Blogs > Minor Matters

Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Monday, April 30, 2012

(PR) Mujica is the EL Player of the Week; Stoneburner off the shelf

(Trenton, NJ) The Eastern League announced Monday that Trenton Thunder INF Yadil Mujica has been named the league's Player of The Week for the period of April 23-29.  Additionally the Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, announced today that RHP Graham Stoneburner has been activated from the DL.  He will start Monday night's game at Portland. 
 The 27-year old Mujica batted .625 (10-for-16) with one triple, six runs scored, two walks, a .667 on-base percentage and a .750 slugging percentage last week while appearing in five games for the Thunder and playing second base, third base and shortstop. Mujica had multiple hits and scored at least one run in all four games he started for the Thunder last week, including going 2-for-3 with two walks and three runs scored in a 4-3 win at New Hampshire on Saturday. He led off the top of the 11th inning of that game with a walk and came around to score the winning run on a double by Walter Ibarra.
The 6’1”, 170 lb. native of Matanzas, Cuba, led all Eastern League players in batting average (.625), hits (10) and OPS (1.417) last week. He also finished ranked among the weekly leaders in on-base percentage (.667-2nd), triples (1-tied 2nd), runs scored (6-tied 3rd) and slugging percentage (.750-5th). Yadil, who joined the Trenton Thunder on April 20th after being transferred from the Triple -A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, was signed by the New York Yankees as a non-drafted free agent on February 18, 2011. 
Stoneburner replaces Andy Pettitte on the active roster, who was transferrred to the Short-Season A Staten Island roster in order to pitch in an extended spring training game Monday afternoon. 

Around the System - April 29

Triple-A: Scranton 8, Lehigh Valley 2

Kevin Russo: 0 for 1, 3 BB, 2 R, SB
Doug Bernier: 1 for 4, R, BB
Dewayne Wise: 1 for 3, 2 R, 2 BB
Jayson Nix: 1 for 4, 2 RBI, R, SF
Jack Cust: 1 for 4, RBI, SF
Brandon Laird: 3 for 5, R
Colin Curtis: 1 for 4, 2B, R, 2 RBI, BB
Craig Tatum: 1 for 3, 2 RBI
Ramiro Pena: 1 for 4
Mike O'Connor: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO (70/48)
Pat Venditte: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO (36/25)
Juan Cedeno: IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO (17/12)

Double-A: New Hampshire 4, Trenton 3

Abe Almonte: 1 for 4, HR, 2 R, BB
Dan Brewer: 1 for 4
Ronnier Mustelier: 1 for 4
Cody Johnson: 1 for 4, RBI
Kevin Mahoney: 1 for 3, BB
Jose Gil: 1 for 4
Yadil Mujica: 3 for 4, R
Brett Marshall: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 SO (98/65)
Francisco Rondon: 0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER BB, 0 SO (4/0)
Ryan Flannery: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, ER, BB, 0 SO (24/13)

High-A: Dunedin 3, Tampa 0

Ramon Flores: 1 for 4
J.R. Murphy: 1 for 4
Tyson Blaser: 0 for 2, BB
Jose Mojica: 1 for 3
Jose Ramirez: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, BB, 4 SO
Rigoberto Arrebato: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO

Low-A: Hickory 12, Charleston 3

Cito Culver: 1 for 4, 3B, R
Dante Bichette: 1 for 3, R, BB
Tyler Austin: 1 for 4, HR, 3 RBI
Gary Sanchez: 2 for 4
Ben Gamel: 1 for 3, BB
Caleb Cotham: 4 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO
Brett Gerritse: 3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO
Zach Varce: IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, BB, SO

Tyler Austin leading the way in Charleston

When the season opened, it was easy to see where the Yankees were going to keep the bulk of their prospect power. Members of the NY-Penn League-champion Staten Island club like Mason Williams, Angelo Gumbs and Dante Bichette, plus RiverDog returnee Gary Sanchez looked set to make this year's version of Charleston one of the must-see clubs in the minors. 

About a month into the season, however, one of the less-heralded players has bashed his to the top of the South Atlantic League leaderboards. 

Tyler Austin, a 13th-round selection in the 2010 draft out of Conyers, Ga., has put together a .358/.384/.877 line with a circuit-best nine longballs through the first 17 games. 

Earlier this week I spoke with Austin about his start, his switch to right field, and a plethora of other topics. Here's what the man with the booming bat had to say.

Q: Pretty easy place to begin. To what do you attribute your hot start?
A: It's just a lot of hard work out there, a little extra work before games, a little bit of extra stuff I'm doing during practice, stuff like that. I'm taking quality BP instead of just going out there and trying to hit home runs in BP. I'm trying to get things done during BP. I'd say that's the biggest success right now that's been contributing to my start.

Q: How did you learn to take that quality BP. For a man with your power, it must be tempting to go out there and put on a show every time. 
A: My hitting coaches I've had over the past two or three years have really, really helped me. They tell me it's not about there and hitting home runs in batting practice. You need to go out there and get something out of it. If you don't, you're not going to get any better. So I'd say that my hitting coaches have helped me out with that a lot.

Q: Have you noticed a change in the way you perform now that you do that?
A: Oh yeah. Definitely. Definitely.

Q: Specifically, when did you feel it started clicking?
A: Last year, when I was in the GCL was about the time I started taking batting practice like that. My hitting coach down there (former Thunder outfielder Edwar Gonzalez) wanted to try something out with me hitting more toward right field a lot more during BP and seeing how that carried over into the game. Ever since then, I've been doing that and it's been working out really well for me.

Q: You've got a 13-game hitting streak going (it snapped the day after I did this interview). Are you doing anything the same before every game?
A: Nah, nah. I'm just going out there and playing the game and having fun.

Q: Now that you're in pro ball, have you been able to study pitchers better before game to know what you're going to face when you get out there?
A: As I've gotten here, there's been a lot of scouting reports on guys and stuff like that, so, yeah, I've definitely been able to study a bit of that and get a little bit better feel for the guys. But it's a matter of seeing him throw it all. I'd say I've definitely been able to pick out the guys and stuff like that before games.

Q: How long does one of those sessions take. For example, if you were looking at tonight's starter, how long would you look at the information available to you?
A: I just look at the charts we have on him. It takes me probably five minutes to look over velocity of fastball, stuff like that, what breaking balls he throws, offspeed, when he likes to throw fastballs. Probably five minutes, that's all that takes.

Q: This is Lexington tonight, so you had a chance to face some of these pitchers last year in Staten Island, when they were with Tri-City. Can you go back to at-bats you had last year and remember what pitch you got from a certain guy?
A: I guess I could do that. I'm probably not going to look at it like that. I'm facing guys that are a little bit better this year, with better stuff. Their velocity's a little bit better, I'd say, but I guess could do that but I'm probably not going to get in too deep into all that stuff.

Q: Since you were drafted, what kind of changes have the Yankees made to your swing or your approach?
A: None, really. They've shortened up my load a little bit. That's about it.

Q: So they must have liked your swing from Day One, then, huh?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: If I remember correctly, you were drafted as a catcher. How much work behind the plate did you do as an amateur?
A: Mostly my junior and senior years of high school.

Q: Did you call your own games?
A: No, sir, I did not.

Q: Even so, can you use what you learned as a catcher while working against hitters and incorporate it into your approach at the plate?
A: No, I wouldn't say so.

Q: Has there been much of a lifestyle adjustment now that you're in pro ball?
A: It's definitely different. Playing every day (at the field) from noon until 10:00, 10:30 every night. It's definitely a grind but I've got to go out there and make sure I'm having fun. If I'm not having fun, then it's going to be a miserable time.

So, for me, it's just making sure I'm having fun. No matter what it is I'm going to enjoy it, because you only live once, so you need to enjoy every moment of what you have.

Q: When you have struggled in the past, is there something you do differently to get yourself out of that funk?
A: No. It's not really anything I do differently. I just go back to my BP and stuff like that to see how I performed during my BP and stuff like that. I'll watch video, too, and hopefully I do something about it the next day.

Q: Last year was pretty special for you, I'd imagine. You got two championship rings (GCL Yankees and Staten Island). Could you have scripted it much better?
A: Yes, sir, I did. I got two rings. No, it doesn't get much better than the season I had last year.

Q: Where do you keep the rings?
A: My mom has them.

Q: What was the injury to your wrist last year? Was it broken?
A: I hurt the other hand. It kept me out for about two weeks, but it was never broken or anything like that.

