are eighth out of 14 teams in runs scored. They are fourth in slugging (.391), but 10th in on-base pct. (.313). They are next to last in walks accepted, but third in total bases.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Has missed one game this season, leads SAL in at-bats, 10th in hits. After sitting out a game during the midst of four-straight games without a hit, Taveras has a hit in five of the last six. He’s also starting to get his patience back with a walk in each of the last two games. After ten walks in April, he has just five in May.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Tied for third in Ks (59). Both his K-rate and walk-rate have declined in May compared to April. Went 4-for-13 in his last three games with a run scored in each. Has two strikeouts in three of the last four games.
LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Hitting just .194/.286/.290 since joining the Crawdads on May 10. Has 14 Ks in 70 plate appearances.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Sat out the final two games of the series with Asheville. Has hits in 17 of the last 20 games, which boosted his average from .155 on May 4 to its current .245.
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After a rough start, Matuella is coming off two straight strong outings with just one hit and a walk over his last six innings and 8 Ks. He will be limited to 60 to 70 pitches.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Hit a pair of homers over the weekend, but K’d 8 times in 16 ABs. Now with 42 Ks in 15 plate appearances this season (28%).
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After a hiccup in mid-May, Ferguson has two scoreless outings with three Ks over 3 innings and one hit allowed. Control is his key. He has walked or hit 12 of the 58 batters he has faced, but has fanned 24.
Others to watch – Hickory:
3B Ti’Quan Forbes: Second-round pick in 2014 out of Columbia High (MS). Played in all 50 games, second in ABs in the SAL. Has posted a .333/.373/.500 slash vs. Kannapolis in 12 games. Hit a three-run homer vs. Asheville on Saturday, his first since mid-April. Has reached base in 12 straight games and is 12-for-41 in that stretch with four walks and two hit batters. Approach of late has been to take pitches up the middle and away.
C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Is 10-for-28 with six RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis in 2017
C Alex Kowalczyk: 12th-round pick in 2016 out of Pittsburgh. Had three hits on Sunday and is 5-for-13 with two homers in his last three games. He is the leading Crawdads hitter in May, posting a .431/.484/.690 slash in May.
OF Franklin Rollin: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of La Romana, D.R. Is 15-for-36 with two homers and 9 RBI in 8 games vs. Kannapolis.
RHP Kaleb Fontenot: 21st-round pick in 2016 out of McNeese St. Currently third in SAL among relievers in Ks per 9 innings (13.50). Has 11 Ks in his last 7 innings over two outings.
About the Intimidators:
Managed by Justin Jirschele in his first season with the Intimidators… Kannapolis split a four-game series at Greensboro and are coming to Hickory after striking out 20 hitters in Sunday’s game. The Intimidators are in fourth place, but sit just 3.5 games behind first-place Hagerstown (Md.). Kannapolis will have a chance over the next 17 games to put itself squarely in the division chase. After the Crawdads series, Kannapolis plays four games vs. third place Greensboro, then travels to second-place Lakewood (NJ) for three and sixth-place Delmarva (Md.). The run is capped with a three-game home series vs. Hagerstown… At the plate, Kannapolis is hitting .279 in May, which is second in the SAL. The Intimidators have scored eight or more runs in five of the last ten games. Overall, Kannapolis is third in the league in batting (.264) and OPS (.719)… On the hill, Kannapolis relies on strong starting pitching to eat up innings and get the game to its bullpen. The Intimidators are 18-8 when scoring first and an SAL-best 19-5 when scoring last. When leading after five innings Kannapolis is 20-3… Statistically, both teams should be able to use the running game to generate offense as Hickory and Kannapolis are at the bottom of the SAL in nabbing baserunners trying to steal. However, his is not the Intimidators game. They have just 21 steals in 36 attempts, both SAL lows. Joel Booker has ten of those… Defensively, Kannapolis is third from the bottom in fielding pct.
Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:
LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 16 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Tied for 9th in SAL with 12 doubles. Saw a 12-game hitting streak end on Saturday (19-for-47), he still owns a 14-game on-base streak. Has posted a .338/.422/.606 slash in May.
LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 19 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Allowed one run on four hits over six innings in his last start. Has split his two decisions vs. Hickory, gave up four runs on eight hits over 4 innings vs. Hickory on 5/18.
RF Micker Adolfo (No. 21 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Tied for 3rd in the SAL with 14 doubles. Had a 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) earlier this month. Currently in the midst of a 4-for-22 stretch.
P Victor Diaz (No. 23 mlb.com, No. 26 Baseball America): Traded to the White Sox from Boston in the Chris Sale trade. The Dominican native made his season’s first appearance on May 26. Has retired all nine batters he faced in two outings with six Ks. With an upper-90s fastball, his stay in Kannapolis could be brief.
Others to watch – Kannapolis:
CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Quietly putting together a nice season as the Intimidator leadoff hitter. Currently second in the SAL in hits and runs scored, sixth in batting avg. (.318) and tenth in total bases.
RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Has allowed the fewest baserunners per 9 IP (3.96) among SAL relievers and is second in saves (8). He has yet to allow a run in 25 innings with 34 Ks to just 11 baserunners. He has given up four hits this season; Hickory has three of them.
RHP Jimmy Lambert: Fifth round pick in 2016 out of Fresno St. Is third in the SAL in innings pitched and has a 1.13 walk-per-nine-inning ratio, the best among starters in the SAL. Relies on defense to make plays, has allowed 57 hits in 55.2 innings. He is 2-1 vs. Hickory with a 2.05 ERA in 22 innings.
C Seby Zavala: 12th-round pick in 2015 out of San Diego St. Tied for second in the SAL with 10 homers and eighth in slugging (.520). Once a top-15 prospect with the White Sox, he’s struggled to make contact. Four of his HRs are against Hickory.
RHP Kyle Kybat: Non-drafted free agent out of Nebraska. Allowed 6.18 baserunners per 9 innings, third among SAL relievers, 0.65 BB per 9 innings 5th among relievers. Has a 0.59 ERA over 30.2 innings. Given up two earned runs, one of those surrendered to Hickory.
2B Mitch Roman: 12th round pick in 2016 out of Wright St. Tied for seventh in the SAL in hits. Slash line of .242/.279/.293 in May.
Hickory reached the 50th game of the season and a familiar theme through the first 49 played out again on Sunday afternoon.
The Asheville Tourists built a big lead early and the held on to an 8-6 win Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Tourists (21-27) took three out of four in the series and sent the Crawdads (19-31) to their seventh loss in eight games and the eighth out of ten.
Two in the first, one in the third, four in the fourth nearly put the game out of reach for the Tourists, though the Crawdads did make it interesting in the middle innings.
With Jonathan Hernandez – the reigning South Atlantic League’s pitcher of the month – on the mound for the Crawdads, Manny Melendez led off the game with a single to center. One out later, Colton Welker (4-for-5) sliced a liner just on the line in right for a run-scoring double. After Willie Abreu popped out, Max George hit a long fly ball to the warning track in center. Leody Taveras tracked the ball, but was never able to get his body square for the catch and it fell in for a triple.
Alex Kowalczyk (3-for-4) took a dead-fish fastball from Ty Culbreth and sent it in orbit over the fence in left-center to cut the Crawdads deficit in half. However, Abreu slapped a Hernandez changeup off the billboards in right to reclaim the original two-run lead for the Tourists.
What turned out to be the difference in the game was the fourth inning. Carlos Herrera tripled and scored on Eric Toole’s squeeze bunt. The inning fell apart with two outs in the ninth when Campbell Wear, the Tourists’ backup catcher, who entered the game hitting .067, walked. From there, Wear stole second and scored on Melendez’s single. Jose Gomez doubled, Welker lined a single to left and it was now 7-1.
With rain falling beyond centerfield – but not in the ballpark – Hickory got back into the game with three in the fourth. Taveras walked and Kowalczyk singled. A fly ball to right advanced Taveras to third and he scored on Carlos Garay’s sac fly. Jose Almonte made the game interesting with a two-run homer to left-center to make it 7-4.
