I missed the clinching game, but I did get a few pics of the celebration and a snapshot with the SAL trophy.
For the second straight game, the Hickory Crawdads took an early lead. They then used five pitchers to shut down the Asheville Tourists 3-1 Tuesday night at L.P. Frans Stadium. The Crawdads now lead the best-of-five series 2-0. After a day off Wednesday. the remaining games shift to Asheville’s McCormick Field starting on Thursday with a game time at 7:05 p.m.
The Crawdads are seeking the club’s third SAL title, the first since 2004. Hickory also claimed the 2002 championship.
Hickory put together four hits to score two in the second against Tourists starter Ryan Castellani. Edwin Garcia and Eduard Pinto sandwiched singles around a fly out. After Juremi Profar struck out, Carlos Arroyo slapped a soft liner into left to score Garcia. Castellani walked Jose Cardona to load the bases and then took a liner from Dylan Moore off the foot that scored Pinto.
In the fourth, Profar reached when Josh Fuentes’ throw short hopped Roberto Ramos at first. A sac bunt from Arroyo and Cardona’s single pushed Profar to third before he scored on Moore’s grounder to third.
Nineteen days after injuring his hip, Brett Martin returned to the hill and threw a brilliant start. He allowed just two hits and struck out four while pitching to just one over the minimum.
Facing Adam Dian, the Tourists put the first two on before a sac bunt put the runners at second and third. Cesar Galvez ripped a run-scoring single to score Roberto Ramos scoring on the play. After a mound visit by Oscar Marin, Dian got Yonathan Daza to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
The similar script played out in the sixth for the Tourists against reliever Shane McCain. A walk and hit batter put runners and first and second with one out. Again after a mound visit by Marin, McCain got Dom Nunez to roll into a 6-4-3 double play.
That set up Luis Ortiz to enter the game in the seventh and throw two scoreless innings of relief. He struck out three and allowed one hit to earn the scorer’s decision win.
Scott Williams hurled a perfect ninth to get his third save of the playoffs.
After a 19-day layoff, the unknown of what Brett Martin would provide on the mound was the story line prior to the game. It is fair to say that all is well with the 20-year-old as he retired the first seven hitters of the game and 11 of the 13 he faced.
“After the first throw I had in warmups, I knew I was going to be fine,” Martin said. “Everything felt right and was going well. The hip fell great and then I got up there on the mound and just relaxed and stayed calm and did what I know to do.”
His most dominant inning came in the second when he struck out the side – the last two on six pitches. By my count, Martin finished with 52 pitches, throwing 37 strikes. He missed 11 bats with the changeup especially effective, garnering six of the swing-and-misses (4 on fastballs at 91-93, 1 curve).
“I threw it a lot more playing catch the past three weeks that probably I have all season,” said Martin. “I’m just trying to get comfortable with that pitch again. I knew I was going to need it against them to keep them off balance.”
His dominance didn’t go unnoticed by manager Corey Ragsdale, who had said prior to the game Martin would be limited to four innings.
Said Ragsdale of Martin’s outing, “Wow! Coming back and throwing like that, that’s obviously huge setting the tone.”
Unused in the playoffs prior to Tuesday night, Adam Dian and Shane McCain were put into a tight ball game following Martin’s brilliant work. Their job was simply to bridge the gap to Luis Ortiz in the seventh. The two relievers shook off the rust and made big pitches to get out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings.
Dian – eight days removed from his last appearance – was shaky at the start and it seemed the Tourists line was glad to see someone other than Martin. Roberto Ramos lined an 0-1 slider to right before Dian walked Josh Fuentes on four pitches.
“It didn’t start out the way that I wanted it to,” said Dian. “But I was pretty happy the way that I was able to work out of it and at least limit the damage. It’s pretty tough to pitch when you haven’t thrown in a while, but it’s not an excuse. I thought I made some good pitches off the bat, but I was up a little bit and they took advantage of that. “
After Galvez’s RBI single, Oscar Marin made a mound visit to help Dian gather himself.
“He just told me to take a deep breath and trust my stuff,” Dian said. “He was thinking that I was kind of letting the game get to me a little bit. It was speeding up; you get two runners on right off the bat and it’s a little tough for you to calm down and stay focused on what you need to do. He just wanted to give me a breather and make sure I had my mind straight before I faced that next hitter.”
Dian served up a 2-1 fastball away to Yonathan Daza to get the 4-6-3 double play and keep the Tourists at bay 3-1.
After 11 days off, lefty Shane McCain came in and also struggled at first with fastball command and then the slider in putting two men on.
“I was a little tight,” McCain said. “It did feel a little weird to be out there. I hadn’t been out there in a week or so, or maybe more. I really just had to trust my stuff. I was having trouble keeping my slider in the zone. That’s been my best pitch. I wasn’t able to start it where I wanted to, where I needed to.”
Another mound visit by Marin brought on an adjustment by McCain with the slider.
“I knew I had to start my slider more behind the lefthanders,” said McCain. “Once I did that, I got the two ground balls that I needed and luckily I got out of it.”
Facing LH hitter Dom Nunez with one out after the mound visit, McCain’s slider away was rolled to Edwin Garcia at short for the easy twin-killing.
“Those two guys right there, they went through the heart of the lineup,” said Ragsdale. “So, those two guys were huge for us tonight.”
Dian said that although he and McCain were both out of sorts after not pitching in a regular routine, they were still expected to do their jobs in the ball game.
Dian said, “That’s what Ragsdale asks of us, to come and to our job. It’s nice when you don’t have to have somebody come bail you out and you’re able to finish your inning. Obviously, it could’ve gone a number of different ways for both of us. I thought we both did a good job. We just gutted it out. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but we were able to minimize the damage. Shane did a hell of a job getting out of that situation.”