Q: So, when you're on the shelf, what can you do to keep improving and not fall behind your teammates?
A: I did a little bit. A lot of running, especially running. A took a lot of ground balls because it was my right hand that was hurt, so I just couldn't throw. It's tough, but you've just got to go out there and mentally prepare yourself.

Q: How's the transition to right field going? Did the Yankees tell you why they preferred you in the outfield?
A: I'm not really sure. I really don't know. I guess it's just because I have enough speed to run around with the other guys out there. I'm not really too sure.

Q: Have you taken to it well?
A: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I love it out there. It's a lot of fun. I really enjoy it.

Q: Did you play any outfield in high school?
A: A little bit, but all the way up through travel ball I played center field, so I guess that's why I'm as comfortable as I am now out there.

Q: What's been the hardest part of learning how to play right field?
A: Learning the way the ball comes off the bat with a righty and a lefty up there. Stuff like that's a little bit different, but that's just about it.

Q: On a scale from 1 to 100, how comfortable are you out there right now?
A: I'm about 95 percent comfortable doing that.

Q: What are your goals for this year?
A: I want to hit .400, that's one of them. I want to be an All-Star. I don't want to make any errors, that's for sure.

Q: When you look at your numbers during the season, to which stats do you pay the most attention?
A: My OPS. That and my average.

Q: You're from Conyers, Ga., correct?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: How close is that to Atlanta?
A: 30 minutes.

Q: So you must have been a Braves fan growing up, I'd imagine.
A: No. I was a Yankees fan, believe it or not. Me and my grandmother.

Q: So how did that happen? It must have been rough growing up in Braves country, especially during that time period, as a Yankees fan. 
A: My grandmother was a Yankees fan, and I kind of just bought into it from there. She had me go and watch the games with her all the time, so I'd say it was definitely because of her. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Eight strikeouts from Matt Barnes

Hi. My name is Josh, and I'm a baseball junkie. When I have a day off while the Thunder are on the road, I go to see the BlueClaws, or the Blue Rocks, or, on occasion, the Reading Phillies. Today was a BlueClaws day, and it was a special one.

I requested this stretch of days off months ago because I really wanted to see the Greenville Drive. I wanted see catcher Blake Swihart, infielders Garin Cecchini and David Renfroe, outfielders Keury De La Cruz and Henry Ramos, and if I got lucky enough, starters Matt Barnes and Henry Owens. 

Fortunately for me, the star(t)s aligned, and Barnes' number came up on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium, and Boston's first selection from the 2011 draft didn't disappoint. 

Barnes, a UConn product, showcased a fastball that routinely hit as high as 97 and 98. He had issues commanding his curveball and didn't throw many change-ups, but really, against a BlueClaws lineup stocked with a lot of very raw hitters, the heater was all he needed. 

He allowed his first pro run when he left with Gustavo Gonzalez on first and lefty reliever Hunter Cervenka allowed Gonzalez (as well as six more BlueClaws) to score before recording the final out of the fifth. Barnes allowed three hits (two to Gonzalez), walked none and struck out eight. 

Here are all eight of those strikeouts. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Around the System - April 27

Triple-A: Scranton 3, Lehigh Valley 1

Kevin Russo: 3 for 4, 2B, RBI, SB
Jack Cust: 1 for 2, BB
Brandon Laird: 0 for 2, R, BB
Craig Tatum: 1 for 3, HR, 2 RBI
Doug Bernier: 0 for 2, BB, R, SB
Dellin Betances: 5 IP, 4 H, R, ER, 4 BB, 3 SO
Juan Cedeno: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO
Chase Whitley: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO
Kevin Whelan: IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

Double-A: New Hampshire 2, Trenton 1

Abe Almonte: 1 for 4, BB
Walter Ibarra: 1 for 4, BB
Ronnier Mustelier: 1 for 3, BB
Cody Johnson: 0 for 3, BB
Melky Mesa: 0 for 3, BB
Shaeffer Hall: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO
Ryan Pope: 1.2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, SO

High-A: Brevard County 3, Tampa 2

Rob Segedin: 2 for 4, 2B, R, RBI
J.R. Murphy: 1 for 4
Jose Toussen: 0 for 2, BB, R
Nik Turley: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, SO
Branden Pinder: 0.1 IP, 2 H, R, ER, 2 BB, 0 SO

Low-A: Lexington 7, Charleston 0

Gary Sanchez: 1 for 3, 2B, BB
Kelvin De Leon: 1 for 3
Ben Gamel: 1 for 4
Will Oliver: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 2 SO
Dan Mahoney: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO

Friday, April 27, 2012

Christian Garcia's ready for his third chance

Christian Garcia
It's fair to say that Christian Garcia's career in the Yankees organization ended two years ago, when he tore up his elbow on Opening Day at Waterfront Park. The outing was his first since recovering from Tommy John surgery. The procedure's efficacy lasted all of 5 2/3 innings before the arm popped again, require a second elbow reconstruction. 

Shortly into his rehab, the Yankees released Garcia. And although they paid out the rest of his contract and footed the bill for his medical expenses, the right-hander was out of pro baseball for the first time in seven years. 

So he waited until July, when he impressed the Nationals enough in a tryout to earn a contract and another shot at the big leagues. His first stop last year was Short Season Auburn, where he made 10 appearances before getting into a game with Syracuse toward the end of the year. All told, Garcia finished the year with a 3-1 record, a 2.66 ERA and 30 strikeouts against three walks in 20 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. 

He's back in the Eastern League now, with the Harrisburg Senators, and the fastball is back up to the mid-90s. If he stays healthy, he might just get that spot in the show he looked on the way to earning before his elbow refused to cooperate two years ago. 

The Senators came to Waterfront Park earlier this month, and the always affable Garcia took some time to talk to the media about the roads in his rear-view mirror and ahead of him. 

Q: Was it a little humbling having start almost over again, even going back to Auburn last year?
A: Not at all. The injury in general was humbling. Having to start from scratch from a 2006 injury and a third elbow surgery and rehabbing for (another) year after just rehabbing in 2009 for a whole year, that kind of put everything in perspective. 

Q: Were you surprised the Yankees let you go?
A: A little, yes and no. You can't expect them to hold onto me -- this is a business -- you can't expect them to hold onto me after what was a 16-month rehab. You can't expect them to hold onto me. 

Q: Any thought of quitting ever cross your mind through all the frustration?
A: Not at all. Right when it happened I was down, depressed for, maybe, five hours. Then I went right into positiveness and said 'Let's get this done and get my rehabbing process back.'

Q: If I remember correctly you were even hitting fungoes during infield the next day. 
A: You've got to get it out of your mind. There's a lot of people going through a lot of worse things than I'm going through. I get injured and it can be fixed. Some people can't be fixed, so you've got to look at life in general and see that a lot of other people are going through a lot of worse things than I am. 

Q: In the back of your mind, are you thinking that it could happen again?
A: No, not at all. You can't play like that. You've got to give it 110 percent and go out there and believe that nothing's ever going to happen again. 

Q: Have you changed anything in your regiment to make sure you stay healthy?
A: I've worked out harder than I ever have in my life this year with my legs and stuff like that, but no, arm-wise, everything's the same. 

Q: The odds of that happening a second time are slim. It happens, but not often. Were you surprised that it happened again?
A: I thought it was something that couldn't happen again. And so when it happened, I was like, 'Wow, how could something that they just fix happen again?' 

Q: Was there any explanation given as to how?
A: The just said the torque in my arm (caused it). It's a fluke. Sometimes it just doesn't catch well, and it takes two times to catch well. 

Q: Did you ever talk to Dave Eiland about that? He's a two-time Tommy John patient.
A: I talked to Dave a little bit. He was with the Rays, and I worked out for the Rays, and he got me the workout, so I talked to him a little bit about it. But Dave never really rehabbed it back (the second time), so I really kept in touch with (former Phillies farmhand Scott) Mathieson. 

I stayed in contact with him and he helped me through it, told me the up and downs, and when I was feeling something, things like that. I got a lot of advice from him. 

Q: How many teams did you try out for?
A: I tried out for about six, I think it was. 

Q: Where were the Nats in the tryout order?
A: They were, like, the fifth one. I got offers from other teams, but I just thought this one was the good fit because the only other offers were for me to sign something saying that if I got hurt I'm on my own. This was the only team that was loyal and said 'We're with you all the way. If you get hurt, we've got you." So that meant a lot to me. 