In need of a shutdown inning, it didn’t happen in the fifth. George doubled, moved to third on a Hernandez wild pitch and scored when SS Anderson Tejeda – playing in to try and keep the runner at third from scoring – fielded a groundball hit by Joel Diaz, then double pumped the throw home, which was enough to allow George to slide around the tag of Kowalczyk and score.
The Crawdads got within 8-6 in the seventh when Tejeda doubled and one out later scored on Leody Taveras’s single up the middle. Ti’Quan Forbes walked to put the tying run on, but Asheville brought in Julian Fernandez to finish the inning. He did so emphatically (up to 100 mph!) with a strikeout of Garay.
That turned out to be the game. Fernandez breezed through the eighth to earn the scorer’s-decision win. J.D. Hammer struck out two in the ninth to work around a one-out single and earn his third save of the series, the fifth overall.
(The following is my own observation. I could be WAAAAAY off base, but this is what I saw. There are smarter people than me that may say this is all bunk.)
Today was the first time I’d seen Hernandez pitch since he started a stretch of four, strong starts that eventually led to a one-hitter over seven innings vs. Greensboro. The thing I noticed was the windup seemed to be much more deliberate than in the past. He starts out facing the catcher, turns as if to reset himself into the stretch position, then the windup and a pitch. Hernandez has a tendency at times to rush his delivery and then fly open, which, to me, seemed to make his pitches flatten out. I’ve seen him use the towel drill between starts to work on staying in line with the plate upon the delivery – he’s done this at least for two seasons now.
In talking with pitching coach Jose Jaimes during the last homestand, he mentioned that Hernandez has developed the ability to throw his changeup at any count. He has a fastball that sits 95-97 – but it is often straight – and he can mix in a slider that does catch the strike zone. The money pitch for him is when that changeup is on. He misses bats with it, but it’s the groundball outs that is the clue as to whether he will be effective or not. Today, it wasn’t.
Today, out of the stretch, he tended to fall off the first-base side of the mound and his pitches flattened and stayed up. Two groundouts (should’ve had a third on the fielder’s choice in the fifth) and a ton of well-struck pitches for hits or outs.
It looked like in the third he was finding a groove. Hernandez started the third with back-to-back whiffs on a change and a slider for the K, then got a quick grounder from Welker. Abreu followed and Hernandez appeared to get him to swing through a change to get the count to 1-2. The umps ruled Abreu checked the swing and whether it was from frustration or something else, another change followed that stayed up and left the yard.
After he gave up the first run in the fourth on Toole’s squeeze, Hernandez seemed to lose concentration. The five-pitch walk to .067-hitting Wear followed and one could sense that things would fall apart… and they did.
Hernandez understands what he’s to do and is working to fix the mechanics. Some day’s he’ll have it; some day’s… no. This was a no day.
Went 0-for-3 with a walk. Two fly balls to right and a strikeout on an 9-pitch AB. The approach is better; he’s seeing pitches better. Hopefully the results will follow as they did on Saturday when he homered to center and singled to right.
That fly-ball triple to Taveras in the first, I honestly thought he was going to catch it. He seemed to have no trouble tracking it down and raced it to the warning track. However, it seemed like he couldn’t get his body turned the right way to catch it. Now, admittedly, the play was 450+ feet from me, and so it may have been a harder play than I am describing. But, such as the expectations one has when watching Taveras on a near daily basis.
At the plate today, he looked like his “old” self, working the count or ambushing fastballs. I swear, nearly every plate appearance is over six pitches or 1-2.
The dude is strong and right now, he is seeing everything. His third hit in the fifth was a thing of beauty. Down 1-2, he spoiled a Bryan Baker slider (?), then laid off a pair of breaking balls to work the count full. The play-by-play stringer and I both thought there’s no way – given how he attacked the first two ABs – he’d see a fastball, especially with a base to work with. Kowalczyk saw one low and in and he ripped it to left.
He’s a tall kid, built solid and, at least at this point, the bat is ahead of SAL pitching. The whole adjustment to pro-game breaking balls hasn’t phased him for now. His defensive work, however, has been suspect. Kowalczyk entered Sunday’s game catching just one of 14 baserunners attempting to steal and the throws – at least on this homestand – have not been close. Several have sailed into center, or bounced well to the 3B side of second. Take on three passed balls and four errors thus far on the season – and would’ve added a fifth if not for Taveras backing up the play and throwing out Joel Diaz at third – and it’s been a tough road for him.
Hickory simply falls behind too many times and often it’s big. Here are the numbers:
The Crawdads have scored first in just 19 games this year and when the opponent scores, it comes during the first three innings. Opponents have scored in the first inning in 24 games. The Crawdads have scored just 25 total first-inning runs.
The opposition has scored in the first three innings in 43 of the games and hold a 139-88 over innings 1, 2 and 3 combined. Nine times, Hickory has given up six or more runs over the first three innings 8 times, 5 runs two more times.
The emphasis for the Rangers in their system is to command the fastball. It’s pretty certain that at Hickory, the starters are not commanding that pitch.
A pair of homers, including one that capped a three-run inning in the sixth, helped the Hickory Crawdads to a come-from-behind 6-4 win over the Asheville Tourists Saturday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win for the Crawdads (19-30) snapped a six-game skid and set them up for a chance to split the series after the Tourists (20-27) took the first two of the four-game set Thursday and Friday. First pitch of Sunday’s finale is scheduled for 3 p.m.
For just the 18th time in 49 games, and the first time since their last win on May 20, the Crawdads scored first. With two outs and the bases empty, Leody Taveras singled to left and reached second when 3B Travis Snyder’s throw to second for the force sailed over Max George’s glove as he covered the bag. Facing Brandon Gold, Ti’Quan Forbes then launched a three-run blast, a high-arching shot that kissed the batter’s eye in center. The homer was Forbes’s sixth of the season, but the first since April 17.
However, the Tourists rebounded quickly against Crawdads starter Matt Ball with two runs each in the second and third innings. In the second, Manny Melendez, Carlos Herrera and Joel Diaz all singled, with Diaz’s hit scoring Melendez. Ball then struck out Robbie Perkins, but a run scored when Diaz took off for second on a double-steal attempt. Herrera scored on the play as Diaz got caught in a run down between first and second.
In the third, Vince Fernandez singled and scored when Jose Gomez hit a sinking liner that Taveras closed in on and attempted to make a diving catch. The ball fell in and scooted past Taveras to the track, turning the play into an RBI triple. Gomez then scored easily on Willie Abreu’s double to the RCF track.
The Tourists had a chance to tack on more runs in the fourth when Ball walked the bases loaded after two outs. However, Ball settled down and struck out Gomez to end the inning.
Hickory held the deficit to 4-3 until the sixth when it scored the decisive runs. Anderson Tejeda singled and then scored all the way from first when Gold fielded Franklin Rollin’s swinging bunt and threw it down the right-field line. Rollin went to third on the play and scored when Valencia lofted a deep fly just over the fence in right for his second homer of the season.
After Ball got out of the bases-loaded jam in the fourth, he and C.D. Pelham allowed just one baserunner until Pelham walked Abreu to start the eighth. With the tying run at the plate, Pelham struck out Melendez and Herrera. Jake Lemoine was then summoned to face Diaz, who swung at the first pitch and hit into a force play.
Asheville threatened in the ninth after Perkins reached on an error by Forbes and Lemoine walked Fernandez with two outs. However, Gomez ended the game when his soft liner was snagged in the hole at second by the leaping Blaine Prescott.
Forbes getting the money swing back; at least, I think he is:
I sent out a tweet Friday night that it appeared Forbes was getting close.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Feel like Ti’Quan is close: hitting ball middle away. Took drive to warning track in CF, last AB was 11 pitches</p>— Mark Parker (@CrawdadsBeat) <a href=”https://twitter.com/CrawdadsBeat/status/868275387561857025″>May 27, 2017</a></blockquote>
The first pitch fastball from Gold was a no-doubter to center. Forbes did try to pull a couple of pitches away and both turned into grounders to short. However in the eighth, he sent the same pitch up the middle for a hard-hit single. He’s still plenty quick enough on the fastball, but secondary pitches away have given him trouble. It appears that he is trying to use his hands more on those pitches – that is when he recognizes them.