Ortiz Breaking Down Wall:
Luis Ortiz didn’t have the sharp command of his fastball, but he didn’t need to either. Omar Carrizales was able to expose that in the seventh when he worked the count full and then drilled a high slider for a single. Ortiz got out of the inning with no further damage.
Ortiz then cranked up the slider in the eighth, using three straight to fan Daza. He got away with a poorly placed fastball that Rogers lined hard to second to bring up Forrest Wall, the number 4 second base prospect in the minors (mlb.com). Ortiz struck out Wall on three pitches, swinging through a changeup, fastball and slider.
After getting Shane Hoelscher to fly to right, Williams worked through a nine-pitch battle with Dom Nunez, finally getting him to undercut a high fastball that went lazily to right. A first-pitch slider to Ramos was rolled easily to second.
Moore and Moore:
Dylan Moore continues a strong playoff run with a couple of hits and an RBI. He stayed on Castellani’s slider in the first for a single, then was able to gear up for the fastball that was lined off Castellani’s foot for the RBI hit. Moore pulled off an away fastball in the fourth, but got enough on it to score the runner from third.
Castellani’s Early Struggles:
The 19-year-old threw a fastball that ranged 93-95 mph that at times had a slider look. However, he is a pitcher that relies on keeping the ball down (1.30 GO/AO) and the inability to do that early cost him. Six of the nine hits against him were hard liners with seven of his outs coming on liners or fly outs. He dodged a bullet in the fifth when Juremi Profar ripped a line drive that went straight to Fuentes at third. The catch likely saved two runs.
Defensive Woes Continue:
A lazy throw by Fuentes to first allowed Profar to reach and score in the fourth to make it a three-run lead. In the fifth with Beras at first, Pinto lifted a bloop single to left center. Beras running on contact made it easily to third, the left fielder Carrizales threw to third anyway, which allowed Pinto to move up to second.
Small Ball, Small Expectations:
Down two runs in the fourth, the Tourists got a base hit from Wes Rogers to start the inning. Rather than taking a chance with leading base stealer (46 steals) to try and get to second on his own, Asheville chose to use Wall – the number one draft pick and No. 4 second base prospect, who had a .288/.355/.438 slash as a 19-year-old – as a bunter. The sacrifice worked, but Rogers advanced no further.
In the fifth after the Tourists put the first two runners on, they chose to use their SAL all-star leftfielder – who as a 20-year-old posted a .286/.333/.410 slash and hit into one double play all year – as a bunter. The sacrifice was successful and a run was scored, but it also proved crucial when a double play ended the inning.
It seems to me those were opportunities for the Tourists to try and siphon some momentum by letting a player make a play. But managers manage to a fault at times and this appeared to be a case of overmanaging.
Shutting down the running game:
Not enough can be said as to how well the Crawdads during the series have shut down the running game of the Tourists, who stole 258 bases this season. The pitchers have been relentless at keeping the runners close and allowing the catcher Trevino to make plays. He’s thrown out both runners trying to steal in the series, including the lone attempt on Wednesday.
South Atlantic League Playoff Series
Game 1: Hickory Crawdads (81-57) at West Virginia Power (87-52)
Site/ Time: Appalachian Power Park, Charleston, West Virginia
Crawdads Playoff History: The Crawdads will make their tenth playoff appearance in 23 seasons since joining the South Atlantic League in 1993. It is the first appearance since 2011. This will be the third trip to the playoffs during the seven seasons the Crawdads have been affiliated with the Texas Rangers.
Hickory has won two SAL championships, both coming during the affiliation of the club with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2002 and 2004. The Crawdads have not won a series since claiming the title in 2004, nor have they won a playoff home game since the clincher of that series.
Power Playoff History: West Virginia has made seven playoffs appearances since staring South Atlantic League play in 1987. The lone SAL title came in 1990 as the Charleston Wheelers – a Reds affiliate – swept the Savannah Cardinals in three straight. This is the fourth playoff appearance under the name of the West Virginia Power (beginning in 2005), the second as a Pirates affiliate (2013), which began in 2009.
Hickory/ West Virginia Playoff History: The Crawdads defeated the Charleston Alley Cats (Blue Jays) in two straight in the first round of the 2004 playoffs. The clincher of the 2004 sweep was the final game played at Watt Powell Park in Charleston. West Virginia (Brewers) took a 2-1 first-round series win in 2007.
How Hickory Got Here: The Crawdads led the first-half Northern Division chase wire-to-wire, eventually finishing with a 44-24 mark, 7 ½ games ahead of second-place West Virginia.
How West Virginia Got Here: The Power bullied the SAL in the second half and finished 50-20. It was the first time a SAL club had 50 half-season wins since Augusta turned the trick in 2007. West Virginia finished ten games ahead of second-place Delmarva in the second half and 13 games ahead of fourth-place Hickory.
Game 1 Pitching matchup: Hickory-Yohander Mendez (LH, 3-3, 2.44) vs. West Virginia- Austin Coley (RH, 16-6, 3.66)
Mendez: After pitching in a piggyback arrangement with Ariel Jurado much of the season, Mendez split off on his own late in the season. After allowing more than two runs just once in his first 19 outings, the lefty gave up four in five innings to Greensboro on August 23 and five to Delmarva in 3.1 innings on September 1 to close out the regular season. He gave up one homer in each of those outings, the only long balls he allowed this season. Mendez finished the season with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. SAL hitters batted .230 against Mendez in 2015. His struck out 74 and walked 15 in 66.1 innings. Against West Virginia in 2015, Mendez allowed one unearned run on three hits, two walks and struck out seven in eight innings (two appearances, one start).