Q: Did the Yankees call again?
A: No. They never called. 

Q: Did that surprise you? In the last few years the Yankees signed a lot of pitchers with history of injuries or who were actually injured at the time.
A: Yeah, I was very surprised, but there's nothing I can do about that. I can't control that. I loved it there for the seven or eight years I was there, I loved every moment of it. I think they really gave me a good base and really made me the man I am today. I had a lot of growing up to do, and they really helped me out with that. They were a great organization and I have no regrets, no negative toward them at all. Maybe one day further down in my career I'll rejoin the team. 

Q: Before the tryouts, was there a fear that nobody would want to take a chance on you?
A: There was. A tryout wasn't anything. I'd tryout, I'd felt like I threw well, they'd call back and say, "Hey, nobody really wanted to take the chance.' Really, the Nationals were the only people that wanted to go full bore, all the way in. 

Q: When did that process of trying out start?
A: July of 2011. 

Q: Ken Mandel, who interviewed you yesterday, said that you were throwing high-80s during that tryout for the Nationals. 
A: Mid-80s. First, my agent called me about three weeks before my workouts and said 'Hey, can you get a gun and see how fast you're throwing? Scouts are calling and I'm trying to get you a job and they're asking how hard you're throwing. I need you to get, at least, to 90 miles per hour,' and so I said yeah.

He asked, 'Do you believe you're throwing that hard?' and I felt like I was. I went out to a local high school there in Tampa. They got the gun on me and I was 84 to 86. That was awful. It crushed me. I looked at like, these next three weeks, even though it's not just three weeks I worked hard, it was 16 months of really getting after it.

I said, 'These next three weeks I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing, and if it doesn't work out, then it wasn't meant to be, but I'm going to look back and say I wish I would've done this and I wish I would've done that,' because I don't want to live with any regrets. So I just kept working instead of getting down on myself, so when I went to my first workout I was 90-92. 

Q: So is relieving a full-time thing for you now, or are you working your way back to being a starter?
A: I'm a full-time reliever.

Q: What's different for you now?
A: Big difference. It's 20 pitches now instead of 100. (laughs from all) I have the same mentality as I do when I start. I try to stay fluid, pound the zone and change speeds. 

Q: Is there a difference in the stress it puts on your arm?
A: So far, since I have no pain, I'd say less. I can't say if I went back a couple of years ago when I was hear, if I'd gone to the bullpen, that it would have worked. I couldn't say that. I think it's just that my arm's fixed better. This time around it just caught better, the ligament, and it's just not stressful at all. I threw yesterday and I can pitch again today easily.  

A conversation with Rick Down - Part 2

Earlier this week I spoke to Rick Down, the Yankees hitting coordinator. He replaces James Rowson, who took the same position with the Cubs. Down was slated to take the manager's job with the Thunder in 2005, but turned it down at the last minute to be the Mets' hitting coach. This is part two of our conversation. You can read part one here

Q: What's the hardest part of hitting for you to teach?
A: For me to teach? I guess being able to have kids relate to the fact that success here is a game of failure, and those that are able to deal with the failure the best are the ones that will succeed the most. ... You deal with failure, you're going to be the most successful.

 It's not about repeating that failure, but learning from that experience, and if you take a bad swing the next swing is better because of what happened in the past. You don't bring it to the plate, because once you step in to that batter's box, good hitters hit with their eyes and not with their head. 

Q: You've had a few days to look at a few kids and their swings. I'm going to run a few names by you and see what you think, if that's OK. First, Melky Mesa. 
A: He's got a ton of tools, he's made an immense amount of progress in terms of pitch selection. Pitchers have to execute pitches when he's not expanding the zone and getting himself out. That's the proverbial thing. 

After the at-bat, you ask yourself what'd you do and what were you trying to do. If I was looking fastball and swung at a first-pitch breaking ball, I got myself out. If I force him to throw the pitch I want to hit and I just miss it -- again, maybe he executed and got fortunate in that at-bat, but I got I've got to believe (that I've got to) go back and take that same approach and get the same pitch I was looking for and make him throw it. 

That's what he's excelled at this year. His strikeout rate has come down considerably, and if he makes contact he's got bat speed. He keeps himself balanced and he sees the ball good. He's got a chance. He's the complete package of his tools. He's got speed. And if he hits .240-.250, he could be a Gold Glove center fielder in the big leagues. 

Q: What about Cody Johnson?
A: He's got power, that's something you don't teach. He's got big power. Again, it's contact to damage. He's got to refine his hitting zone and make sure he's a good low-ball hitter. He can be pitched to. You can elevate the ball to him. Most people, most hitters in the big leagues, even, can be pitched to, and everybody has someplace that they can be pitched if you execute the pitches.

If you don't and make a mistake, they'll hurt you. You make a mistake to Cody, he will hurt you, and there's no way to defense a home run. That's what he brings to the table. He's got game-changing power, and that's something you can't teach. 

The remarkable thing, even to me, is how old he is. He's only 22 years old, even though he's been around forever. He's just a youngster, really. I don't care how many years he's played.

Q: Your thoughts on Ronnier Mustelier?
A: Kid can hit. I don't whether he's going to play (in the field) but he can swing the bat. There's an old saying: When you shake a tree, there's about five or six gloves that are going to fall out, but maybe just one bat. Being able to hit and take the barrel to the ball, square it up and contact, he can do (that) on good pitching. There's a lot of guys who can mediocre pitching, but he can hit good fastballs and he's on time. He'll square it up and he's got an idea.

He's very smart. Just because he's quiet, I wouldn't perceive that as a lack of intelligence. He's perceptive. His language, in terms of his English skills (is good). Again, he's only been around one year. I don't care how old he is, but he signed last year, so he's only been in the States for less than a year, so I don't think he should be rattling off the Webster's Dictionary or whatnot. 

When it comes to baseball, I can sit there and he's watching, and I'll say 'What was that last pitch?' and he'll be right on it. He'll know what it is and he'll be able to tell me. In terms of baseball and his knowledge, he's very good. He's a plus hitter and they'll find a place for his glove if he can swing the bat. 

Q: In regards to Ronnier, what's the Cuban League's equivalency to pro baseball? Is it High-A, Double-A, or what?
A: On a given night, with a given pitcher, it'd probably be as high as Triple-A, because the game starts from the mound. The depth after three or four hitters probably tails off dramatically and probably goes down to A-Ball or Rookie. 

What pro ball has over most great college teams and the Cuban League and any other league is the fact that the depth. You just keep coming with the very best. With the first through ninth hitters in a strong lineup, it's a struggle (for a pitcher), there's no place you can go and say 'Well, this guy's a designated out.'

On a college team and in the Cuban league, there's a place you can go and get an out. If they don't have their best pitcher on the mound, he's going to be mediocre. For the most part in the States and in a professional league, Double-A or Triple-A, they have the best pitcher out there 1 through 5. They have a legitimate set-up guy, they have a situational guy and they have a guy that can finish the game. That's not always the case. 

Around the System - April 26

Triple-A: Lehigh Valley 6, Scranton 4

Dewayne Wise: 3 for 5, HR
Steve Pearce: 2 for 4, 2B, SB
Brandon Laird: 1 for 5, R
Kevin Russo: 3 for 5, 2 2B, 2 R
Ramon Ortiz: 5.2 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO (90/61)
Mike O'Connor: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO (23/12)
Pat Venditte: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 2 SO (26/17)
Jason Bulger: IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO (19/12)

Double-A: Erie 9, Trenton 2

Abe Almonte: 1 for 3, 2B, RBI
Luke Murton: 1 for 4
Neil Medchill: 1 for 4, HR
Yadil Mujica: 3 for 4, R
Craig Heyer: 5 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, SO (92/58)
Francisco Rondon: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 3 SO (30/19)
Mike Dubee: 2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, SO (32/21)

High-A: Brevard County 2, Tampa 1

Rob Segedin: 2 for 5, R
Kyle Roller: 1 for 4, 2B
J.R. Murphy: 2 for 4, RBI
Eduardo Sosa: 1 for 3
Tyson Blaser: 2 for 4
Mikey O'Brien: 6 IP, 5 H, R, ER, 0 BB, 7 SO
Manny Barreda: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO
Mark Montgomery: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO
Aaron Dott: 1.2 IP, 3 H, R, ER, BB, 3 SO

Low-A: Lexington 5, Charleston 2

Ben Gamel: 1 for 4
Tyler Austin: 3 for 4, 2B, HR
Dante Bichette: 1 for 4, RBI
Angelo Gumbs: 0 for 2, 2 BB
Anderson Feliz: 1 for 3, BB
Scottie Allen: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, ER, 2 BB, 3 SO
Zach Varce: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, ER, BB, 2 SO
Mariel Checo: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

Pettitte will start for Trenton again

Per, well, everyone at Yankee Stadium today (I'm here too, but am more concerned with the Tigers clubhouse), Andy Pettitte will start for Trenton again on Monday, April 30, against the Portland Sea Dogs at Hadlock Field. He's scheduled for 90-95 pitches this time.

