There are so many pitchers at every level of professional baseball who are capable of throwing a no-hitter. The issue is that pinpoint command isn’t always something that starts at the beginning of the game and doesn’t often coincide with luck. Roberto Gomez had everything working on Wednesday night–only it began one inning too late.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 5, Charlotte Knights (CHW) 1
Matt Buschmann pitched well for the 5th time in his 6 Triple-A starts and the Bulls offense scored 4 runs in the final 4 innings to pull away from Charlotte 4-1. When Buschmann entered the Rays organization, he had just a 7.02 ERA in 211.2 innings at the Triple-A level. When he made two starts there last season, he was only moderately better, managing a 5.23 ERA. This season, though, everything is clicking and the Bulls are reaping the rewards. On Wednesday night, Buschmann went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 6 while walking 2 and forcing a 6-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Buschmann lowered his Triple-A ERA to 2.67 in the process, but this was actually Buschmann’s best start yet as he completed 6 innings for the first time. Buschmann has stood out for the amount of strikeouts he has racked up this season, 10.7 per 9 at Triple-A entering his Wednesday start and 9.5 overall on the season, but in this game he both struck out a batter per inning and managed to give the Bulls some length. This season just keeps getting better and better for Matt Buschmann, and among the Bulls starters who is not a top prospect, he may be the most likely to get called up by the Rays this season. Adam Liberatore followed Buschmann with 1.1 innings of 1-hit relief, striking out 2, before Josh Lueke had a crazy relief appearance, recording all five of his outs via the strikeout but allowing a hit and 3 walks in between. The Bulls offense pushed a run across at exactly the right time in this one, with Cole Figueroa finally giving Buschmann the lead and the win in the game with an RBI single in the 6th. Figueroa went 3 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored, Leslie Anderson and Vince Belnome both went 2 for 2 with a double and an RBI (Belnome replaced Anderson after he was hit by a pitch), Brandon Guyer went 2 for 5 with a double and 2 runs scored, and recent acquisition Evan Frey was a catalyst from the leadoff spot, going 1 for 3 with 2 walks and a stolen base. Quite a game for the Bulls as they won their 4th game in their last 5 contests.
Double-A Southern League: Tennessee Smokies (CHC) 3, Montgomery Biscuits 1
Someone was going to have to be promoted from High-A to Double-A when Matt Buschmann and Merrill Kelly were sent up to Triple-A, and that pitcher was Jake Floethe. But that didn’t necessarily mean he was ready and in fact it appeared that he arrived at the level prematurely as he managed just a 5.70 ERA in his first 5 starts. But Floethe’s 6th start was his best yet as he began to show why the Rays had enough faith in him to call him up to Double-A in just his second full pro season. Floethe went 7 innings allowing just 2 runs on 8 hits, striking out 2 while walking none and tossing 63 of his 88 pitches for strikes. Floethe has plenty more work to do adjusting to the level, but he finally showed that he can hold his own and this could be a golden opportunity for him if he starts pitching well. Unfortunately, A.J. Morris out-dueled Floethe in this one, tossing 6 shutout innings, but plenty for Floethe to build confidence from nevertheless. There wasn’t much going on in terms of run support for the Biscuits, but Todd Glaesmann and Riccio Torrez both went 2 for 4, with Glaesmann lacing a double and Torrez driving in the only run. Kevin Kiermaier, who has been on fire of late, exited with a knee injury, but it looks like he’ll be out only 1 to 2 days.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 15, Palm Beach Cardinals 0
This was about as perfect of a game as you’re ever going to see for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, with the offense surging and Roberto Gomez dominating off the mound. The only pity was the 1 hit that Gomez allowed. Gomez’s ERA stood at just 5.72 in his first 74 High-A innings, well over double the 2.48 ERA he put up in 120 Low-A innings last year. This start certainly demonstrated just how Gomez managed to be so good last season and why the Rays always believed that he could begin pitching like that again. Gomez allowed a Danny Stienstra single and an Anthony Garcia walk with 1 out in the 2nd inning. That was basically it as Gomez retired the next 21 batters he faced on his way to his first professional complete game, his first shutout, and a 1-hitter. Gomez went all 9 innings allowing just that 1 hit, striking out 6 while walking 2. Brady Williams, who managed Gomez last year at Low-A and this year with the Stone Crabs, praised Gomez for his command and believed that he is right back in his 2012 groove.
“That is his best performance of his last two years,” manager Brady Williams said. “He had command of all three of his pitches.””How he is pitching, and the location of his pitches, that is how he pitched last year, and it looks like he has found his rythym now,” Williams said.
Gomez is not one of the Rays’ top pitching prospects. He stands out more for his lean frame at 6’5″, 178 than he does for his current stuff. But on Wednesday, his fastball, slider, and changeup all looked great and the result was as close to a no-hitter as he may ever get.
Every pitcher needs run support. But it was extremely impressive how Gomez was able to pitch so well even when the Stone Crabs made him sit for long periods of time on the bench as they scored 14 runs between the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings. Quite a few Stone Crabs had banner days. Jake Hager went 3 for 5 with 5 RBI and 2 runs scored, Ryan Brett went 3 for 5 with a triple, 3 RBI, and 3 runs scored, Richie Shaffer went 3 for 5 with 3 RBI and a run scored, Willie Argo went 4 for 5 with an RBI and 3 runs scored, and Curt Casali and Kes Carter also registered multi-hit games. The Stone Crabs didn’t hit a single home run and just 3 of their 19 hits went for extra bases, but they went 10 for 17 with runners in scoring position and stranded just 7 runners all game. Pair that type of offense with Gomez’s pitches, and the Stone Crabs had a night they will never forget.