It’s only natural during a losing streak to see players try to do something to put the team on their backs. For the most part, he 18-year-old Taveras has been immune from that, but over the first few games of the homestand, it looks like he is trying to do too much.
Though he doubled on Thursday – with the help of a deflection off the 1B’s glove – he seemed impatient on his final three ABs with just three pitches for each one, all strikes with four swing-and-misses – an unusual amount for him.
On Friday, Abreu stole second and moved to third on the overthrow by the catcher. Taveras backed the play up correctly, but even with no real chance for the out at third, he threw it anyway. The ball landed on the protective screen behind the third-base dugout. Add to that a K and a couple of weak grounders – two pitches on each of those ABs – and you have a kid that is trying to do too much. Eight Ks in 7 games (through Friday) was not like him.
Tonight, his dive into center was ill-advised – perhaps he didn’t read it well as it was hit directly to him – and what should’ve been a single to set up first and second with one out turned into a run with another at third.
Taveras is very good at ambushing fastballs, or working long counts to get a pitch he can do something with. The single in the first tonight was classic-Taveras. Hitting left-handed, he served an 0-1 fastball away into left. Later in the eighth, we saw him work the count and earn a walk. That serves him well when he doesn’t get those first-pitch fastballs.
The rally that almost wasn’t:
After the Crawdads had four – four! – runners thrown out on the bases Friday night in a one-run loss, including pinch-runner Franklin Rollin, who was inserted as the tying run in the seventh and then proceeded to get picked off, a near disastrous start to the sixth almost occurred. If it had, I think manager Spike Owen would’ve had a coronary on the field.
Anderson Tejeda opened the inning with a lined single to right. As Tejeda rounded the base at first, a throw from Willie Abreu in right was already on the way behind him and nearly picked him off as he scampered back to first.
Was this closing day?:
The first few innings had the feel of the final day of the season, as the hitters went hacking. Gold needed just 51 pitches to get through the fifth inning and the Tourists hitters went hacking against Ball. Of the seven hits allowed by Ball over the first three innings, five of those were on the first or second pitch as the hitters saw a flat fastball.
Gold went on to record a complete game, despite the loss, needing just 93 pitches. He did a good job of pounding the strike zone (71 strikes) and getting the Crawdads to swing at his pitches early for weak contact. In fact, just six of the 34 Crawdads saw five or more pitches.
A smooth CD:
Like fine music, this C.D. (Pelham) was smooth and kept the Tourists in a relaxed state. As Gold did, the 6-6, 235 lb. lefty got outs quickly (39 pitches, 26 strikes over three innings) then finished them off with either a change or a slider. The slider was especially good to lefties as three of the four Ks came courtesy of that pitch. Given the rough treatment Pelham got at Lexington (KY) on Wednesday (2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER), the bounce back was badly needed.
Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (18-25, 6th place South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals) (19-24, 5th place Southern)
The Hickory Crawdads play the last three games of an eight-game road trip at Whitaker Bank Ballpark
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Monday-Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., Wednesday at 12:35 p.m.
Promotions: Monday: Kids Eat N’ Play for Free (Kids 12 and under eat and play in the kids play area for free); Mommy/ Son Date Night; Super Hero Night. Tuesday: $1 day (Dollar hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream sandwiches, Pepsi products). Wednesday: Hunt Brothers ½ price pizza
TICKETS: $6 for bleacher seats. $9-$23 in advance, add $2 the day of the game.
Where is it?: I-75 North/I-64 Wast to exit 113. Turn right at the end of the ramp onto North Broadway toward downtown Lexington. Follow North Broadway for approximately one and a half miles, past New Circle Road (Highway 4). Turn right into the stadium located adjacent to the Northland Shopping Center.
PARKING: $3-$5. Parking is available at the ballpark as well as other spaces within a 10-minute walk.
CONCESSIONS: Whitaker Bank Ballpark offers a wide variety of food items for fans including Big L’s Gourmet Dogs, Hunt Brothers Pizza, Colonel Cobb, Kona Ice, Kettle Cory, Broadway Cantina and more. For dining, there is the Kentucky Ale Taproom. http://www.milb.com/documents/2/4/0/46314240/Legends_2013_Tap_Room_Menu_v3_opt_0evaa6fd.pdf
Probables (Hickory/ Lexington):
Monday: RHP Jonathan Hernandez vs. RHP Travis Eckert
Tuesday: RHP Kyle Cody vs. LHP Andre Davis
Wednesday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP Jace Vines
Recent Series History: The Crawdads went 10-5 against the Legends in 2016, which included 5-of-7 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The teams played sporadically for several years prior to 2016. In 2015, Hickory all four games, which were all played at Lexington. Before that, the teams played all games for three seasons at Hickory, with the Legends edging the Crawdads 9-7.
About the Crawdads: Hickory dropped the final game of a five-game series at Kannapolis, but won the weekend series 3-2. It is the third series the Crawdads won this season, the first against a team other than Columbia (S.C.). Overall, the Crawdads have won 5 of 7 over the past week and climbed out of the cellar of the Northern Division… The Crawdads are in danger of snapping a streak of 14 straight half-seasons above .500, stretching back to the second half of the 2009 season. Hickory will have to win 17 of the final 27 to avoid a losing record… The Crawdads lineup has been humming in May, but will have to do so for a while without Yanio Perez, who is on the disabled list with an undisclosed injury. Perez (.356/.429/.630) leads the SAL in batting average and is in the top three in on-base pct., slugging pct. OPS, hits, homers and total bases. Still, Hickory’s .284 average is the second highest in the SAL for May and the lineup scored 4+ runs in three of the four games since losing Perez. The Crawdads are third in the SAL in homers, OPS (.715) and slugging (.397), fourth in RBI and total bases. However, they are near the bottom in walks received and on-base pct. (.318)… On the mound, Hickory remains well entrenched at the bottom of the SAL in ERA (5.52), and WHIP (1.55), runs and earned runs allowed, and next to last in hits and walks allowed. However, this past week has arguably been the best for the staff and the Crawdads will run the two hottest starters for the first two games. During the five wins this past week, Hickory allowed just 11 total runs. In the two losses, it gave up 18. Hickory has allowed seven or runs 18 times in 43 games, 12 of those during the last 23.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Went hitless in three straight games for just second time this season during the Kannapolis series and sat out his first game of the season on Sunday. His slash for May is still .300/.324/.457.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. The rate of strikeouts has lessened (40% in April, 29% in May), but so has the rate of walks (14.3% in April, 8.8% in May). Went 4-for-18 during Kannapolis series with 7 Ks, but three of the hits were doubles.
LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Is 8-for-43 (.186) since joining the Crawdads on May 10, but had a three-run double at Kannapolis on Sunday.
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. After two rough starts, he gave up just one run on three hits and fanned four at Kannapolis on Thursday. Pitches have tended to catch a lot of the plate far as the SAL is hitting .410 against him over 8.1 innings (16 hits to 45 hitters faced).
RHP Jonathan Hernandez (No.17 Baseball America, No. 18 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic. Pitched one-hit ball over seven innings and fanned six last Monday against Greensboro. Over his last four starts totaling 25.1 innings, Hernandez has allowed five runs on 20 hits with five walks and 26 Ks.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. Saw a 10-game hitting streak come to an end on Sunday. A stretch of at least one hit in 13 of 14 games moved his batting average from .155 on May 4 to .250.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Has perhaps begun to heat up after a prolonged slow start with an injury mixed in. Is 6-for-17 over his last five games with two walks on Sunday. His nine walks so far this season equals his entire output for 2016.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After two straight outings which yielded runs, Ferguson allowed just one hit in a scoreless outing on Saturday. Has fanned 22 of the 65 batters he faced, but walked or hit 12.