Frankly, there's a chance I might make the trek to Portland for that one. If not, I'll be in Lakewood for the BlueClaws vs. the Greenville Drive. Either way, I'll see a Red Sox affiliate that day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Postgame Recap - April 26

Final score: Erie 9, Trenton 2

Synopsis: Craig Heyer's ball was flat in the first inning and he gave up seven runs as a result. Heyer recovered shortly thereafter, but the Thunder's offense never did. Trenton clocked six hits in the game, three of which came from Yadil Mujica. The team's only RBI before the ninth came on a double from Abe Almonte, which scored Mujica. 

Bright spots: The aforementioned three hits from Mujica, plus the first Double-A hit -- a home run -- from Neil Medchill, in the ninth inning. Francisco Rondon also tossed two scoreless innings in relief of Heyer. 

Not as bright spots: It wasn't in as big of a situation, but Mujica made the second game-ending mistake of his Thunder career. His inexplicable bunt squelched a Trenton rally last June, and his ill-fated attempt to take second base on his ninth-inning single Thursday quashed any ideas of what would have been an extremely improbable rally. 

After the game, manager Tony Franklin called Mujica's gaffe a "mistake of aggression," which was particularly interesting wording considering something Ronnier Mustelier said on Wednesday while describing the differences between baseball in Cuba and the game stateside. 

"Cuban baseball is a little more aggressively played than Double-A," he said. "It's a little bit more conservative here. A lot of it is just taking the extra base in Cuba. Here, it's a lot more technical and tactical. They want to make sure they're executing here, where as down there they're trying to play on the margins a little bit more and push the envelope."

Regardless, Franklin said that Mujica's is certainly not the first such mistake his team has made, and, considering how incredibly strapped it is because of injuries to just about everybody, it can't afford to screw up. 

"I think we need to think about where we are," he said. "I don't think it's something we should dismiss. We haven't played well this homestand, and I think that's something we need to think about and do a little bit better job with. ... We just can't dismiss what happened. We shouldn't dismiss what happened and take it lightly. That's not what we're about. We're about playing better baseball."

Picks to Click: Here is my game story from Thursday

Flicks to Click: Here are four videos from Thursday. If you like strikeouts, here ya go.

Game 19 - Trenton vs. Erie

Pitching Matchup: RHP Craig Heyer (1-1, 2.16) vs. LHP Jared Wesson (1-1, 8.16)

In the Standings: Trenton is 9-9 and in fourth place in the EL East, 4 games back of Reading. Erie is 7-10 and tied for third place int he EL West, 5 games behind Harrisburg.


Niuman Romero SS
Brandon Douglas 2B
Rob Brantly C
Jordan Lennerton 1B
Rawley Bishop DH
Bryan Pounds 3B
Tony Plagman LF
Brent Wyatt RF
Jamie Johnson CF
Jared Wesson LHP

Abe Almonte RF
Walter Ibarra SS
Ronnier Mustelier 3B
Cody Johnson DH
Melky Mesa CF
Luke Murton 1B
Neil Medchill LF
Jeff Farnham C
Yadil Mujica 2B
Craig Heyer RHP

NOTES: Rob Lyerly has officially gone back to North Carolina for a second opinion on his ailing shoulder. ... Dan Brewer was hitting in the cage before the game, so that's progress. ... The starter for Monday the 30th, Pettitte's potential turn in the rotation, is listed as a TBA, so there's that.

Around the System - April 25

Triple-A: Scranton 8, Pawtucket 6

Colin Curtis: 1 for 4, 2 R, BB, 2 SB
Francisco Cervelli: 2 for 4, R, 3 RBI, BB
Dewayne Wise: 1 for 4, R, SB
Steve Pearce: 1 for 4, R, RBI
Jack Cust: 1 for 3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB
Brandon Laird: 1 for 3, RBI
Ramiro Pena: 1 for 4, R
Adam Warren: 5 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, BB, 6 SO, 3 HR (98/60)
Adam Miller: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO -- season debut (22/10)
Chase Whitley: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO (21/17)
Kevin Whelan: IP, H, R, ER, 2 BB, 2 SO (26/12)

Double-A: Erie 10, Trenton 4

Ronnier Mustelier: 2 for 3, 2B, 3B, 2 R, BB
Cody Johnson: 2 for 3, 2B, HR, 4 RBI, BB
Jeff Farnham: 1 for 4
Andy Pettitte: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 ER, BB, 3 SO (81/59)
Preston Claiborne: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, SO (38/25)
Kelvin Perez:  IP, 2 H, 3 R, ER, 4 BB, 2 SO (44/20)
Ryan Flannery: 1.1 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO (15/11)

High-A: Tampa 7, Brevard County 2

Ramon Flores: 1 for 5, R
Kelvin Castro: 1 for 5
Rob Segedin: 2 for 4, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB, SB
J.R. Murphy: 1 for 5, R, RBI
Eduardo Sosa: 2 for 4, 2B, R
Tyson Blaser: 2 for 4, R
Shane Brown: 1 for 4, 2B, 2 RBI
Jose Mojica: 1 for 4, R
Zach Nuding: 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO
Sean Black: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 3 SO

Low-A: Charleston 9, Lexington 4

Mason Williams: 4 for 4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB
Anderson Feliz: 2 for 5, HR, 2 R
Tyler Austin: 1 for 5, HR
Angelo Gumbs: 2 for 5, 2B, R
Kelvin De Leon: 2 for 5, 2B, 2 R, RBI
Cito Culver: 1 for 5
Rey Nunez: 1 for 4
Francisco Arcia: 2 for 4, 2 RBI
Bryan Mitchell: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO
Pedro Guerra: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 3 SO

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A conversation with Rick Down, Part One

I spoke yesterday to Rick Down, the Yankees hitting coordinator. He replaces James Rowson, who took the same position with the Cubs. Down was slated to take the manager's job with the Thunder, but turned it down at the last minute to be the Mets' hitting coach. This is part one of our conversation. 

Q: Why come back to the Yankees after so many stints here?
A: I like the Yankees and I think the Yankees, regardless of the history, like me. My job is to help with the young hitting coaches, primarily, and work with coaches as they work with the hitters. So it’s not to spend a lot of time individually with hitters, but work with coaches and try to give them some insight, some thoughts about what I did, maybe what they might want to try. It’s nothing new or nothing novel – we’re not reinventing the wheel – but (I’m going to) share some experiences”

Q: Did you approach them, or did they approach you?
A: I approached them. I was with Seattle last year, and the farm director, Pedro Grifol, wanted to manage in winter ball, went to manage in winter ball, so Jack (Zdruiencik) didn’t appreciate that. They brought in Chris Gwynn and he brought in Lee May, Jr., so exit Rick Down.”

Q: What do you think of the way former Thunder outfielder Edwar Gonzalez is performing as a hitting coach?
A: He’s got good work ethic. There’s considerable difference between a swing and the ability to hit. Most people would say that they’re both the same, but they’re not. You swing is worked on in the cage. It’s a mechanical thing.

He needs to spend some additional time with the hitting or the thought process that’s involved with using your swing in a game situation. Again, there’s a place and time for everything, and he’s with a very, very young group – extended spring – and probably the emphasis should be placed more on the mechanics. It’s tough to talk situational hitting if you can’t repeat your swing. What he’s doing is working with swing development and trying to teach these kids how to swing the bat.

The million-dollar question is: When is it time to say ‘OK, it’s no longer time to work on your swing, this is your swing, what does it do and where does it work best?’ With less than two strikes, I’m going to take whatever swing I have, do it every time all the time, understand where my strength is, and that’s where I want the pitch.”