Low-A Midwest League Game 1: Bowling Green Hot Rods 2, Dayton Dragons (CIN) 1 (7 innings)
Sean Bierman continues to blow by low minors hitters and Brandon Martin had a critical 2-run single from the 9th spot in the order as the Hot Rods edged the Dragons 2-1. Bierman went 6 innings allowing just 1 run on 3 hits, striking out 5 while walking none. His groundout to flyout ratio was a ridiculous 11-0. In 12 Low-A starts, Bierman has a 2.07 ERA, a 49-14 strikeout to walk ratio and just 4 homers allowed in 61 innings pitched. You never would have thought that Bierman could improve on his 2.75 ERA from Short Season-A last year, but he has done exactly that. He isn’t missing a ton of bats (7.2 K/9) but he’s walking nobody (2.1 BB/9) and forcing a ton of groundballs. He only got 2 runs of support, on Martin’s huge 2-out, 2-run single in the 4th inning set up by a gutsy double-steal by Tyler Goeddel and Justin O’Conner, but Bierman pitched well enough to make it hold up. Marcus Jensen tossed a perfect 7th with a strikeout for the save. Other than Martin, Goeddel went 1 for 2 with a walk, his 16th steal, and the tying run scored, O’Conner went 1 for 3 with his 5th steal and the go-ahead run scored, and Tommy Coyle went 1 for 3 with his 26th steal. With fewer at-bats in a 7-inning game, you have to make your chances count, and the Hot Rods were able to do exactly that in the 4th to find their way to victory.
Game 2: Dayton Dragons 7, Bowling Green Hot Rods 5 (7 innings)
Amid all these great pitching performances, someone was going to have to struggle, and that pitcher was Blake Snell. Snell lasted just 3.1 innings allowing 7 runs on 8 hits, and that was enough to lose the Hot Rods this game. Snell struck out just 4 while walking 3, continuing a season where he has beat himself just as much as any hitter with 41 walks in 57.2 innings pitched even as he has struck out 56. On May 8th, Snell struck out 10 while walking none in 6 innings of work. Since then, his strikeout to walk ratio has been just 22-25 in 32 innings pitched. Hot Rods pitching did rebound the rest of the game to keep it close, with Matthew Spann working around 2 hits to toss 2.2 shutout innings before Nick Sawyer struck out 1 in his perfect 7th. In terms of the offense, Luke Maile had a huge day, going 2 for 4 with a 3-run homer and an RBI single, Patrick Leonard followed up Martin’s heroics from the 9th spot by going 2 for 3 with a solo homer, a double, and 2 runs scored, and Martin himself went 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run scored moving up from 9th all the way to leadoff. It was Snell’s rough outing, though, that made all the difference as the Hot Rods lost.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Aberdeen Ironbirds (BAL) 9, Hudson Valley Renegades 2
It’s been five games since the Renegades last scored more than 2 runs in a game, and to win when they’re scoring so little, they need excellent outings from their pitchers. They didn’t come close to getting that in this one. Chris Kirsch got the start and struggled mightily for the second straight start after dominating in his first two, allowing 6 runs on 10 hits in just 5 innings of work, striking out 2 while walking none as he did so. Eli Echarry has also pitched well, but this game didn’t treat him as kindly as he allowed 2 runs on 4 hits in 3 innings. And in the 9th, corner infielder Darryl George, who did some pitching back in Australia, took the mound for his first career appearance and didn’t get hit around too much, allowing 3 hits and a walk but only 1 run in his inning of work, actually striking out a batter in the process. George is red-hot at the plate right now (.319 BA, .439 OBP) and the Rays aren’t about to convert him to the mound anytime soon. In regards to the position players who actually hit, Oscar Hernandez had a big game, going 2 for 4 with another pickoff of a runner at first base, and Ariel Soriano went 3 for 4. The Renegades went just 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, and that has to change immediately for them to get out of this rut.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Twins 8, GCL Rays 2 (6 innings)
Considering they were matched up against rehabbing big leaguer Nick Blackburn, the GCL Rays’ offense really impressed in this rain-shortened contest. But their prowess with the bats was canceled out by their struggles on the mound as this game quickly got out of hand. Lefty Christopher Crisotomo actually managed a 4-1 strikeout to walk ratio and a 6-1 groundout to flyout ratio, but he made some mistakes and got hit around a little bit, allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 4 hits in 3 innings of work. Roel Ramirez had a tough time behind him, allowing 3 runs on 4 hits in 2 innings, and then there was Jhefferson Hurtado. Hurtado allowed 2 earned runs on not a single hit in the 6th inning thanks to 3 walks, a hit batsman, a wild pitch, a sac fly, and an RBI groundout. Let’s talk about the offense, though, specifically Rays 2013 first rounder Nick Ciuffo, who was making his second career start. Starting at designated hitter, Ciuffo lined a triple off of Blackburn in his first at-bat, quite a feat for a player just starting off, and went 1 for 2 with that triple and a run scored on the day. Second rounder Riley Unroe went 2 for 3 with a stolen base while Taylor Hawkins went 1 for 3 with 2 RBI. The score in this one was lopsided, but the efforts of Ciuffo and Unroe have to make you smile.