Others to watch – Hickory:
RHP Kyle Cody: Sixth-round pick in 2016 out of Kentucky. Returning to the city where he started for the Wildcats in college. Save for a poor start vs. Charleston (S.C.) on May 10, Cody has had a decent run this season. In his last outing on Tuesday, Cody pitched a four-hitter over seven innings and fanned 10. Held the opposition to fewer than two earned runs in four of seven starts.
1B Carlos Garay: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of La Victoria, Venezuela. Played this season at high-A Down East before he was assigned to Hickory this weekend due to the injury to Perez. Went 4-for-9 with an RBI in his first two games.
C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Enters the series with a five-game hitting streak (7-for-19) and four RBI in that stretch.
LHP C.D. Pelham: 33rd-round pick in 2015 out of Spartanburg Methodist College. Has become a reliable arm out of the pen. Over his last seven outings (13 innings), Pelham has fanned 17 of the 59 hitters he’s faced (29%) and allowed just two earned runs on 17 total baserunners.
About the: Legends
Managed by Scott Thorman in his first season with the Legends after two years as the skipper at the Royals rookie-level club at Burlington (73-63) …Lexington returns home after a 5-3 Georgian-road trip to Augusta and Rome. The Legends are tied for the worst home record in the SAL at 5-12. Lexington has played just three home games this month (1-2)… Despite winning two of three from the Braves, the Legends pitching took it on the chin in surrendering 24 runs and playing an 18-inning affair on Friday. Earlier this season, the Legends gave up a SAL record 30 hits during a 22-4 loss to Hagerstown (Md.). Lexington has given up 46 homers in 43 games, seven more than Greensboro. The Legends are also last in hits allowed, next to last in runs allowed, and 12th out of 14 teams in ERA (4.85), WHIP (1.47) and walks allowed… A free-swinging team at the plate, the Legends can run up some numbers. They are second in runs and homers, RBI, total bases, third in hits, doubles, and OPS. Lexington is also second in Ks… The Legends have done well at shutting down the running game with catchers combining to nab 42.9% of runners trying to steal.
Prospects to watch – Lexington:
RF Khalil Lee: (No. 12 Baseball America, No. 13 MLB.com) Third-round pick in 2016 out of Flint Hill High (Oakton, VA). Was the Gatorade player of the year in Virginia last year. The Legends leadoff hitter takes a lot of pitches as he leads the SAL in Ks and is fourth in walks. Tied for 9th in runs. Posted a .213/.338/295 slash in May. A threat on the bases with 11 steals (5th in the SAL), though he has been caught six times.
C Meibrys Viloria (No. 14 MLB.com, No. 18 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Cartagena, Colombia. Was the MVP in the Pioneer League (rookie) at Idaho Falls in 2016 after posting a .376/.436/.606 slash. After a .186 average in April, Viloria has been hot in May at .339.422/.679 with four homers and 16 RBI in 15 games. Enters the series with an RBI in six straight games and seven of eight. Behind the plate has thrown out 17 of the 40 runners trying to steal.
CF Marten Gasparini: (No. 19 MLB.com, No. 22 Baseball America) Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Ruda, Italy. Signed the largest contract given to a European prospect. Hit .196 as the Legends starting shortstop last year and has not been much better (.186) in 2017. Committed 48 errors last year precipitating the move to center. Has just four extra-base hits this year in 35 games.
SS Ricky Arcena (No. 27 MLB.com) Signed as an international free agent in 2014 out of San Francisco de Macoris, D.R. Like Gasparini, the stick has been light and the game a bit fast in the field (60 errors in 115 pro games). Started the last road trip with hits in five of the first six games, before an 0-for-7 with 6 Ks over the final two games.
Others to watch – Lexington:
LF Kort Peterson: 23rd-round pick in 2016 out of UCLA. Tabbed to the Appalachian League post-season All-Star team in 2016, as well as a Royals organizational All-Star by MLB.com. Fifth in the SAL in OBP (.405) and tied for 10th in hits. Enters the series with a seven-game hitting streak and hits in 16 of the last 18 games (26-for-77, .338). Is 8 for his last 17.
RHP Jace Vines: Fourth-round pick in 2016 out of Texas A&M. Expected to make his third straight appearance as a starter on Wednesday (10 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 1 HB, 1 BB, 4 K). Enters the series with a 1.67 ERA as a starter. Relies on defense to make plays (1.81 GO/AO) with just 24 Ks in 40.1 innings overall.
RHP Grant Gavin: 29th-round pick in 2016 out of Central Missouri. Has struck out 23 of 81 batters faced (28%). Has allowed one earned run over 21 innings (0.43 ERA) and the league is hitting .130 against him.
1B Joe Dudek: Non-drafted free agent in 2016 out of Kentucky. Enters series with seven-game hitting streak (10-for-26, .385) with three walks. Has reached base in all ten games since he joined the Legends. Was teammate of Crawdads P Kyle Cody.
Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers) (15-23, 7th place South Atlantic League Northern Division) at Kannapolis Intimidators (Chicago White Sox) (20-16, Tied for 3rd place Northern)
The Hickory Crawdads start a road trip with a five-game series at Intimidators Stadium.
If you plan to go:
GAME TIMES: Thursday 7:05 p.m., Friday Doubleheader 5:05 p.m., Saturday 7:05 p.m., Sunday 5:05 p.m.
Promotions: Thursday: Motorsports Night with a Bank of America 500 ticket giveaway; Thirsty Thursday. Friday: Daddy-Daughter Date night with Pre-game Princess Parade. Saturday: Faith and Family Night with post-game fireworks; Sunday: Team Photo Giveaway, Bark at the Park; Pre-Game Autographs; Picnic in the Park (All-you-can-eat for $10).
TICKETS: $5-$7 for children, $6-8 for adults in advance. $2 more per ticket the day of the game.
Where is it?: Ballpark is off I-85 at exit 63. Exit ramp to Lane Street and head west. Turn right onto Stadium. NOTE: There is heavy construction along I-85, so allow extra time.
PARKING: All parking is $2
CONCESSIONS: Intimidators Stadium has the basic ballpark food at a main concession area behind home plate. Other items include Chicken Tenders, Chicken sandwiches, Pretzel Dogs, Wings, and Turkey Wraps. The Hot Dog Hut has footlongs, brats, burgers, Italian sausages, as well as Dale’s Mater Sandwiches, and Veggie Burgers. BBQ Stand has pulled pork and turkey sandwiches.
Probables (Hickory/ Kannapolis):
Thursday: RHP Michael Matuella vs. RHP Chris Comito
Friday (DH): RHP Edgar Arredondo and RHP Reid Anderson vs. LHP Bernardo Flores/ TBA
Saturday: RHP Demarcus Evans vs. RHP Jimmy Lambert
Sunday: RHP Matt Ball vs. RHP Yosmer Solorzano
Recent Series History:
Kannapolis is 5-3 against Hickory this season, which includes a 3-1 series win at home back in April The Crawdads were 12-4 in 2016 against Kannapolis with a dominant 7-1 record at Intimidators Stadium. Since the Crawdads began the affiliation with the Rangers in 2009 they are 87-58 overall, 45-30 at Intimidators Stadium.
About the Crawdads: After a horrendous start to a just-concluded home stand, the Crawdads won the final two games vs. Greensboro to split that series and salvaged a 3-4 record. Hickory is 7-10 in road games… For the most part, the team’s pitching has posted some ugly numbers. Their 5.52 ERA is nearly .60 higher than the next lowest team (Hagerstown) and the 1.56 WHIP is .12 higher than Lexington. Hickory is second in the SAL in hits allowed and walks issued. The Crawdads team ERA would be worse if not for No. 1 starter Jonathan Hernandez (2.80) and No. 2 starter Kyle Cody (3.41). Neither are scheduled to pitch during the series. Ball and Anderson will each make their first start in the series. Hickory has allowed seven or runs 16 times in 38 games, ten of those during the last 18… The lineup continues to hum along, hitting .281/.331/.394 in May after a .235/.306/.394 slash in April. After hitting 25 dingers in April, Hickory has just eight so far this month. Overall, the Crawdads are tied for third in homers, and fourth in slugging and OPS (.709)… Hickory stole a single-game record of 8 in a game at Kannapolis in April and may again wish to take advantage of catcher Seby Zavala, who has thrown out just 7 of 37 base stealers.