Q: So when you get here, how do you get all of the organization's hitting coaches on the same page with you?
A: It’s not just with me. I’m learning from them, too. It’s a sharing of ideas. It’s not something that’s written in stone. It’s something that, again, I reflect and I look back on some of the experiences I had, some of the experiences of people I was fortunate enough to be around, (and) what I learned.

Obviously, the majority of what I have is experiences that other people had and they shared it. I was nothing more than maybe a big sponge, and I soaked it all in. That’s what I’m trying to do too, is just throw some ideas out there, and if it works for somebody and they use it, that’s great. Is it something that has to be done and is it the only way that it can be done? No.

Hitting itself is a lot like handwriting. Everybody’s different in terms of style, but you have to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. There’s absolutes, but all the hitters in the big leagues, look at them, they’re all unique. I’d say unique is probably the best word to describe it, but it all works and they understand where it works. Everybody can be pitched to. Again, teaching guys what their strength is and what it is they have to do to compete in the game and being able to share that experience (is my job).

The biggest thing we do as hitting coaches is teach confidence. It’s done in the cage. If you work your butt off in the cage, you have every right to believe it’s going to happen in the game. Then, just relax and express yourself, make the pitcher throw a ball (you) want to hit, and if you look at it that way, hitting can be the easiest thing in all of sports.”

Q: So a baseball swing is a lot like a golf swing. Each looks different, but they all get to the same place eventually. 
A: There’s certain absolutes. All hitters get to the same place where they’re at after they stride. It’s called separation, or the launch position, or the hitting position. They all get to the same place, and from there you have a chance to take your swing. If you get to the wrong place or you’re too late or you’re too early or your timing’s off, it doesn’t matter, your swing won’t work.

Your swing is the end of a long chain of events that take place before. Your stride takes place, your load takes place, your set-up takes place, before you even think about swinging the bat. Most often when you talk to people who don’t know much about hitting, the first place they want to go is to the swing, but that’s the last thing that happens. The barrel’s the last thing to the ball in this whole hitting process.

What takes place before makes a big impact on how the swing’s going to come out. It’s like a chain: You’re only as good as your weakest link. If you start wrong, you will finish wrong. If you start right, you’ve got a chance to take a good swing. You could still screw it up, or you could swing at a bad pitch and make a bad decision.

If you have good mechanics, you can give yourself time, and (if) you see the ball good, you should be able, at least, to make good decisions. And if you can repeat your swing, because hitting is timing and rhythm, then you’ll be able to execute and at least get to most of whatever it is that you have, and you have value. And if it’s not with the Yankees, you’ll have value someplace else.
That’s what we try to do: Create value and allow the kid every opportunity to excel, or at least reach – the curse – his potential.

Around the System - April 24

Triple-A: Pawtucket 4, Scranton 3

Colin Curtis: 1 for 5, 2B
Steve Pearce: 3 for 3, R
Brandon Laird: 2 for 4, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI
Ramiro Pena: 2 for 4, 2B
Doug Bernier: 0 for 2, RBI, BB, SF
D.J. Mitchell: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO (94/54)
Juan Cedeno: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, SO (18/7)
Jason Bulger: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO (27/16)

Double-A: Trenton 11, Erie 3

Abe Almonte: 3 for 5, 2B, 3 R, RBI, 2 SB
Kevin Mahoney: 2 for 4, 2 R, RBI, BB, SB
Ronnier Mustelier: 3 for 5, 2 2B, R, 4 RBI
Melky Mesa: 2 for 4, 2B, 2 outfield assists
Luke Murton: 1 for 4, RBI
Yadil Mujica: 2 for 5, 3B, R
Walter Ibarra: 3 for 3, 3B, 3 R, 2 RBI
Brett Marshall: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, ER, 3 BB, 4 SO (95/59)
Lee Hyde: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO (3/3)
Ryan Pope: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO (13/8)
Francisco Rondon: IP, 2 H, R, ER, 2 BB, SO (23/13)

High-A: Dunedin 9, Tampa 1

Jose Toussen: 1 for 2
Rob Segedin: 1 for 4
Kyle Roller: 2 for 3, RBI, BB
J.R. Murphy: 1 for 4
Ramon Flores: 1 for 3, 2B, BB
Shane Brown: 2 for 4, 2B
Tyson Blaser: 1 for 4, 2B
Jose Ramirez: 4 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO
Vidal Nuno: 3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO
Rigoberto Arrebato: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, BB, 2 SO

Low-A: Charleston 4, Lexington 1

Mason Williams: 1 for 5
Ben Gamel: 2 for 5
Tyler Austin: 0 for 4, R
Gary Sanchez: 2 for 4, 2B, 2 R
Angelo Gumbs: 2 for 4, 2B, R
Cito Culver: 1 for 3, RBI
Rey Nunez: 2 for 4, RBI
Anderson Feliz: 1 for 4, 2B
Caleb Cotham: 5 IP, 4 H, R, ER, BB, 2 SO
Brett Gerritse: 3 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO
Phil Wetherell: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 2 SO

Postgame Recap - April 24

Final score: Trenton 11, Erie 3

Synopsis: The Thunder, behind another stellar night from Cuban sensation Ronnier Mustelier, put it to the SeaWolves over the first three innings and never looked back. Brett Marshall fired 5 2/3 innings of four-hit, two-run (one earned) ball for his third win of the year.

Three for all: The first three hitters in the lineup, Abe Almonte, Kevin Mahoney and Mustelier, went a combined 8 for 14, with three doubles, six runs scored, six RBIs, three stolen bases, a walk, and no strikeouts.

No injury this time: Cody Johnson came out of the game for pinch-hitter Neil Medchill in the fifth. Tony Franklin afterward said Johnson was not hurt, but that he simply wanted to get Medchill some at-bats.

A great exchange: Check this conversation between myself and Tony Franklin about Ronnier Mustelier.

Me: Another great night for Ronnier. He's been a bit of a revelation, I would think. 
Tony: Is that what you call him?
Me: Well, I called him a "destroyer of men" on Twitter ...
Tony: (laughs) I think both are appropriate, but what I'd call him is a pretty good baseball player. 

Picks to click: Here are Nick Peruffo's game story and notes from Tuesday's action

Flicks to click: Here are seven videos from Trenton's win

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Game 17 - Erie vs. Thunder

Pitching matchup: RHP Mark Sorensen (NR) vs. RHP Brett Marshall (2-1, 5.40)

In the Standings: Trenton is in fourth place in the EL North, 3 games behind both New Britain and Reading. Erie is in fifth place in the EL South, 4 games behind Harrisburg.


Jamie Johnson CF
Brandon Douglas 2B
Niuman Romero SS
Jordan Lennerton 1B
Rawley Bishop DH
Rob Brantly C
Tony Plagman LF
Brent Dlugach 3B
Michael Rockett RF
Zach Sorensen RHP

Abe Almonte RF
Kevin Mahoney 2B
Ronnier Mustelier LF
Cody Johnson DH
Melky Mesa CF
Luke Murton 1B
Yadil Mujica 3B
Jeff Farnham C
Walter Ibarra SS
Brett Marshall RHP

NOTES: Kelvin De La Cruz and Niuman Romero, both former Akron Aeros, are with the SeaWolves. Romero saw major league time with the Indians in 2009 and 2010. He has two major league hits, both in 2009, one apiece off of Yasuhiko Yabuta and Clay Buchholz. ... Rob Brantly, BA's ninth-ranked Tigers prospect, is eighth in the EL in hitting (.356), second in slugging (.644) and fifth in OPS (1.012). ... Jordan Lennerton, Erie's cleanup hitter, is hitting a sweet .288/.339/.673 with a league-best six home runs.

Update - 6:12: So, Josh Romanski is on the disabled list with a blister. As it happens, that lines up perfectly for a few more rehab starts (after tomorrow) for Mr. Andrew Eugene Pettitte. Five and 10 days from now would be both Pettitte and Romanski on turn, so if Pettitte needed to start with Thunder, Romanski would be scratched in each case.

With Romanski on DL, he can, in theory, throw a few sim games in the bullpen or something instead of actually making a start that day. Fifteen days from now, when Pettitte is MLB-ready, Romanski can slide back into his spot in the rotation.