Relievers: Scott Williams likely will get the first look for a save situation. The right-hander picked up ten saves in the second half and built a 40-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31.1 innings in the second half. In three outings vs. the Power in 2015, Williams allowed one run – a homer to Michael Suchy on June 19, on three hits and struck out two over four innings… Joe Filomeno gave up two runs to the Power late in a game on August 16… Shane McCain was roughed up in an outing vs. West Virginia on August 15 (2.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K…Having not pitched since September 2, it would not be unusual to see 2015 first-rounder Dillon Tate get an inning in the middle of the game. Manager Corey Ragsdale indicated that Tate and Luis Ortiz would be available for action in the series… Adam Dian (5 saves) threw an inning on Monday’s win. He has pitched out of the pen on one day’s rest just once.
West Virginia pitching:
Coley: The 23-year-old right-hander made all 27 starts this season and seemed to finish strong as he allowed one earned run in each of his last four starts (26 innings). Coley has showed good command with 111 Ks to just 25 walks in 147.2 innings. A fly ball pitcher, – He holds a 0.88 GO/AO ratio – Coley is susceptible to the long ball, having allowed a SAL-high 18 this season. The Crawdads touched him up for three in a loss back on August 14. Hickory has had perhaps the best luck against the 16-game winner tagging him for 20 hits over 11 innings in two starts. Among Crawdads hitters, Carlos Arroyo is 4-for-6 this season with a homer and Luke Tendler has doubled and homered in four plate appearances. Jairo Beras went 2-for-2 with a double.
Relievers: Nick Neumann is the Power close with 17 saves in 19 chances. He threw two perfect innings against Hickory this season, both coming in the first half… Other key relievers will likely include Sam Street, Jared Lakind and Julio Vivas. Of the trio, only Lakind (1 IP) has faced Hickory this year.
Late season injuries to Josh Morgan and Michael De Leon put the Crawdads into a mix-and-match mode on the infield. Catcher Jose Trevino and third baseman Juremi Profar are the two likely certainties around the diamond. Ragsdale indicated that Edwin Garcia will likely play short and newcomer Dylan Moore will place second. Carlos Arroyo, who played second most of the season, was stationed at first the final two games of the season and handled the position without a problem. With his output against Coley (4-for-6) this season, and his success against the Power this season Arroyo may get the first look with Chuck Moorman and Jonathan Meyer available off the bench. Arroyo is the lone active Crawdads player to hit over .300 (6-for-15) against the Power in 2015.
In the outfield, the arrival of 2015 second-round Eric Jenkins gives Ragsdale a different wrinkle in the lineup with his speed. He went 7-for-18 during his five-game audition last week and he may well have earned some at bats in the series. The likely lineup will be Luke Tendler in left, Jose Cardona in center and Jairo Beras in right. Tendler ended his season fourth in the SAL in RBI and total bases. Beras had a pair of homers and five RBI during a mid-June series in Charleston. However, he went 0-for-7 against the Power in August. Eduard Pinto may get a look at first on in the DH slot.
The Power had only 18 position players on their roster this season with eight players taking the field for 99 or more games (Hickory has three in the expected lineup, though Pinto has 98 games). The team finished the season at the top of the SAL with a .269 batting average and a .347 on-base percentage. It’s a team that will play classic National League small-ball (90 sacrifices) to scratch out runs for what has been a shutdown pitching staff. They are very patient at the plate. West Virginia leads the SAL in walks and has the second fewest strikeouts this season.
Behind the plate will likely be Taylor Gushue with Connor Joe – the Pirates No. 29 prospect (mlb.com) at first. Pablo Reyes and 2015 first-round pick Kevin Newman will play second and short respectively. Rounding out the infield at third will likely be Tyler Filliben, who has filled in for the injured Jordan Luplow.
A talented group is stationed in the outfield with SAL all-star Michael Suchy starting in right. Suchy, the fifth-round pick of the Pirates in 2014, finished the season second in the SAL in runs scored and in RBI.
A combination of Tito Polo, Elvis Escobar and Jerrick Suiter split up left and center, with Suiter getting many of the DH starts. Suiter and Esocbar finished fifth and eighth in the SAL in batting avg. with Escobar third in hits.
Against the Crawdads, Escobar hit .355 (11-for-31) to lead the team among active players. The injured Luplow had two of the five homers struck against Hickory and he is tied with Suchy with five RBI.
Other things to know: This is likely to be a pitching-and-defense series. Hickory and West Virginia finished tied with the fewest errors committed in the SAL and went 1-2 in WHIP. The Crawdads finished second in ERA (3.19) with the Power fourth at 3.38… Defending bunts had been a downfall for the Crawdads prior to their injuries and against a team that likes small ball, the revamped defensive alignment – especially with the likelihood of inexperience at first – could be a point worth watching… Both teams expect to win when they score first. The Crawdads went 54-14 when scoring first – tops in the SAL – and West Virginia was 59-16, which was second… Hickory has held up well under pressure as it was 71-4 when leading or tied after seven innings. In one-run games, the Crawdads are 27-16 with the Power at 19-22.
The Hickory Crawdads scored two runs in both the third and fourth innings and took a rain-shortened 5-0 win over the Rome (Ga.) Braves Friday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
With the win, the Crawdads (79-56 overall, 35-32 second half) assured themselves a tenth-straight half-season of .500 or higher baseball. Hickory is also one win away from a second-straight, 80-win season. It would be the first time the team achieved back-to-back 80-plus wins in a season since the team did it three straight times from 2002 to 2004.
The shutout was the tenth of the season, the sixth time the team has posted double-digit shutouts in a season. Four of the six seasons have come during the six years of the affiliation with the Texas Rangers. Hickory has posted at least eight shutouts in all seven seasons of the affiliation. The team posted only five such seasons the previous 16 seasons.
The loss dropped Rome (57-80, 26-41) into a virtual tie for last place in the Southern Division. The Braves are seeking to avoid a second-straight last place finish, which would be the fifth time in eight seasons Rome has done so.