Prospects to watch- Hickory:
CF Leody Taveras (No. 1 MLB.com and Baseball America, No. 43 Baseball America top-100 prospects, No. 51 MLB.com top-100): Signed as international free agent 2015 out of Tenares, Dominican Republic. Hitting .345/.362/.545 in May with seven extra-base hits. Prior to an 0-for-4 on Wednesday, he had at least one hit in 15 of 16 games, seven of those with 2+ hits. Along with 3B Ti’Quan Forbes, has played in all 38 of the Crawdads games and leads the SAL in at bats. He is also 6th in total bases.
SS Anderson Tejeda (No. 7 MLB.com, No. 16 Baseball America). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of Bani, D.R. Still among the leaders in the SAL in strikeouts, but the rate of his strikeouts is shrinking. Tejeda fanned in 40% of his plate appearances during April, but is down to 26.5% in May.
LF Miguel Aparicio (No. 14 Baseball America, No. 29 MLB.com). Signed as an international free agent in 2015 out of San Carlos, Venezuela. Is 5-for-23 since joining the Crawdads on May 10.
OF Yanio Perez (No. 15 MLB.com, 27 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent out of Havana, Cuba. Leads the SAL in OBP (.430), and is tied for first with 46 hits. Other top-ten rankings: 2nd in batting avg. (.354), OPS (1.030), third in homers (8), slugging pct. (.600) and total bases, tied for third in RBI (26).
RHP Michael Matuella (No. 19 Baseball America, No. 20 MLB.com). Third-round pick in 2015 out of Duke Univ. In many ways, he is still on the mend from injuries (back and Tommy John surgery) suffered in 2015, but would like to see results. Has given up 9 runs over 5.1 innings with SAL hitters pasting him for a .481 batting avg. Is limited to 60-70 pitches per outing.
2B Yeyson Yrizarri (No. 17 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of the D.R. After a 1-for-39 funk (.065) to start the season, he is more than making up for lost time with a .425/.452/.475 slash in May. Was at .155 for the season on May 4, but with hits in 9 of the last 10 games (17-for-33) – including two four-hit tilts in that stretch – he is up to .246.
RF Jose Almonte (No. 28 MLB.com): Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Santo Domingo, D.R. Enters the series 4-for-8 in the last two games, which included a walk-off homer vs. Greensboro.
RHP Tyler Ferguson (No. 30 Baseball America, No. 30 MLB.com): Sixth-round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt. After five straight scoreless outings, he has given up three runs over 2.1 innings during his last two outings. He has hit or walked 12 of the 61 hitters he has faced.
Others to watch – Hickory:
RHP Edgar Arredondo: Signed as an international free agent in 2013 out of Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Had his best outing of the season last Friday when he allowed one run on five hits and fanned three over five innings for the win. The Intimidators has touched him up for 16 hits over nine innings in two starts.
RHP Matt Ball: Acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a trade in 2016. Expected to make his first start of the season against his old team. Has allowed two runs over five relief appearances (8.1 innings) since joining the Crawdads on 4/27/17. Fanned 12 and walked just one during that stretch.
C Ricky Valencia: Signed as an international free agent in 2011 out of Valencia, Venezuela. Returned to the team after a disabled list stint with an injured hamstring. Will split time with Alex Kowalczyk.
About the Intimidators:
Managed by Justin Jirschele, who played in 15 games for the Intimidators in 2013. He was the team’s hitting coach last year… A Shermanesque march through Georgia has placed Kannapolis in the thick of the Northern Division chase. The Intimidators won three of four at Rome after taking two at Augusta… Pitching has been a strong suit with the I’s allowing just 8 total runs during their five wins on the trip. Their 3.32 ERA in May is fourth in the SAL… At the plate, Kannapolis’ .282 average for May is just behind Charleston for the league lead… Speed is not their game. The Intimidators have just 17 steals in 27 attempts, both SAL lows.
Prospects to watch – Kannapolis:
LF Jameson Fisher (No. 14 Baseball America, 15 mlb.com): Fourth-round pick out of SE Louisiana. As a redshirt-junior in 2016, led NCAA D-I in on-base pct. and was second in batting average. Has hits in each of his last three games, but is at .226/.333/.419 for May. Hickory struck him out ten times in 33 plate appearances in April.
LHP Bernardo Flores (No. 18 mlb.com, 23 Baseball America): Seventh-round pick out of Southern California. Struggled in college, has mid-to-upper 90s fastball. Pitched four-hit ball over six innings in his last start with six Ks.
RF Micker Adolfo (No. 20 mlb.com, 24 Baseball America): Signed as an international free agent in 2013. Saw his 16-game hitting streak (24-for-66) end with an 0-for-5, four-strikeout game at Rome.
Others to watch – Kannapolis:
CF Joel Booker: 22nd round pick out of Iowa. Attended Polk County High in Columbus, NC. Is tied for 7th in hits, tied for 8th in runs scored. He tortured the Crawdads pitching staff in April with 9 hits in 26 ABs and scored seven runs.
RHP Mike Morrison: 27th round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Pitched for last year’s College World Series champions. Currently tied for second in the SAL with seven saves. Over his 14 appearances spanning 17.1 innings, he has allowed eight baserunners and struck out 26 with no runs allowed.
The Hickory Crawdads had a rough start at the plate. April rains in the area often limited the hitters work to the batting cage and on the field the Crawdads as a unit struggled to put an offense together other than homers.
Hickory jumped to the South Atlantic League’s lead in homers in April and still remain near the top. However, hitters too often missed in-game opportunities during individual at bats and wasted scoring chances as a team.
But, the season is long and as the sunshine returned to the area, the team perked up as well, especially during a late-April series against Columbia (S.C.). Yanio Perez tortured Fireflies pitching and won the Sally League hitter-of-the-week award as a result of that work and hasn’t looked back. Leody Taveras – the Texas Rangers top prospect – has been as advertised. He went through a 15-game stretch during which he had more hits (20) than swings-and-misses (15). Yeyson Yrizarri woke out of a 1-for-39 slump and has had two four-hit games this month. Anderson Tejeda has cut his strikeout rate.
The talent is here and, more importantly, it is developing. I had a chance to speak with Crawdads hitting coach Kenny Hook during the recent home stand about the young hitters and how that development is coming along.
Let me ask you first of all, the team, started really slow. You and I talked a little bit on the side about all the rain we had and guys not being able to get into a routine. Suddenly, a lot of guys have found a stroke of genius that you’ve given them, or whatever. What about that turnaround and where the guys have come from?
Hook: The weather and not being able to spend a lot of time out on the field. The main thing is, you can get kind of fooled inside a cage sometimes. Being out on the field and seeing the flight of the ball offers you some pretty valuable feedback. So, that did play a factor, but some of it is being able to get locked in on a routine, develop more of a plan and an approach at the plate, and then getting a good understanding of how they’re going to get pitched in certain situations.
I think that’s been the biggest thing is the ability to get a better pitch earlier in the count, to not be afraid to get deep into a count, then be a little more refined in a two-strike approach. I think you saw that really with our last road trip. That was really good with two outs and two strikes was a big difference.
One of the things I noticed up front – and that turned around in the second home stand – is when guys would get in hitter’s counts, they almost seemed jumpy to try and do something, rather than waiting on the next pitch. That 2-1 or 3-0 pitch wasn’t the one you wanted and they weren’t ready for a fastball. That seems to have come around.
Hook: Yeah, I think some of that is having to do with their youth. I think a lot of them really want to get big hits instead of just getting a good pitch and putting a good swing on it. They’re trying to do too much at those times. I think they get excited and a little anxious when they work themselves into good counts. They kind of anticipate something good is coming pitch wise and then maybe they chase a little bit and swing at a pitcher’s pitch in those counts.