Speaking of injuries, manager Tony Franklin said not to expect Jose Pirela back "any time soon." He still won't say Pirela had a concussion, but he did say this:

"You can kind of draw your own conclusions as to what had happened and what the symptoms were. The symptoms were probably there, you know, for a concussion. We're just following the protocol that minor league baseball and major league baseball have set forth for when these incidents happen."

"I would be safe in saying that there's still tests that still need to be done, and because there are still tests that need to be done, he has to pass them. It's just that progression that we have to follow. When he follows them and everything seems to fall in place, we'll be ready for him to come back."

"Hopefully his season isn't lost, and when he's cleared to play, we can get him back in there. Here again, it's going to take time to get through the baseball stuff as well as all the medical stuff. It could be a while. I don't expect to have him back any time soon, to be honest with you. I think that by doing this, we're doing the right thing, medically."

Speaking of injuries, Rob Lyerly hasn't left yet for his second opinion on his ailing shoulder. When he does, he's going to see Dr. Pat Connor, in Charlotte, N.C., who specializes in sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery. He had surgery on the shoulder in 2008, and they want to make absolutely sure about what the problem is before they make a decision on a course of action.

I spoke to Yankees prospect and current RiverDog Tyler Austin earlier this afternoon, and Yankees hitting coordinator Rick Down before the game. I'll transcribe both of those soon, probably Down first.

Around the System - April 24

High-A: Dunedin 5, Tampa 3

Eduardo Sosa: 1 for 4
Rob Segedin: 2 for 4, HR, 2 R
Kyle Roller: 2 for 4, R
J.R. Murphy: 1 for 3, BB
Ramon Flores: 1 for 4, RBI
Tyson Blaser: 1 for 3, BB
Shane Greene: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 5 SO
Aaron Dott: 1.2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, SO
Kramer Sneed: 0.1 IP, H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 SO
Branden Pinder: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 5 SO

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A very long talk with Nardi Contreras

Yankees pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras spoke at length Thursday with myself and Mike Ashmore. Here's what he had to say. 

Q: Where have you been so far this season?

A: I started the season off with the Empire State Yankees, where it was a lot of cold and bad weather. The 30s, rain, some snow, wind. It wasn't pretty. 

Q: So you're happy to be here, is what you're saying?

A: Well, Erie (the Thunder's second stop on their road trip) was pretty ugly too, pretty freezing. Yesterday here was pretty nice, last night got nippy. 

Q: So how hard is it for guys to pitch in awful weather like that?

A: It's really tough. Warren's first game was in that cold. D.J., it was freezing the day he pitched. Manny wasn't good. Dellin (was) for the first two or three innings and then he wasn't (good), so it seemed like everybody was having problems with that weather, and the scores let you know it. 

Q: Do you think the cold contributed to Manny's injury?

A: I would think that. It was a lat muscle. It was hard to stay warm. I know that when we're in the stands and he's doing charts, he was freezing. He was just shivering all over the place, and that was just sitting in the stands. When you're out on the mound, it just makes it tough. 

Q: Is there a way to better prepare them for that stuff?

A: Spring training is in Florida, how can you prepare them? You've just got to hope for real warm weather (when the season starts). 

Many years ago, when I started doing this for the Yankees, my first stop was Trenton. It was in the 30s, windy, and I said 'I'm never going to do that again,' so every year after that I would start at Tampa, Charleston, somewhere warm. 

Now, with my new scheduling I've (only) got Triple-A, Double-A and the Dominican Republic, that's all I'm doing, so I had to start up north anyway. 

Q: Who's going to be in charge of watching Tampa and Charleston?

A: Greg Pavlick, who's our rehab coordinator, he's going to take care of that for me. I still talk to the pitching coaches and stuff, but I don't have to go visit. 

Q: What role does the cold weather play in dictating his assignment or whether he gets promoted here at some point early in the year?

A: It doesn't. Toronto, they don't send their best pitching prospects to (Triple-A) Vegas. They send them to this league because of how crazy it is there. What can you do? Are you going to send all your best guys to Tampa and Charleston when they should be at the higher levels? That's not going to happen. 

We've got lot of young, real good pitching at younger baseball, so you just deal with it. Warren, now, he's pitching well. D.J., last time out he pitched eight shutout innings, so it's real warm. I think Rick Down (Yankees hitting coordinator) just came from there and said it was 80 degrees. 

Q: With Warren, which of his secondary offerings has improved the most?

A: His change-up is really, really good. His curveball was a tremendous improvement this spring training. I think it was a major league average-quality pitch, so that's improved, and he's always had the slider. The change-up came first, and now the curveball has come. 

Q: I assume improving those offerings are what he needs to do get himself to the next level?

A: He may be a starting pitcher for some other organization right now. Noesi's a No. 3 guy in Seattle, and he would have been our No. 5 here if everything had stayed the same. 

Q: How far has D.J. Mitchell's change-up come?

A: D.J. Mitchell's change-up has always been good, from Tampa days. He's just more in command of it now, so he had the pitch from his Tampa days. He didn't have it when he first signed. Once he got to Tampa he really developed the change-up. 

The command of it (has improved), same thing now with command of his curveball. Now we're waiting on the command of his fastball. Once he commands his fastball to go with his other two pitches, he's going to help us in the big leagues. 

Q: In terms of big-league readiness, when you compare Mitchell and Warren, is there someone who has an edge right now?

A: David Phelps is there now. He's ahead of them, and he's pitching really well, and then we've got Mitchell and Warren. As a starter, if we need a starter, it's going to be one of those two. (If there's a decision to be made), I'll just tell them what I feel and what I saw, but it's hard to tell them what I saw because the weather was so bad. 

Q: Is it safe to say that better command set Phelps apart from Mitchell and Warren in big league camp?

A: He commands four pitches. His curveball was the last to come, just like Warren. He was predominantly a slider guy in college, so that's come, and he's always been a strike thrower. 

Q: How do you project how well a guy will fare in the big leagues based on what you see in the minors?

A: It's just command of their pitches. Do they have pitches to get major league hitters out, and can they repeat their delivery to be able to command those pitches? Of course David Phelps leads the three. Warren is pretty close to doing that -- he was the last guy cut, I believe. 

Q: Have you guys changed the way you assign workloads for your prospects? I'm noticing more 90-pitch counts for the Thunder rotation this April.

A: It's all depending on how many pitches we get them to in spring training. If a pitcher goes out and he has a pretty good outing, and there's no rain -- it's all about weather and how they pitch that day. He may have 50 pitches (suggested), but if he throws 38 or 39 in the first inning, that might be the end of what he does. He's going to have to hit that 50 level again (in his next outing).

Q: I ask because I saw, in a two-game stretch, Shaeffer Hall pulled after 70 when he was cruising, and then Brett Marshall left in for 90 when he was getting hit around.

A: Marshall was in major league camp, so he was at 50 pitches when he came to us. So we started him at 65 and not 35. Those are things that happen.

Q: Have you seen Marshall this season?

A: I saw him just the other day, and he was very good, so hopefully he repeats that outing.

Q: What do you like about him?

A: He has an air about himself and he attacks the zone, great power change-up, sinks the ball, and now his slider has improved.

Q: He's said he's adding a curveball around June or July. What do you want that to add to his overall game?

A: A fourth pitch, as a get-me-over, so he doesn't have to use his change-up and slider, which are the two better-quality pitches, earlier in the count. So instead of throwing all fastballs or throwing that slider or change-up first pitch, he can throw that curveball first pitch. Or if he gets to 1 ball, no strikes, he can the curveball in that count. It just gives him a fourth pitch that hitters will have to think about.

Q: With Pat Venditte, how unique a challenge is that for you, to take an ambidextrous pitcher and try to develop him for the major leagues? In other words, how long does it take to develop two arms?

A: It's just using it, that's all it is. I'm ambidextrous. I've got an inning in pro ball left-handed. I've played outfield and first base in pro ball left-handed. I grew up doing it. I didn't pitch much doing it. I was a switch-hitter and a switch-pitcher.

My catcher growing up, who went to the big leagues for the Cardinals, Giants and Expos, John Tamargo, was my No. 3 hitter -- I was the No. 4 hitter -- and he was the same way, ambidextrous and a switch-hitter.

Q: So how'd you develop that ability?

A: Just growing up doing it with my father. Since I pitched a lot, he saw a lot of power in my right arm, so he said 'Let's use your left arm so you can play other positions,' and a lot of practice. That's what Venditte had to do too. His power arm is his right arm and he tricks them with his left hand.