After a scoreless first, the Braves missed an opportunity to open the scoring in the second. Facing Shane McCain, Jordan Edgerton lined a double off the wall in left-center. One out later, Luke Dykstra walked and Tanner Murphy was hit by a pitch to load the bases. However, McCain got Joseph Daris to ground to third to end the inning.
Hickory jumped ahead in the bottom of the inning. Jose Trevino bounced a single up the middle and Luke Tendler walked. Jairo Beras then reached out and bounced a Sean Furney fastball through the hole at second to score Trevino. Jose Cardona’s grounder to second scored Tendler from third for a 2-0 lead.
In the third, Carlos Arroyo began the inning with a single. After Furney’s wild pitch pushed Arroyo to second, Jurickson Profar lined a double off the wall in left-center to make it 3-0 after Arroyo scored. One out later, Trevino doubled off the wall in left to score Profar.
Rome’s last chance to score came in the fourth when it put two on after two were out. However, Murphy fouled out to first to curtail the threat.
A thunderstorm that approached from beyond centerfield throughout the game finally reached the stadium in the fifth. The Braves quickly went down in order quickly with the final out coming on a grounder by Omar Obregon to short as a heavy rain began to fall. The game was called 43 minutes later.
Luis Ortiz: Threw a 14-pitch first inning to retire the side. His fastball sat at 95-97 with a mid 80s slider and one change. He needed nine pitches before finally striking out the left-handed Omar Obregon on a slider.
Jose Trevino: Had a hand in both rallies. Just missed a homer in the second on a high change, then worked the count full before sending a 3-2 fastball up the middle for a single. One inning later he took an 0-2 change off the wall in left.
Jairo Beras: Continues to improve with the ability to handle pitches away. His single in the second was on a fastball low and away that he was able to bounce through the right side for a single.
Jurickson Profar: Ended a six-pitch at-bat in the third by driving a change that was up and away off the wall in left-center.
Dylan Moore: Picked up his first hit with Hickory as the right-handed hitter picked off a slider up and lined it to right.
Shane McCain: Didn’t have his best stuff as he left several sliders up – one that Jordan Edgerton nearly cleared the fence in left – and had iffy fastball control. However, he was able to run fastballs in to both Daris and Murphy to keep the shutout in tact.
Sean Furney: Fastball sat 90-92, but had nothing secondary that were able to throw off the hitters. Hickory was able to pick off changeups and sliders that were left up .
Tanner Murphy: Was a bit slow in blocking both wild pitches by Furney.
Fifth inning: Seemed odd that with rain approaching that it was the Braves hitters that were quick to get off the field. Daris swung through two fastballs before flying out to right. Stephen Gaylor essentially served a first-pitch bunt back to the box before Obregon’s grounder to short ended the inning and, as it turned out, the game. McCain needed only eight pitchers to close out the inning.
Jose Trevino cracked a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth and then Jairo Beras threw out the game-tying run at the plate to end the game as the Hickory Crawdads held on to defeat the Charleston RiverDogs 5-4 in front of 3,423 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium
Charleston got off to a quick start against Crawdads starter Brett Martin when Devyn Bolasky started the game with a single and Angel Aguilar homered (3) to left to give the RiverDogs a 2-0 lead.
Hickory took the lead after scoring three in the second against RiverDogs hurler David Palladino. Beras started it with his ninth home run of the season. After the Crawdads loaded the bases, Michael De Leon’s single scored Juremi Profar and Eduard Pinto.
An error helped the RiverDogs get even in the fifth. Ryan Lindemuth doubled, stole third and scored when catcher Jose Trevino’s throw went into left. Martin left the game in the inning with a hip injury and his replacement Shane McCain retired nine of the first ten hitters he faced going into the eighth.
But in the eighth, the RiverDogs pieced together three hits after two outs with Isisas Tejeda’s run-scoring single bringing in Austin Aune to put Charleston ahead 4-3.
Hickory retook the lead when Edwin Garcia lined a single to right and Trevino delivered a towering homer (14) to left on a fastball by Brady Koerner.
Facing closer Scott Williams, the RiverDogs threatened to retake the lead in the ninth. Collin Slaybaugh singled and went to second on a passed ball. Ryan Lindemuth walked and Bolasky’s sacrifice moved the runners to second and third before Aguilar was walked to intentionally walked to load the bases. Billy Fleming hit a fly ball to Jairo Beras in medium-shallow right. Beras backed up and made the catch before firing a strike to Trevino at the plate to nail Slaybaugh and end the game.
Jurickson Profar had a single in four trips to the plate with the lone single coming on a change up and away in the first. He was hit by a pitch in the second, bounced to second in the fifth and struck out in the eighth.
Jairo Beras jumped a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball by Palladino and lasered a rope off the batter’s eye. The only question was would the liner be high enough to clear the fence. In looking to make the play, centerfielder Bolasky jogged three steps back before the ball found its target. His throw to end the game was directly on target to Trevino, who had plenty of time to tag Slaybaugh.
Shane McCain used a low-70s change, curveball and an upper 80s fastball to keep the RiverDogs off-balance, as he struck out four of the first six batters he faced. He found a little bad luck with two outs in the eighth when Austin Aune’s soft liner found open grass in center. McCain got away with a fastball up to Vicente Conde that was singled in front of Pinto in left. Tejeda’s seeing-eye single past McCain and second baseman Arroyo scored Aune for the brief lead.
Michael De Leon started a brilliant double play in the third that allowed Martin to complete a shutdown inning and hold the lead for the moment. With runners on the corners and one out, Joey Falcone hit a sharp grounder to De Leon’s right. De Leon made the backhanded grab, quickly fed the ball to Carlos Arroyo at second, who then made the fast turn and throw to nab the speedy Falcone. (Falcone left the game following the game with an undisclosed injury.)
Juremi Profar had a couple of singles and scored a run in the second. However, a key defensive play in the eighth kept the RiverDogs from extending their lead. After Tejada’s single scored the go-ahead run, Profar cut off the throw from Jose Cardona in center and caught Conde in a rundown trying to go to third.