That’s gotten a lot better. We’ve slowed it down and allowed pitchers to make mistakes more often. But, I think that’s going to come and go because we’re young. These guys get really high and then they get down on themselves because they all want to perform and they put a little too much pressure on themselves at the plate in certain situations. They’ll get better at the more games and the more times they are in those situations.
I’m going to do a little name association and start with Leody Taveras. As an 18-year-old, he brings a lot. I know you’ve watched the twitter things I’ve posted of him having more hits that missed bats over the last couple of weeks. For an 18-year-old, that’s pretty rare.
Hook: You know what, I would say, other than his baseball skills, I’ve been most impressed with just his preparation, how intense he is. He shows up and performs every night and he is really locked in as far as playing one pitch at a time. He really understands what he needs to do in certain situations in the game. He understands that guys aren’t just going to just attack him and allow him to get good pitches in certain situations.
I think the switch to the three hole has really kind of changed his mindset there. He’s been more patient and he’s really refined his play, as far as looking for a really small zone early in the count, something he can do some damage on, and then later in the count being able to use the whole field. I think shrinking the zone early has allowed him to work into deeper counts and get ahead in counts, and then trust that he can drive the ball the other way later in counts is huge for him.
You mentioned his preparation, what does he do differently than the average 18-year-old that stands out to you?
Hook: I think it’s just mentally. I don’t think it’s something you can really see as far as that. I think all the guys prepare physically. I think he has a certain way, as far as his demeanor and really processing whatever it takes to win. He’s a fierce competitor. I think a lot of them are competing and are great competitors, but he just has a knack for being able to stay in the moment and not get too outside of himself or try to do too much in certain situations. Where I think he’s built a little different, as far as being able to control his emotions at such a young age, is what stands out for me the most.
Yanio Perez started slow, but man did he find a stick in the Columbia series. He pretty much tortured anything they threw up there. He was one of those that seemed a little jumpy in hitter’s counts early, but has found a groove.
Perez: For him, I think it’s just his mind set as a hitter. He’s so good at kind of being able to hit breaking balls and offspeed pitches up the middle and the other way to where, he was seeing a lot of them and he was just giving up on fastballs and looking to drive the breaking stuff the other way and get his hits that way.
What you saw in the Columbia series, and kind of the ongoing thing with him as far as what he needs to improve on, and what we’re preaching is, stay on the fastball timing all the time. Because, at any point, he recognizes well enough to where he can still hit the offspeed the other way. What you saw in that series is, he was looking fastball and he was committed to it, so when they did hang a slider or offspeed, you saw him get the bathead out and pulled more baseballs in that series. When he gets extended and pulls the ball, obviously you’re going to do more damage. So, you saw big power numbers in that series.
When Andy Ibanez came here last year, one of things that the Rangers wanted him to do was having him get used to how baseball is played here. How has Perez coming here and playing here made those adjustments at this level, in this country, at this setting, etc.?
Hook: I think he’s done a really good job, especially for a guy that’s played multiple positions and is getting moved around a lot. He’s transitioned pretty well. Offensively, that’s been the easiest aspect. The defensive stuff at first base – he may be in right field, left field, third base, first base – I think that’s something that’s his biggest asset, as far as being able to move around. But at the same time, it does take a certain understanding that you have to get your groundballs during BP, you have to get fly balls. There’s a lot of work to stay ready to play those positions.
I would say is, what you’re seeing is that he’s a pretty sound defender when he’s on the dirt and he can always go play corner outfield, but I think being able to do both is a huge asset, I would think in the industry as a whole and obviously, for our club.
Ti’Quan Forbes has gone the opposition direction. He started real hot and has cooled off. But the thing I noticed about him last year and the start of this year is that his confidence is so much above when he started here last year. What you do you see in him, even now when he is slumping, what he is bringing to the plate?
Hook: What I think is that it’s a trust in himself and maturing and understanding his body and his swing, and he realizes if he sticks to his plan and stays and gets ready to hit fastballs, he’s athletic enough to where good things are going to happen. That confidence and I think it’s a matter of maturing.
As kids mature, they start to understand what kind of player they are, what’s important for them to have success. You’ve seen that and even through not getting hits, he’s still hitting the ball hard every night. He’s still a threat in our lineup. He spent a lot of time in that four hole where you go into a series and you put that batting average and those power numbers up on the board, they’re going pitch him a little different. I think he’s shown how much he’s grown up by the way he’s handled that.
He’ll come out of it and they’ll start falling. He hit two balls last that were right on the barrel and hit them over 90 miles an hour. That’s all you can ask for as a hitter is hard contact and eventually those are going to turn into hits.
It doesn’t look like it’s hurt him defensively and it didn’t last year. He doesn’t take it to the field.
Hook: He’s got a great routine and he realizes how important his defense is. So, I think that’s one other aspect of his maturity. He understand that once it’s time to play defense, he really focuses on that and doesn’t let his offense affect his defense and vice versa. It’s just a matter of being a well-rounded play and understanding his role and his job.
Where does Anderson Tejeda get that power? He’s still a bit of a scrawny guy and not much bigger than my 15-year-old?
Hook: Well, I think it’s what he generates in his swing. He’s got a big leg kick and he really gets a lot of separation, and there’s a ton of bat speed in there. He’s a guy who’s at bats have gotten a lot better because he’s been able to control his body a little bit. He’s another guy that understands that people aren’t going to throw fastballs inside, because that’s his strength. So, he’s been able to be more selective. He can hit the ball out to any field. I think trusting that has been the key for him. He doesn’t have to pull the ball to do damage. He’s just a talented, gifted hitter that, at his age, is pretty impressive.
Yrizarri came back and for me, that was a bit of a surprise. He came back here and struggled at the start, but has seemed to find himself again. Did he struggle with all of this coming back and trying to figure out what he’s doing here and moving positions?
Hook: I think there’s probably something to that, as far as feeling a little disappointed that he didn’t move up from here. You know, I think he understands at this point that’s what’s best for him. He’s got to take it for what it’s worth, but come out and improve on what he did last year here and play a little more second base and being able to control the strike zone better and really get more of a well-round game. I think what you’ve seen with him lately is he’s got a lot of two-strike hits. He’s not chasing as much.
I think what you saw early on was a guy who felt like: I was one swing away every time I went up there, getting big hit and then getting moved out of here as fast as possible. You’ve just got to do what you can and stay in the present every time and that stuff will take care of itself.
I’m really happy with his work ethic through all his struggles. He’s been at it every day and his mindset hasn’t changed. He’s a great kid that puts a ton of pressure on himself. He’s very emotional and cares so much about the team and about his performance that sometimes to a fault. Keeping an even keel is probably the biggest challenge and will directly affect his success.
What happened with Eric Jenkins? He came here and had really good at bats the first couple of games. But there was the Columbia series where the team had a tight game in the ninth, and he had a chance for a big hit and the uppercut swing came back. What mindset do you see with him so far?
Hook: I think it’s a work in progress. I think he was on to some really good things and having some plate discipline in there. I think, as it is with any hitter, if you don’t start to see the results, as any human would do, you revert back to what you know and what you’re comfortable with.
I expect him to go down there (extended spring) and work and be back here soon. He’s very talented and a very likable kid and he’s got a lot of tools. So, I think it’s a matter of giving him a chance to step back and just understand what he needs to do to develop his game. He’ll be back here, I’m sure pretty soon.
Who has surprised you the most to this point of the season?
Hook: To this point, I think Ricky Valencia. I’ve known, but I haven’t seen Ricky, though this is my fourth year with Texas. Ricky has never been in a situation where he’s been a frontline guy, in my time with the Rangers. His leadership – he’s a little bit older – but his ability to hit and to understand having a plan, and being that guy that can teach the younger Latin kids. He’s a great role model and a great leader for them. He’s a solid, solid guy. Every night, you know what you’re going to get. Whether he’s 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he’s pretty much the same.
He’s probably been the most impressive because I’ve never seen him in that role and it looks like he’s talking full advantage of that chance and opportunity.
