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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Postgame notes - May 30

Final score: Trenton 5, Erie 4 - 12 innings

Synopsis: After a largely dormant eight innings, Trenton's offense erupted for three runs in the ninth to tie the score and send the game into extras. Francisco Rondon took over from there. After wiggling out of a big jam in the ninth, Rondon retired all nine hitters he faced -- including four strikeouts -- from the tenth inning on. The Thunder won it on Slade Heathcott's bases-loaded dribbler through the right side with two down in the twelfth. 

What went right: Hard to choose who had the better evening between Rondon and Heathcott, but I'll go with the lefty reliever who last week found himself cast off the 40-man roster. To say Rondon had been erratic this year would be an understatement. He had been downright painful to watch. Any time he came in, you could easily expect a very long inning to follow. 

The ninth inning on Thursday was no exception. He held the SeaWolves off the board, but only after allowing a walk and two hits. When the game went past regulation, however, Rondon started pounding the strike zone like never before, and the results were striking. 

“He got a little more aggressive after his first inning, that’s for sure,” Thunder manager Tony Franklin said. “Once he got going, man, he got going pretty good.”

I was stunned last week when he passed through waivers unclaimed. Sure, his stats are ugly, but he's a left-hander with a good, lively fastball and an above-average change-up and slider. And he's always been murder on lefties.

This year, even while sporting an ERA of 6.69 and a WHIP of 1.69, he's held lefties to a .208/.269/.292 line. Over the last two seasons with Trenton, he's limited them to six extra-base hits in 129 at-bats. Why wouldn't a team take a chance on that?

But nobody did, so the Yankees took him back and outrighted him back to Trenton. Because a player can have no contact with his former team while in DFA limbo -- if the move comes while the team is on the road, as it did for Rondon, the player can't even stay in the same hotel room with his teammates  -- Rondon had time to kill before being re-inserted into the fold. 

Fortunately for him, the Thunder were in  Bowie, meaning it was only a (relatively) short ride to Manhattan, where his parents live. He stayed with them for a couple of days, and found time to reflect on what the recent events meant for his career. 

"To pitch in the big leagues," he surmised,  "you don't need to obviously be on the roster. You've just got to go out there and try to pitch the best you can."

If he can build on those final three innings on Thursday, Rondon will find himself back on the 40-man roster and in the Bronx before he knows it. 

Whereas Rondon's outing was the first glimpse at his true talent in a long while, Heathcott's big night was the continuation of a scalding stretch of turning his plethora of tools into positive, tangible results. 

The Thunder's center fielder carded the first four-hit night of his pro career (save for one game in the Arizona Fall League, which doesn't count toward your official stats) and in doing so upped his batting average to .246, 55 points better than his mark at the end of April. 

Things got so bad for Heathcott, in fact, that when asked what kinds of pitches were giving him trouble in the early going, he said: "No. I swung and missed at everything. Maybe a baseball, that pitch."

And although he's still tweaking his stance and mechanics at the plate -- he said after Wednesday's game that he felt he'd had 10 different swings over the last week -- he finally is moving toward something resembling consistency. With that consistency have come results. 

Over the last 10 games, his .318 batting average and 14 total hits are the best on the team. Like Tyler Austin on Wednesday, Heathcott credited an improved ability to see the ball as a reason for his recent upswing. 

“I’m just trying to make it simple, making the approach a lot more simple at home plate,” he said. “Just see the ball and hit it.”

He's done so well recently that Mark Teixeira, with the Thunder for the last two games on a rehab assignment, took notice. The Yankees' $180 million man picked out Heathcott when asked at Thursday's postgame press junket about any future Bombers who stood out to him. 

“Slade Heathcott has a lot of tools,” Teixeira said. “That ball that he hit (Wednesday) was impressive, an opposite-field line drive. He probably hit that ball 400 feet. He impressed me.”

Farewell, Pinstripers: Speaking of Teixeira, he and fellow Yankee Kevin Youkilis finished their rehab assignment on Thursday night. With a hit apiece -- Youkilis drove in the Thunder's first run -- the duo finished their trip to Trenton 2 for 10 with two walks, a run scored and an RBI. They'll be activated by New York on Friday barring any weird slip-ups. 

Trenton drew a combined 15,120 fans between Wednesday and Thursday, and the Thunder players got meals from Mastori's Italian restaurant (Wednesday) and Outback Steakhouse, so it was a win-win for everybody involved. 

Odds and Ends: With six innings of two-run ball, Mikey O'Brien once again put his team in a position to win. The Thunder have won all of his five starts since his return from the Florida State League in early May. He battled command issues early, but recovered to retire 10 of the last 11 he faced. He didn't allow hit after Daniel Fields doubled to lead off the third.

Things could have been worse for O'Brien, however, were it not for a stellar play from shortstop Ali Castillo in the third. After Fields had doubled and taken third on a fly ball to right, Wade Gaynor hit a hard grounder toward Castillo, who was playing in. 

The shortstop picked the ball cleanly and made a perfect throw home to J.R. Murphy, who applied the tag to Fields just in time. That took Erie out of a rally and helped keep the Thunder's deficit manageable until the ninth. 

Reliever Aaron Dott wasn't as lucky. With runners at second and third in the eighth, Dott was asked to issue an intentional walk to McCann to reset the double-play possibility. That didn't work out so well. After a near-disaster on his first pitch, Dott's second pitch went to the screen and allowed Erie its third run.

Franklin had seen enough and removed Dott before he had a chance to finish the walk. McCann eventually reached Graham Stoneburner for a sac fly to right that brought home the SeaWolves' final score. 

So, what did Franklin tell Dott on the mound when he removed in the middle of the free pass?

"I tried to make a joke, and he wasn't too happy about it. I wouldn't be either."

NOTES: Third baseman Rob Segedin opted for surgery to repair his ailing hips. He's out for the season, but was weighing the options of surgery or a lengthy rehab process. 

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

Flick to click: Because most of my footage was through the press box window, I'm going to embed the Thunder's highlight reel instead. 


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