Brett Martin gave up seven hits in 4.2 innings, but many of those were of the bad-luck variety. Bolasky’s leadoff hit in the first was a high chopper to third. The homer by Aguilar and his double in the third appeared to be pitches down and away that Aguilar went after and golfed to left. Tejeda added a broken-bat bloop single in the fourth. Martin retired seven in a row at one point (four grounders and a K) and finished with 63 pitches (45 strikes).
Jose Trevino had a rough night behind the plate committing two throwing errors on steal attempts and a passed ball. Both off-target throws appeared rushed in order to catch runners that took big jump against Martin. His passed ball in the ninth may have been on a pitch from Williams in which he was crossed up, as the two had a meeting following the play.
Carlos Arroyo stuck out three times on Friday after a two-K game on Thursday. He appears to be expanding the strike zone and unable to catch up to fastballs in the zone.
Scott Williams gave up a ground single to Slaybaugh on a fastball down and in. However, he compounded the inning with a four-pitch walk to number-nine hitter Lindemuth. His slider didn’t have the usual bite and was ignored by hitters.
Angel Aguilar, as stated earlier, went down to get a couple of pitches and hit both hard for extra bases. He had four straight hits over a two-game span and his hot streak clearly played into Charleston’s decision in the ninth to have Bolansky sacrifice with no outs after a four-pitch walk and Hickory’s decision to intentionally walk Aguilar.
David Palladino struck out three and gave up eight hits (four in the eighth), but showed good stuff throughout. His fastball hovered around 94-95 much of the game, but it was a tight slider that missed bats and often kept the Crawdads off stride with walk contact.
Philip Walby had the best stuff of any pitcher on both sides when he threw a 1-2-3 seventh. His fastball stayed 98-99 with a high 80s, biting slider. As dominant as he threw (10 pitches, 8 strikes, 4 missed bats), I was surprised that he didn’t come back out for the eighth.
Brody Koerner, the native of nearby Concord, changed speeds well with a leadoff strikeout of Jurickson Profar in the eighth. However, two straight fastballs up to Edward Garcia (single) and Trevino (homer) turned out to be the decisive point of the game.
Sunday’s game (July 19 vs. Augusta) marked the two-thirds point of the South Atlantic League season for the Hickory Crawdads and the story of 2015 has been the pitching staff. Five starting pitchers and a reliever claimed spots on the South Atlantic League’s all-star team and the group has a chance to rewrite the Crawdads record book.
With the final 46 games of the season still left to be played – plus the playoffs – the Crawdads have the potential to set single-season records in fewest hits, runs, earned runs, and homers allowed, as well as in ERA and WHIP.
Texas Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark was in Hickory this week to fill in for Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale during his vacation. Clark had an extended, first-hand look at most of the pitching staff during his visit and he sat down with me to give an assessment of several individual pitchers.
First I just want to get just an overview. We are almost two-thirds of the way through the season and this has been one of the better pitching staffs we’ve had here. Let me first get your overall impression from what you’ve seen.
Clark: I think from the experience level that these guys have right now, coming into pro ball, most of them are one to two-year starters, to be able to do what they’ve done to this point, I think the biggest accomplishment to me is to make every start. That’s been a goal of ours to see from start to finish them being healthy. We’ve got two or three guys in the rotation who haven’t been able to do that in the past. So I think first and foremost, that’s our main goal.
Let me ask first about the guy that wasn’t talked about a lot coming in – seeing him pitch, I don’t know why – and that’s Ariel Jurado. Pretty much from day one he’s six, seven innings when he’s started. He kept down the opposition and has developed some pitches along the way.
Clark: I think in Jurado’s case, obviously, I’ve got to admit I didn’t see the high ceiling leaving instructs last year. Some of our pitching coaches were talking about changing a little bit on his arm slot and trying to get more of a run or a sink to his fastball. I think he took that in the winter and came back to spring training and was very impressive.
He had a very good spring training, so he earned his right to get here. Then from that point on I think just the confidence level that he’s had. Oscar Marin has done a good job of trying to keep him continue to go forward. A lot of times guys, especially young pitchers that jump out record wise, they look at their stats. We throw out new competitions for him and his mind to keep that cultivating. That has been a big plus for him.
Yohander Mendez and Jurado are in the tandem right now. Mendez started the season in the bullpen and I know the plan was to get him back into the rotation at some point. I know a lot of the focus with him has been to keep him healthy.
Clark: Last year we only had him for 31 innings and we had to shut him down. Our goal for this year was to get him to around the 90-inning mark. We see Mendez as a high-ceiling starter. He has a good feel for all three of his pitches. Sometimes a pitcher like that can become bored on the mound. So, just keeping those small, short-term challenges for Mendy has been the thing for him mindset wise, versus just looking at the results all the time.
The two of them have gone in tandem the last four or five starts. Is there a a point where they will break back out as individual spots? I know with Mendez you want to build up the innings and do you see that with Jurado as well?
Clark: Both of them, we’ve got to control their innings. You won’t see them be by themselves, other than the tandem, until the playoffs. We’ll keep them that way. We’re committed to keeping this rotation together.
We’ve tried to build this rotation how we have in the past with a couple of different rotations that’s been here to kind of keep five or six guys together, as they go through the system, I think competing against each other. But to answer the question of those two, I think they’ll have to stay on those things just from the innings standpoint.
Let me get an update on Luis Ortiz’s progress after being out the past month.
Clark: He went to Dr. (Keith) Meistner, our team doctor today. He should be back. We got good reports from him. We didn’t think it was nothing severe in anyway. We’re going to start seeing him do his throwing program next week and he’s going to start doing bullpens. So, we’re probably looking to see him realistically sometime in mid-August.
Stuff wise, for the most part, he looked really good.