Kowalczyk is taking advantage of his opportunity.
Hook: Yeah, he’s a big strong kid that can obviously generate some bat speed. He just needs experience, I think, learning how to call a game and learning the catching position at this level. He’s been impressive since he’s gotten here with the bat.
What do we look for in Aparicio?
Hook: A guy that is a lot like Tejeda. He’s got a little pop. He can really play the outfield and has a really good and a really food competitor. He’s a guy that sprays the ball around. I think he’s got some real tools. He can run. He’s got the hitability. I think we’re getting a player that’s exciting, a lot like that players we have here right now, so he should fit in great.
Tuesday afternoon’s game was a reversal of the script that occurred much of the home stand.
The Hickory Crawdads opened up a big league early in support of strong starting pitching by Kyle Cody and cruised to a 6-1 win over the Grasshoppers in front of 3,025 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win gave the Crawdads (15-23) the final two contests and forged a split of the four-game series and closed out a 3-4 home stand. While teams generally are unhappy with that kind of homestand, given the angst of the club after a woeful stretch of pitching, 3-4 gives the Crawdads a sense of “whew” as they head out for an eight-game trip to Kannapolis and Lexington, KY.
For Greensboro (21-17), losses the last two days dropped it from second to fourth place in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division chase. The Grasshoppers now sit two games back of first-place Hagerstown (Md.)
Hickory scored two in the first and four in the second off starter Jordan Holloway, who started his morning by hitting Franklin Rollin on the calf. A hit-and-run brought fruit as Miguel Aparicio bounced a single through the right side that moved Rollin to third. Leody Taveras’s grounder to first scored Rollin and later Alex Kowalczyk singled in Aparicio to make it 2-0.
The Crawdads batted around in the second to build a 6-0 cushion. Jose Almonte steered a single to left and one out later went to third when Anderson Tejeda doubled into the RF corner. Rollin and Aparicio both walked, which scored Almonte. The assault continued against reliever Marcus Crescentini as Yanio Perez singled in two and Kowalczyk added his second RBI hit of the game.
That was more than enough for Crawdads starter Kyle Cody, who pitched brilliantly Tuesday afternoon. The 6-7, 245 lbs. right-hander from the University of Kentucky pitched four-hit ball over seven shutout innings and struck out a pro-career high ten. After Greensboro singled in each of the first and second innings, Cody held the Grasshoppers hitless until they put up two in loading the bases with two outs in the seventh. Cody kept the fledgling shutout in tact by getting Corey Byrd to tap back to the mound.
Crawdads reliever Tyler Ferguson struck out the side around a walk in the eighth but ran into trouble in the ninth. With one out, Boo Vazquez doubled off the fence in left and advanced to third on Jarett Rindfleisch’s single. A fielder’s choice by Mason Davis got the runner from third home, but Rindfleisch reached second on a throwing error by 1B Perez. Corey Bird singled to load the bases, but then Ferguson struck out Aaron Knapp and got Justin Twine to fly to center to end the game.
Put-Away-Pitches Put Holloway Away:
Greensboro pitcher Jordan Holloway has had control issues much of his pro career (20 BB, 3 HBPs in 36.1 innings for this season after today), but his stuff (MLB.com has his fastball and curve at a 60 grade on the 20-80 scale) has been enough to put in the mid-teens range as a Marlins prospect. His control did indeed waiver as se walked three today and hit a batter during his 1.2-inning stint, but his inability to put away hitters ultimately did him in.
I didn’t see “every” pitch, but I don’t recall seeing many curveballs by Holloway, and the ones I did see didn’t have much bite. Otherwise, he stayed fastball/ change, but nothing that was commanded well.
To Hickory’s credit, the lineup did a good of spoiling his pitches and making him work. In the first, Taveras fell behind 1-2 before working the count full and rolling over the seventh pitch for a grounder to the right side that scored a run.
During the Tejeda at bat in the second, Holloway got ahead 0-2 and then left a fastball up that Tejeda smoked into right. Rollin fell behind 1-2 and then walked. Aparicio fell behind 0-2 and he, too, walked.
Perez victimized the reliever Crescetini, but taking a low breaking ball up the middle for a two-run single.
With the count 0-2 or 1-2 in the second inning, the Crawdads went 2-for-3 with two walks and four RBI.
A 6-7 player from Kentucky rebounds, and it’s not basketball:
After his last outing (2.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K), Kyle Cody was in charge from the start. Many of his Ks came on the slider to right-handed hitters and he was able to paint the arm-side corner with his fastball for punch outs. I talked with pitching coach Jose Jaimes about Cody’s start and to the differences from last week to today.
“I’m pretty excited about Kyle. Last time was not him. Today, he came out and had the right attitude. The main thing today was that he was able to throw that slider for a strike early in the count and put guys away with it, and then also locating his fastball, for the most part.”
Cody’s work in the seventh was especially impressive given the odd circumstances the bases were loaded. Colby Lusignan struck out to start the inning, but reached on a wild pitch. The second hit of the inning happened with first base wasn’t covered on a bouncer to second. Jaimes said the ability for Cody to keep his composure was a big step.
“The last inning, he had the strikeout, but we couldn’t make the out at first. I do know that the main thing is that he stayed focused. Even with two outs when something behind him happened, he didn’t lose command of his pitches.”
I’m starting to get asked about Yanio Perez and if he is going to be promoted soon. At .354/.430/.600 over 37 games, he is certainly making a loud statement that he is ready for a challenge. However, as with his Cuban countryman last year Andy Ibanez, there are other parts of his game to work on, namely defense.
I made that response to a tweet question this afternoon and soon after a couple of plays showed up that made me look like a prophet. With two outs in the seventh, Mason Davis bounced a ball to the right side of the infield. Perez made two quick steps to the ball, then let it go to Blaine Prescott at second. Looked like a routine play, except Perez didn’t retreat to the bag at first. Davis reached without a throw.
In the ninth, a throw by Perez to start a routine 3-6 force play (I don’t think it would’ve been a double play) sailed into left center.
However, like Ibanez last year, and possibly even more so with Perez, who is two years younger than Ibanez, the Rangers could be content to just let him get used to the country and the American way of playing the game and just letting him be for a bit and having him dominate.
Another game during the homestand, another blowout loss.
The Greensboro Grasshoppers scored the first five runs and went on to an 8-2 win over the Hickory Crawdads Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win for Greensboro (21-15) was an important win as the Grasshoppers are tied with Lakewood (NJ) for second place in the South Atlantic League Northern Division, with both teams a game behind Hagerstown (Md.). The Grasshoppers have won 9 of 10 – including the first two games of the current four-game series – and 12 of 15 to get into the division chase.
Meanwhile, Hickory (13-23) has dropped four of five and 8 of 11. Only Augusta (11-24) has a worst record in the Sally League.
Poor command and untimely defensive play was again the downfall for the Crawdads. Today, it was starter Tyler Phillips that took the brunt of things early.
Greensboro scored two in the first, which started when Eric Gutierrez was hit by a pitch – the first of five on the day. Boo Vazquez followed with a bouncer to SS Yeyson Yrizarri. His feed to start a potential double play was a slow, underhanded toss to 2B Blaine Prescott covering the bag. With the runner sliding in, Prescott’s turn and subsequent and relay to first was off the mark, which allowed Vazquez to reach. The misplay proved to be a key part of the inning as Jarett Rindfleisch doubled in Vazquez. One out later, Corey Bird singled in Rindfleisch.
Greensboro added three unearned runs in the fourth. With one out Vazquez lined a single to right and went to second when Rindfleisch was hit by a pitch. The inning began to unravel when a grounder by Luis Pintor was fielded in the hole by Yrizarri, who then attempted a force play at third. However, Ti’Quan Forbes dropped the throw, which allowed the runner to reach and loaded the bases. From there, Bird’s sacrifice fly scored Vazquez and Austin Knapp singled in two more. Phillips’s (1-2) day was done after he walked Justin Twine.