Q: How long did it take you to believe you were going to be able to do things ambidextrously?

A: I don't that. I screwed up my son growing up. He was a lefty, a complete left-hander, and I know (because I'm) in professional baseball, what they're going to see in a left-hander, and maybe with my genes, they're going to put him on the mound, so I changed my son from a lefty to righty so that he could play baseball completely right-handed.

He'll shoot right-handed and left-handed in basketball, golf lefty-righty. He'll write left-handed. It's funny how does things with both hands, but that was the practice growing up.

Q: How difficult, then, is it for Pat not to just rely on his power arm or focus on it. Would it benefit him to focus on one arm?

A: His arm is his power arm, but it's not a powerful arm. It's a tick below average. But he kind of tricks guys from the right-hand side, but he's got more velo from the right side than the left side. He still does some things right-handed that he does left-handed, but he's got more power with the right hand.

Q: Could he a big league pitcher with both arms?

A: Yeah he can, but he's got to be in command, that's the key. Guys who are not blessed with that 94, 95, 96, they've got to be able to pitch a lot more, a lot better, than someone who doesn't have that power.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you've got a lot of arms coming from the lower levels. Who might the Thunder see, if everything goes right and there's space, toward the second half of this year?

A: There's a kid named Turley, there's a kid named Nuding, there's a kid named Pinder. Those three are on the top of my mind. Ramirez, he's got a power arm with great stuff, Dominican kid. One day, if it clicks, there's no limit.

Nuding's big power, Turley's a lefty -- 6-5, curveball, downhill, sinks it. His velo's come up now from where it was as a young kid. We've got Shane Greene also at Tampa, who's throwing the ball really well. He's mid-90s guy, slider, change-up, hard sinker. It's just being consistent, that's all.

Q: Did you see Campos at all?

A: I saw him in spring training. He's a guy that, when we make changes, he'll probably go to Tampa, when Turley or Nuding or both or whatever we've got going there (come to Trenton).

Q: To go back to something you mentioned earlier, you said that Marshall needs to get the slider before he gets the curveball. What does he need to do to refine the slider enough?

A: Use of it, that's all. He likes to go with his two fastballs -- four-seam, two-seam -- and he puts that slider in the back. Well, we've spent time in the bullpen with the slider.

We know he has the change-up, we know he has both fastballs, but needs to develop that slider and the use of it and how to use it. He used it a few times that last outing there in Erie when I watched him, but not always at the right time. There's not only right times, but right locations. Those are things that he's got to learn how to do with that slider.

Q: You saw Romanski yesterday, yes?

A: Romanski was pretty good. He had that rough first inning, but with his new (arm) slot, he had one left-hander face him, and he made that left-hander look ugly. That's the key to Romanski. He's a situational-type pitcher in the big leagues. He has that slot, he can sink it, he has a change-up, he has a cutter that he can throw against right-handers, and he has that hard breaking ball to lefties. Strikes, getting consistency with that new slot of his, and he's got the breaking ball to go with it.

Q: When you have to change arm slots as a pitcher, is that something that he organization tells him to do, and how do you get him to buy into the change?

A: That is something I asked him to do last year, and he really wasn't very sure about using it last year. He came to spring training sure that he probably could do it. I gave him reasons why -- I always give these guys reasons -- and he's capable of doing it. Not everybody's capable of making those changes. I couldn't tell Dellin Betances, let's become a submariner, he couldn't do that. You've got to know the pitcher and what are the upsides and what are the downsides when you make these suggestions for them, not for us, for them.

Q: If a guy's come over the top his whole career, how difficult is to make him go to, say, high three-quarters or even sidearm?

A: It's the individual. Everybody's different, so some guys will take on (the challenge). Some guys, you say, it's not going to work, so don't even try it. You've got to hope he makes something out of what he's at, and that's it. Some guys -- Romanski was an outfielder, he was an outfielder, he did some things -- I know if I asked him to drop down submarine, he's capable, because he's limber enough to do that stuff.

Around the System - April 21

Double-A: Harrisburg 4, Trenton 1

Ronnier Mustelier: 1 for 4
Cody Johnson: 1 for 4
Luke Murton: 3 for 4, RBI
Kevin Mahoney: 1 for 3
Walter Ibarra: 2 for 4, 2B
Shaeffer Hall: 7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, BB, 5 SO (87/60)
Kelvin Perez: IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO (11/7)
Francisco Rondon: IP, H, R, ER, 0 BB, 0 SO (11/5)

High-A: Daytona 13, Tampa 2

Ramon Flores: 1 for 3, R, BB
Rob Segedin: 3 for 4, 2B, R
J.R. Murphy: 1 for 4, 2B, 2 RBI
Zach Wilson: 2 for 3
Shane Brown: 1 for 2, 2 BB
Mikey O'Brien: 3.1 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 4 BB, SO
Vidal Nuno: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO
Branden Pinder: 2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO
Manny Barreda: IP, 2 H, R, ER, BB, SO

Low-A: Charleston 4, West Virginia 1

Mason Williams: 2 for 5, SB
Dante Bichette: 0 for 2, RBI, 2 BB
Tyler Austin: 1 for 4, 2B, R
Gary Sanchez: 1 for 4, 2B, RBI
Angelo Gumbs: 0 for 3, R, BB, SB
Cito Culver: 2 for 3, 2 R, RBI, BB, 2 SB
Rey Nunez: 2 for 4, RBI
Kelvin De Leon: 1 for 4, SB
Will Oliver: 5 IP, 5 H, R, ER, 2 BB, 3 SO
Zach Varce: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO
Phil Wetherell: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

Postgame recap - April 21

Final score: Harrisburg 4, Trenton 1

Synopsis: Shaeffer Hall pitched well for seven innings, allowing three runs on eight hits and walk, but his offense couldn't back him up. Trenton's bats collected just eight hits, and only one extra-base knock.

Bright spots: First baseman Luke Murton had three hits, and Walter Ibarra rapped a double and a single. ... Hall threw 60 of his 87 pitches for strikes ... Kelvin Perez threw another scoreless inning, bumping his streak to 9 1/3 frames. Over that span he's allowed just three hits, walked five and fanned 10. ... The Thunder held Harrisburg's Jeff Kobernus, the EL's leader in hits, runs scored and stolen bases, to an 0-for-4 evening, just his third 0-fer in the last 10 games. ... Francisco Rondon, who has been wild since coming to Trenton, didn't walk a man.

Wet and wild: The forecast for tomorrow's series finale calls for heavy rain, putting the game in serious doubt. If it is played, Mike Ashmore will be covering for me, although I'll be at the ballpark. 

Picks to click: Here is Nick Peruffo's game story from Saturday. 

Flicks to click: Here is the Thunder's highlight package from Saturday

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Postgame Recap - April 20

Final score: Trenton 6, Harrisburg 5

Synopsis: With things tied at 3-3 in the sixth, the Thunder and the Senators traded zeroes for five innings until Harrisburg reached reliever Lee Hyde for two runs. Trenton answered with three in the bottom half, capped by Melky Mesa's sacrifice fly to right field. 

Three, it's a magic number: Three Trenton batters, Abe Almonte, Ronnier Mustelier and Jeff Farnham each had three hits. The Thunder also had three extra-base hits, all three-baggers. Trenton was also 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position and took three extra frames to unlock a 3-3 tie. Walter Ibarra and Addison Maruszak each made their third error of the year. 

Wednesday, Wednesday, gonna get down on Wednesday: It was reported by the Associated Press on Friday (and confirmed this morning) that Andy Pettitte will start on Wednesday against Erie. He'll throw 80-85 pitches in his fourth tune-up

Picks to click: Here are my game story and notes from Friday evening. 