Clark: Obviously, he’s got stuff. He was drafted in the first round for a reason. Our job is to not worry about stuff, but to cultivate all the maturity things that goes in to being a starting pitcher at a high level. So that’s the process that he’s going through. He’s doing a lot better in his workouts.
He’s doing a lot better, really, just paying attention to detail that goes into it. Obviously, we have a high ceiling for Luis. We think a lot of Luis. It’s just the process that he and a lot of guys have to go through.
Collin Wiles. Everyone I’ve talked to raved about his off-season work and how he put it into practice this year. What sort of challenges does he have left at this level before he moves up? Or has he shown you that he’s about ready?
Clark: In some ways, yes he has. I go back to Collin finally committed to having ownership of his career. I think it started there. I don’t think there was no one that was involved other than Collin.
Going forward, I do see sometimes, do we challenge Collin and send him to High Desert? I think it goes back to the philosophy of what we build the pitching rotations around, competing against each other more than the opposition. So we’ve decided to keep those same six guys together. Could he go? Yes, he probably could, but I think long term it allows him to compete against this team.
Let me ask you about a couple of guys of interest to me. Scott Williams was a guy that didn’t pitch a lot in college. He had trouble hitting the strike zone last year and a little bit at the start this year. Since early June, he’s found a groove and found the plate. He seems more comfortable with the off-speed pitches. Your view on him.
He’s a converted guy, who was a position player in college. So, anytime you convert someone it’s usually a year process before you start seeing more fluidity as a pitcher. Last year, he kind of threw like a position player.
I think Oscar’s done a good job as far as getting his hands more relaxed on the mound and getting his body in a better position, and then obviously confidence and results. When you have good results, confidence builds it, and it continues to go for him.
Yesterday, I was very impressed with him. More than anything, yes I saw the velocity, but I saw the easiness of the delivery. It wasn’t compared to last year, where I thought he forced a lot of things on the mound and tried to muscle the ball there, versus allowing his arm to carry the ball.
Let me ask you about Cody Buckel and his ups and downs. I know it’s been a long process. He’ll have some good days and he’ll have some not good days. Where do you see him in that process?
We all know Cody and he had a lot of success at an early age. Sometimes, that’s a fault, because we push him and he goes to big league camp as a 19-year-old and flies through A ball and AA.
Cody’s in a situation right now where I’m more concerned with how Cody is as a person. I focus on those things with Cody. We don’t try to focus on what he’s doing on the mound. Cody’s an outstanding person, a young man that’s got a lot of upside in whatever he does after baseball. So, I think we focus more on that with him right now and try to get some of the attention off of him, as far as being a pitcher, but just being an everyday person.
You’ve got a couple of guys sent here in Erik Swanson and Shane McClain. McClain seems to be a guy that can be used in various roles. Swanson at the back end can throw some heat. What are they here to work on?
Swanson, we held him back coming out of spring training. I see him as a starter eventually, so you’ll probably see him the next six weeks start building into more of a starter role, as we do some different things with some of the starters, maybe giving some guys some breaks. I do like his fastball. He does have to do some things to keep himself in top shape.
I think McClain is a guy who had a very good spring. He signed as a free agent last year after the draft. We felt like maybe we could push him a little bit to High Desert. Probably looking back, and I have told Shane this, we should have started him at Hickory and let him get his feet wet before we sent him going forward. So I take the blame for that more than anything. We can use Shane in a lot of different roles. He started for us in High Desert for a couple of spot starts. He can give his length and multiple innings, back-to-back days. So, he’s a very versatile pitcher.
Austin Pettibone has been interesting coming into the rotation. I know he started for you before. He can throw low to mid-90s and he’s talked about developing his changeup. What can you say about his development?
Austin was a starter in college. Coming out of spring training, you can only send six starters to a full-season club, so we had him starting in extended knowing that at some point that we were going to send him here. We just had to find the right time.
I see him as a sinkerballer, groundball type guy, He’s a mature guy. He’s a mature college pitcher. So, we kind of expect some of these things to happen here. We’re just now getting him stretched out. Really, in my mind, it’s a little early to make a decision on Austin whether he is going to the bullpen or if he is going to be a starter.
Let me ask you of one other guy and that’s Nick Gardewine. Another guy, like Pettibone, who started in the bullpen before coming to the rotation. He’s had some ups-and-downs, but had a nice last outing.
Nicky was a guy coming out of spring training who got hampered with a foot issue. So, we brought him here out of the bullpen. He was building up as a starter, so I felt like he got behind the eight ball there for about the first month. Nicky, for me, if his slider is on, he’s going to go deep in the game. He’s got to be able to have a better feel for his change. Until he can do that, I feel like that he, right now, is a two-pitch pitcher from what I saw a couple of days ago. He knows that and that’s things that he’s got to work on.
I still think Nicky’s a young guy – he’s a little older than most of the starters here – but when we get some innings on him, I foresee him down the road. Could he be a starter? Yes. Could he go into the bullpen? There’s a lot of options there because he does have a good fastball.
This year has been the first year, I can recall, of having a six-man rotation, with the idea that you’re not going to skip starts in the middle of the year like what has happened in the past. Has that gotten the results that you were looking for, as far as keeping guys healthy for the year?
We hope so. I don’t want to speak too quick on it because we’re doing it here and High Desert and Spokane. We’re doing it at all our lower levels. I’ve seen, as far as our velocity goes, more consistent velocity going across the board.
Typically in a five-man rotation at the lower levels, you hit June and August, you start seeing velocity drop. So, I haven’t seen the drastic drop as I have in the past. So, that’s one thing. Obviously being healthy, we’re seeing good signs of that. There’s a lot of positives to it. I think if you ask me the same question when the season’s complete and we start getting more concrete data, I might have a different opinion about it. As of right now, I like the flow of it. I like what I’m hearing from the pitchers and from the pitching coaches.