As has been the case lately, that was more than enough for starter Braxton Garrett. The Miami Marlins top prospect pitched five innings of two-hit ball to pick up his first pro win (1-0). One of the few mistakes Garrett made was a high changeup that Yanio Perez hit high off the billboards in right for his eighth homer of the season.
Matt Ball entered the game in relief of Phillips and after he got the Crawdads out of further damage in the fourth and stranded two more in the fifth, Greensboro tagged him for a run in the sixth when Colby Lusignan singled in Justin Twine.
Tyler Ferguson entered the game in the eighth on the heels of five scoreless outings (7.1 IP), but he too was not immune to the week of wildness. Bird and Knapp both singled and advanced to second and third on a fly to right. James Nelson walked and then Bird scored on a wild pitch. Lusignan was walked and Gutierrez was hit by a pitch to score Knapp and end Ferguson’s day. Kaleb Fontenot retired the final two batters of the inning pitched a perfect ninth to prevent further scoring.
Leody Taveras accounted for the final run in the ninth with a towering homer off the batter’s eye.
The beat goes on:
This afternoon’s game was the 16th time in 36 games the Crawdads have allowed seven or more runs, the tenth in the last 16 games.
In the four games during the homestand that went nine innings, Hickory has combined to throw 750 pitches with just 440 going for strikes. Today’s total: 189 pitches with 116 for strikes.
What next?: With the short outings by the starters this week – only Edgar Arredondo reached five innings – the bullpen has been taxed. Only Jake Lemoine has not seen since Thursday, and that outing was the second straight poor one for him (2.1 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 3 BB). I would not be surprised to see the Rangers make some roster moves to help with a stretched-out bullpen, but then perhaps a rotation spot or two come open for grabs. Argenis Rodriguez (13.80 ERA in 5 appearances, 4 starts) has already been sent to Arizona. Phillips (6.39 ERA in seven outings, four starts) and Demarcus Evans (7.88 ERA in seven outings, 3 starts) could be the next to at least come out of the rotation.
One-quarter of the season is gone and adjustments have not been made. Those adjustments may need to come in Arizona and/ or Spokane.
#1 vs. #1
The matchup I wanted to see was a pair of top-100 prospects squaring off: Garrett vs. the Rangers top prospect, Taveras.
In the first, Taveras ambushed a first-pitch fastball by Garrett that was down, but served hard into right. The southpaw then caught Taveras leaning the wrong way, but Taveras was able to beat the throw to second for the steal.
In the fourth, Garrett used a fastball and change to get ahead 0-2. Taveras ignored a curve and fastball that both went low, fouled off another pitch (Don’t remember what it was) before Garrett froze him with a curveball on the 1B corner of the plate.
Impressions of Garrett:
The No. 7 overall pick made his second pro start and from what I could pay attention to – we had computer issues in getting the game info to New York – he impressed. Fastball ran 90-94 mph with some life and he mixed in a changeup liberally that stayed armside, as well as a curveball from the first inning on.
I mentioned to the stringer working the game with me in the third that the curveball seemed very loopy. He must have heard me from the press box because right after that, Garrett tied up the right-handed hitting Franklin Rollin up with back-to-back 11-5 curves that bore in on the hands as he swung through both.
As stated above, the only real mistake was the high change that Perez punished.
Had the Crawdads lineup not put together 12 hits, Saturday night’s 14-2 loss to the Greensboro Grasshoppers might be one of the uglier losses in my own memory here.
Eleven walks, three hit batters, a wild pitch, an error on a throw to first following a strikeout, two passed balls all added up to every bit of that 14-2 defeat.
To the Grasshoppers credit, the lineup was patient and took advantage of the opportunities given them. Greensboro went 10-for-28 RISP and still stranded 14 for the game.
It started so innocently. Crawdads starter Demarcus Evans needed just ten pitches to get through the first. Good, lively fastball and three F-8’s later we’re thinking, here we go. Then it happened…
Hit batter, walk, walk, K, then a walk to .134 hitter Luis Pintor sent manager Spike Owen to the mound with a matter-of-fact walk to remove Evans. Reid Anderson entered and gave up a two-run single to Corey Bird (4-for-5) and a run-scoring double to Aaron Knapp (3-for-5, 5 RBI).
In the third, with one out, Colby Lusignan and Eric Gutierrez singled. Anderson K’d Boo Vazquez, but a passed ball on strike three scored Lusignan from third. Then, hit batter, Pintor’s RBI single, Bird RBI single and Knapp’s three-run homer made it 10-0 after three.
Grasshoppers starter Dylan Lee then just had to throw strikes and he did. Through seven scoreless innings, he scattered seven hits and struck out two.
Ismel Lopez was next up for Hickory and Greensboro got him for single runs in the fifth and sixth. Pintor walked and scored on a bases-loaded walk to Lusignan. In the sixth, Knapp’s sacrifice fly brought in Jarett Rindfleisch.
An unearned run made it 13-0 in the seventh. James Nelson earned the golden sombrero, but got all the way to second when catcher Alex Kowalczyk’s throw to first to complete a strikeout went into right. Vazquez eventually singled him in.
Finally in the ninth against CD Pelham, Vazquez and Rindfleisch hit back-to-back doubles.
The Crawdads got their runs in the ninth as Ti’Quan Forbes and Yeyson Yrizarri each had RBI singles.
Our internet combined with Gameday’s brain fart late in the game skewed pitch counts from the sixth inning on. By my count, I had the Crawdads combining for 234 pitches with 125 going for strikes. Just 28 first-pitch strikes to 55 hitters.
Evans threw just 19 strikes out of 42 pitches to get five outs.
What may be:
Getting the feeling that there will be some changes made and it could be a wakeup call for some guys. Tonight was the quarter-mark of the season and we now see what the reality is. Guys are not throwing strikes or commanding pitches in the strike zone. With manager Spike Owen having to go to the pen in the first through third innings too often, guys in the bullpen are shouldering a ton of work. The rotation and pitching roster may look different when the Crawdads go to Kannapolis on Thursday.
Tough night for Kowalczyk:
Whether it was the strain of trying to will pitchers into, or catching nearly every day for a week after sitting out until last week, Kowalczyk had a tough night. Two passed balls in the third, several other pitches that were simply dropped and then the error in the seventh on a routine throw to first. He had a ground single in the fourth, but otherwise K’d twice and bounced to second.
Leody busts it:
After a tough night Friday (2 Ks and a GIDP), Taveras was his young self again Saturday. After a Willie Mays, cap-fall-of-the head running catch in the first, he lined an 0-1 pitch hard off the mound, which bounced high into centerfield. He grounded to short and third in his next two ABs, but both times he sprinted hard to first and made both routine plays close. Taveras got rewarded for that hustle in the ninth when he beat out an infield hit to third.
Yay for Yay-Yay:
Yeyson Yrizarri had the best AB I can recall seeing in the third. (This was with the team down 10-0). A 9-pitch adventure, during which he spoiled five different 1-2 pitches, turned into a hard-hit single to left on a hanging curve. An infield hit in the fifth, a double into the LF corner in the eighth and an RBI single in the ninth and he winds up with a four-hit night. Add in a leaping catch of a liner to save two runs in the fifth and that’s a pretty good night for a guy during a game when he, and others, could’ve mailed it in.
Anderson at second:
Anderson Tejeda looks pretty comfortable at second and I think I could get used to seeing him there. Made two difficult plays look easy as he charged in on both and made the quick, across the body throw to first on the run.
Yanio is Yanio:
Three hits, two of them smoked, and I think he’s getting ready to go to Columbia, S.C. with Taveras for the SAL all-star game.
Rollin is rollin’
Franklin Rollin went 1-for-5, but could’ve easily had three more hits. Lined hard to first twice and to short to end the game. Just one of those nights.
As a matter of fact:
Several hitters torched the ball but found gloves. Along with Rollin’s smashes, Ti’Quan Forbes smoked a liner to third in the seventh that nearly doubled off Perez at third. Rollin’s smash to first did double off Yrizarri in the third. Almonte had a hard hit liner to center in the fifth. Hickory had 12 hits, but could’ve had more.