Flicks to click: Here are four videos from Friday's action

Around the system - April 20

Triple-A: Scranton 6, Norfolk 4

Colin Curtis: 1 for 5
Francisco Cervelli: 1 for 4, 2B
Dewayne Wise: 0 for 3, R, BB
Steve Pearce: 3 for 4, 2 2B, 2 R, RBI
Jack Cust: 2 for 4, 3B, RBI, R
Brandon Laird: 1 for 3, RBI, R, BB
Kevin Russo: 2 for 4
Ramiro Pena: 2 for 4, R, RBI
Ramon Ortiz: 7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, BB, 4 SO (79/49)
Pat Venditte: IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 0 SO (19/11)
Juan Cedeno: IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO (11/6)

Double-A: Trenton 6, Harrisburg 5

Abe Almonte: 3 for 6, 3B, R, BB, SB
Ronnier Mustelier: 3 for 7, 3B, R, 2 RBI
Melky Mesa: 0 for 5, R, BB, SF, RBI
Cody Johnson: 0 for 4, 2 BB
Kevin Mahoney: 2 for 4, 3B, R, 2 SB
Addison Maruszak: 1 for 4, R, RBI, 2 BB
Jeff Farnham: 3 for 6, R
Craig Heyer: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 R, BB, 2 SO (98/64)
Preston Claiborne: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO (31/20)
Ryan Flannery: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, 0 SO (26/15)

High-A: Daytona 9, Tampa 2

Eduardo Sosa: 2 for 4, 2B R
Kelvin Castro: 3 for 4, R, SB
Ramon Flores: 1 for 3, SF, RBI
J.R. Murphy: 1 for 4
Kramer Sneed: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, SO -- spot start for Zach Nuding
Aaron Dott: 2.2 IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 SO
Sean Black: 2 IP, 2 H, R, ER, 0 BB, 0 SO

Low-A: Charleston 4, West Virginia 3

Mason Williams: 0 for 3, RBI, BB
Gary Sanchez: 1 for 4, 2B
Tyler Austin: 1 for 4, R
Ben Gamel: 1 for 4, R
Kelvin De Leon: 0 for 1, R, RBI, 2 BB
Rey Nunez: 1 for 3, 2B, R, RBI
Anderson Feliz: 0 for 1, 2 BB
Scottie Allen: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, ER, BB, 3 SO
Fred Lewis: IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, BB, SO
Ben Paullus: 2 IP, 4 H, R, ER, 0 BB, SO

Friday, April 20, 2012

Game 15 - Thunder vs. Harrisburg

Pitching matchup: RHP Robert Gilliam (1-2, 5.82) vs. RHP Craig Heyer (1-1, 1.69)

In the standings: Thunder are 7-7, and 3 games back of both Reading and New Britain in the North. Harrisburg is 10-5, and lead Akron by 0.5 games in the South.


Abe Almonte - RF
Ronnier Mustelier - LF
Melky Mesa - CF
Cody Johnson - DH
Luke Murton - 1B
Kevin Mahoney - 2B
Addison Maruszak - 3B
Jeff Farnham - C
Walter Ibarra - SS
Craig Heyer - RHP

Eury Perez - CF
Jeff Kobernus - 2B
Jesus Valdez - LF
Tim Pahuta - 1B
Destin Hood - DH
Chris Rahl - RF
Sandy Leon - C
Stephen King - 3B
Chris McConnell - SS
Robert Gilliam - RHP

Pregame notes: No word yet as to whether Zoilo Almonte will be placed on the disabled list, but it's a pretty safe bet that he won't be in the lineup today. ... Outfielder Melky Mesa is tied for the organization lead in both home runs (4) and RBIs (11). ... Outfielder Abe Almonte and infielder Walter Ibarra were out early working on push-bunting drills. ... Defensive coordinator Torre Tyson is on the field right now, and I assume pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras is still lurking somewhere around the ballpark. ... Harrisburg's Jeff Kobernus leads the Eastern League with 24 hits.

Update - 5:59: Phew. Spoke to Melky Mesa, Christian Garcia, Tony Franklin and Nardi Contreras during pregame. That's a lot of transcribing to do. Garcia's happy to be back and healthy again, Mesa's sticking to the work he's always done, Contreras won't be seeing Charleston or Tampa in person this year, and Franklin has never seen anything like the rash of injuries his team is currently dealing with.

Oh yeah, and there's this Pettitte fellow. The Associated Press is reporting that Pettitte, who threw 5 innings against Pirates minor leaguers today, will likely make his next start here. That would occur on April 25, a 7:05 contest against Erie.

Neither Franklin nor Contreras would come anywhere near confirming it, but the AP is usually pretty darn credible (see Paterno, Joe).

Zoilo Almonte is indeed on the shelf. Yadil Mujica is here to replace him. That's seven Thunder players on the disabled list, which is absolutely astounding.

Postgame Recap - April 19

Final score: Harrisburg 6, Trenton 2

Synopsis: Josh Romanski got torched in the first inning for four runs on five hits, and that's all she wrote. Romanski was brilliant after that, but the damage was done. Trenton managed just five hits, and got just two men as far as second base over the first six innings. 

Bad break: Outfielder Zoilo Almonte was removed from the game in the fifth inning after tweaking his hamstring on the bases during the bottom of the fourth. At this point, he's day-to-day. Almonte's injury just adds another on the seemingly never-ending pile of pain at Waterfront Park. To wit: 

Player                    Injury
Z. Almonte             Hamstring
D. Brewer              Left pinkie
J. Pirela                 Concussion symptoms
R. Lyerly               R Shoulder stiffness
D. Adams              Neck stiffness
G. Molina              Back stiffness
G. Stoneburner      Groin stiffness

All of the players on the above list are on the disabled list besides Almonte. That's a third of the Thunder's Opening Day lineup on the shelf, and another who is hurting. Not a good thing at all. 

Hello, old chum: More than two years after blowing out his elbow on Opening Day at Waterfront Park, Christian Garcia pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief for the Senators on Thursday night. He hit as high as 95 and looked dynamite. Three of the four outs he recorded were Ks. 

Bright spots: Luke Murton made his home Thunder debut and went 2 for 4, with a double and long home run that would have possibly landed on Route 29 were David Robertson's face not in the way high atop the left-field wall. 

Coincidentally, Murton had spent the last few weeks recovering from a broken right ring finger suffered toward the latter part of spring training and now is in Trenton to replace the injured Rob Lyerly. 

I noticed during one of his at-bats that Murton draws something before every one of his turns at the plate. He said after the game that he draws the cross to remind him that, no matter how taxing and frustrating this game can be, there's always the bigger picture. As the father of a nearly 3-month-old little girl, Murton certainly has a new perspective on life. 

Picks to click: Here are my notes and game story from Thursday's action. 

Flicks to click:  Here are four videos from Thursday.

Around the System - April 19

Triple-A: Scranton 5, Rochester 3

Ray Kruml: 1 for 4, 2 R, 2 SB
Francisco Cervelli: 0 for 3, BB, R, RBI
Dewayne Wise: 1 for 4
Steve Pearce: 1 for 4, HR, 3 RBI
Jack Cust: 1 for 3, BB
Colin Curtis: 2 for 4, R, SB
Doug Bernier: 1 for 3, 2B, RBI
Ramiro Pena: 0 for 2, 2 BB
Adam Warren: 6 IP, 4 H, R, ER, 2 BB, 5 SO (101/61)
Juan Cedeno:  IP, H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, SO (15/10)
Kevin Whelan: IP, H, R, ER, BB, SO (19/12)

Double-A: Harrisburg 6, Thunder 2

Luke Murton: 2 for 4, 2B, HR,
Cody Johnson: 1 for 3, R, BB
Addison Maruszak: 1 for 3
Walter Ibarra: 1 for 3, 2B
Josh Romanski: 7 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, BB, 6 SO (99/64)
Mike Dubee: 2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO (32/23)

High-A: Tampa 5, Daytona 2

Eduardo Sosa: 2 for 3, 2B, 3B, R
Ramon Flores: 1 for 5
Rob Segedin: 1 for 4, R
Kyle Roller: 2 for 4, R
J.R. Murphy: 0 for 3, RBI
Shane Brown: 2 for 4, 2 RBI
Jose Ramirez: 6 IP, 4 H, R, ER, 0 BB, 5 SO
Vidal Nuno: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO
Manny Barreda: IP, H, R, ER, 0 BB, SO

Low-A: Charleston 9, West Virginia 8

Mason Williams: 2 for 4, R, RBI, SB, SF
Angelo Gumbs: 2 for 4, 2B, Grand Slam, 5 RBI, SF
Gary Sanchez: 2 for 4, R, RBI, BB, 3 SB
Tyler Austin: 1 for 4, 2B, R, RBI
Ben Gamel: 1 for 4
Cito Culver: 1 for 4, SB
Casey Stevenson: 2 for 3, 3B, 3 R, SB
Anderson Feliz: 1 for 3, 2 R, BB, SB
Bryan Mitchell: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, SO
Pedro Guerra: 3 IP, 2 H, R, ER, BB, 7 SO