I’ve got to ask you about Brett Martin. He had a rough time in his last outing, but was obviously very sharp tonight (July 16 vs. Greensboro). He talked about having to stay within himself to make things work for him.
I thought he showed stuff early. Then after his stuff early, around the fifth inning he had to work himself out of some jams. I thought Martin’s fastball obviously was probably 93-95 tonight. His breaking ball for me was probably the least pitch of the secondaries. He tended to pitch to his changeup.
Brett’s got a very high ceiling. What I don’t think a lot of people understand with Brett is that you don’t teach the things that Brett has and he’s got a lot of God-given talent.
To me, I was more pleased to see him finish the seventh. I went out there to basically talk to him and see where he was at. He said he wanted to finish the seventh, and so I thought it was a huge development for him.
The Hickory Crawdads posted five runs in the first inning and made them stand up in a 5-4 win over the Lakewood (NJ) BlueClaws Monday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Crawdads (46-27 overall, 2-3 second half) snapped a three-game losing streak, all coming at the hands of Lakewood (36-37, 3-2).
Hickory will host a four-game series against the Greenville (S.C.) Drive beginning Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m.
Hickory put seven of the first eight hitters of the game on base against BlueClaws starter Yoel Mecias. Michael De Leon opened the first by doubling into the gap in left-center. Carlos Arroyo then sent a first-pitch fastball well over the fence in right to make it 2-0. The homer was his first stateside shot, having hit two in the Dominican in 2013. After Eduard Pinto and Jose Trevino walked, Luke Tendler blasted his sixth home run of the season to right, his first since April 30.
It turned out that the Crawdads would need all the first-inning runs as Lakewood’s bullpen held Hickory to just two base runners over the final 8.2 innings while its lineup continued to peck away at the lead.
“I knew if we didn’t score that it’d be a close one for sure, the way they’ve been playing and swinging the bats and battling,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “I knew we couldn’t take our foot off the gas or it was going to be a game. Unfortunately, the ABs got worse as the game went on and, like we saw, the game turned out to be a tight one.”
After starter Collin Wiles kept the BlueClaws scoreless through two, his own error cost him a run in the third. Gustavo Martinez got Lakewood’s first hit – a soft liner to right – to start the third. An errant pickoff throw by Wiles moved Martinez to second and a pair of grounders to first brought Martinez in to score.
In the fourth, Kyle Martin and Damek Tomscha each singled and then one out later moved up a base on a wild pitch. Martin scored on Jiandido Tromp’s grounder to short to make it 5-2.
Lakewood chased Wiles with two runs in the sixth. Tomscha and Cord Sandberg each singled with Tromp bringing in Tomscha with a sacrifice fly. Wiles’ second errant pickoff of the game advanced Sandberg to second. Shane McCain entered and then threw a wild pitch to move Sandberg to third before he scored on a groundout by Martinez. Gustavo Marrero followed with a single, but McCain struck out Drew Stankiewicz to quell the threat.
McCain worked around a walk in the seventh and turned it over to Erik Swanson to close out the final two innings.
The lineup in the first inning: The hitters saw quickly that Mecias had a limited arsenal on the mound. The lefty offered a straight 88-91 mph fastball with an occasional change that missed the plate. The Crawdads were content to stay back for something they could handle and they did picking up four hits and taking three walks. The lone out was a lineout by Beras to the track in center.
Michael De Leon: Has begun to crush fastball over the last couple of days. After his double in the first, he laced an Austin Davis heater to straight-away center for a hard out.
Luke Tendler: Recently said he has had to re-learn to hit the fastball again. His homer to right came on a fastball by Mecias. Now has hits in seven of his last nine games with nine RBI in that stretch.
Erik Swanson: Solid two innings to close out the game. Manhandled Tromp with a 95 mph laser to start the 8th and then one out later froze the right-hander Martinez with a 94 on the outside corner. He needed only five pitches to retire the top of the order in the ninth. The final pitch of the night was a change that Kyle Martin dribbled to first. Martin had homered off Swanson two nights before.
“He’s up to 95 with an 88-89 mile-an-hour slider,” Ragsdale said. “Was able to throw his changeup over there to the kid that hit the homerun against him the other night and got a rollover to second base. Obviously, the bullpen is why we won the ballgame.
Shane McCain: A bit of an Alex Claudio clone, though McCain brings a harder fastball that registered 87-88 and touched 90. Threw a mid-70s, sweeping slider and an upper 60s-low 70s change. Worked out of the inherited jam in the sixth and around a two-out walk in the seventh.
Collin Wiles: The righty mixed and matched four pitches and pretty much controlled the strike zone much of the night. Much of the hits against him were grounders that found holes. Slider was especially heavy (broke three bats with it). Wiles was his own worst enemy with the two errors and a wild pitch.
Jairo Beras: Benched for the second time this season for not running out a batted ball. This time, it was a fly out that fell just to the foul side of the right field line. With Texas Rangers director of player development Mike Daly in town, as well as field coordinator Casey Ragsdale, it probably was not the best timing for Beras to do this.
The offense after the first: Only two hitters reached after the first – Trevino’s single and a bunt single by Arroyo. The Crawdads lineup was anemic against the BlueClaws bullpen, putting only seven hitters on base in 18.1 innings.
Said Ragsdale, “I’m not going to take away anything from those guys. They have some really good arms in the bullpen. The first guy they brought (Austin Davis) was pretty impressive, to be honest. But, we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to have better ABs. We’ve got to be more competitive. We’ve got to show a little bit more energy and fire. We can’t rely on what we did the last half.”
Austin Davis: Kept Lakewood in the game with 4.1 strong innings. At 6-4, the long-armed lefty threw a tough, lively 92-94 mph crossfire fastball that got to the hitters quickly.
Damek Tomscha: Finished the series 8-for-18 with five RBI.
Cord Sandberg: Had ten hits in five games with five RBI and five runs scored in the five-game series.
The second half of the South Atlantic League’s 2015 season begins after a three-day break for the all-star game. Hickory will host the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws for five games at L.P. Frans Stadium, the only series of the year between the two teams at L.P. Frans. Hickory will travel to Lakewood a total of three times this season.
Probables (Lakewood/ Hickory):
Thursday: Tyler Viza (RH, 4-2, 3.69 ERA) and Nick Gardewine (RH, 4-5, 3.73)
Friday: Ranfi Casimiro (RH, 2-5, 3.64) and Cody Buckel (RH, 0-1, 1.77)
Saturday: Chris Oliver (RH, 3-5, 4.12) and Brett Martin (LH, 3-2, 2.83)
Sunday: Elniery Garcia (LH, 4-6, 3.77) and Yohander Mendez (LH, 0-0, 0.00) / Ariel Jurado (RH, 9-0, 2.07)
Monday: Yoel Macias (LH, 0-1, 6.00) and Collin Wiles (RH, 7-3, 2.13)
The Crawdads and BlueClaws split four games at Lakewood early in June. Since the Crawdads became a Texas Rangers affiliate in 2009, Hickory holds a 31-25 advantage overall, including a 12-9 mark at L.P. Frans Stadium.
Entering the Series:
Hickory (44-24) closed out the first half with a 3-2 road trip to Rome (Ga.) and West Virginia to finish 7 ½ games ahead of the second place Power. The Crawdads have the fifth-best record out of 120 full-season minor league teams. Hickory went 24-10 at home in the first half.
Lakewood (33-35) lost seven in a row – six of those at home – in the final days of the first half. However, the BlueClaws played a spoiler role on Sunday when they defeated Greenville (S.C.) to knock the Drive out of the Southern Division title chase. Lakewood finished in fifth place in the Northern Division, 11 games in back of Hickory. The BlueClaws are 18-15 on the road.
Players to watch – Hickory:
RF Jairo Beras: After struggling to a .204/.271/.241 slash through June 7, the lanky 20-year-old has begun to see pitches – especially breaking pitches – better as of late. He had at least one hit in eight of the last ten games – four of those multi-hit games – with three homers, a double, nine RBI and ten runs scored. His slash for June: .308/.373/.538.
SP Yohander Mendez: Made his first start of the season during the Crawdads last home stand against Savannah on June 14 (3 IP, 2 H, 4 K). He was a starter for Hickory in 2014, but missed much of the year with shoulder/ oblique issues. Mendez has yet to allow an earned run in 24.1 innings with 37 strikeouts to only 17 base runners allowed. SAL hitters are batting just .110 against Mendez.
SP Ariel Jurado: Will pitch on the back half of a tandem with Mendez for now. He adjusted well to his first non-starting role with Mendez against Savannah and allowed one run on four hits and struck out five in five innings. Jurado has 54 strikeouts to only seven walks in 61 innings.
OF Luke Tendler: After a nearly two-month drought in homers, Tendler jumped a first-pitch fastball for a two-run shot in the all-star game on Tuesday. Had at least one hit in five of his last seven games to close out the first half.
RP Joe Filomeno: With the Crawdads missing their top three relievers (John Fasola, Adam Parks, David Perez) to promotions, Filomeno might be the one to look to at the back end of games. He has thrown six straight scoreless appearances (8.1 innings) with nine strikeouts.
RP Shane McCain: Assigned to Hickory from high-A High Desert, he signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent in 2014 out of Troy (AL) Univ. Although he posted a 0.50 GO/AO ratio, he survived the pinball-machine like atmosphere of High Desert, giving up a reasonable four homers in 19 innings. However, control was an issue, as he gave up 13 in 32.1, including six in 2.2 innings on June 8. McCain gave up 12 earned runs on 16 hits over a stretch of four appearances from May 27 to June 13.
3B Juremi Profar: Played infrequently at High Desert (13 games) and will likely fill the utility role vacated by the departure of Isiah Kiner-Falefa
3B Jonathan Meyer: Was a former third-round pick of the Astros out of Simi Valley (CA) High in 2009. Meyer played in the Texas League All-Star game in 2013 while with AA Corpus Christi. Made it to AAA Oklahoma City in 2014, but was released after the season. Will likely spell Rock Shoulders at first.
Players to watch- Lakewood:
SP Yoel Macias: Currently ranked by mlb.com as the Phillies No. 19 prospect, he is still recovering from “Tommy John” surgery late in 2013. Made four appearances with high-A Clearwater before returning to the BlueClaws for a third straight season.
SP Chris Oliver: Currently ranked by mlb.com as the Phillies No. 20 prospect. The Austin, Tex native was the fourth round pick of the Phillies out of the Univ. of Arkansas in 2014. Has walked 26 in 59 innings over 11 starts.
SP Elniery Garcia: Ranked as the 27th best prospect in the Phillies chain by mlb.com. The SAL hitters are batting .293 against Garcia, who has walked 20 over 62 innings in 11 starts.
RP Joey DeNato: The 19th round pick (2014) by the Phillies out of Indiana, DeNato pitched in the SAL all-star game. Has a 0.89 WHIP and a .196 OBA in 22 outings. Is a strikeout machine with 34 Ks in 32.2innings.
CF Herlis Rodriguez: Was named the SAL hitter of the week last week when he put together a slash line of .407/.484/.741 in nine games. His .479 slugging pct. is sixth in the league while his .309 average is eighth.
2B Scott Kingery: The Phillies second round pick earlier this month out of Arizona will make his pro debut with the BlueClaws. He was the Pac-12 batting champion this season.
1B Kyle Martin: The Phillies 14th round pick in the first-year-player draft this June will make his pro debut this weekend. The native of Simpsonville, SC attended the Univ. of South Carolina.