We’ve all seen that screen on our computer “Error 414.” Well, on the night that Rays ace lefty David Price threw his third complete game in four starts, 414 was the number to talk about for three highly-touted lefties in the Rays organization hoping that a Price-esque future is in store. After their starts on Wednesday, Blake Snell‘s ERA stands at 4.14, Mike Montgomery‘s is at 4.15, and Felipe Rivero‘s is at 4.13. And now they have to ask themselves a question: is this error page in which they have ended up because of their inconsistency simply a mistyped website address that can be rectified quickly or a sign that their destination won’t be nearly as promising as they believed it would be? Snell, Montgomery, and Rivero stand at crossroads in their career and in Wednesday’s games, their paths diverged.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 3, Gwinnett Braves 1
Of the trio, it was Montgomery who pitched the best, showcasing the type of talent that once ranked him among the top prospects in baseball and makes you wonder whether he could return to that caliber of pitcher. Montgomery started for the Bulls and went 5.2 shutout innings allowing just 3 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. It was Montgomery’s fourth straight start in which he failed to complete 6 innings as he labored quite a bit, throwing 103 pitches in his 5.2 frames. But as the season has continued, it has become increasingly clear that he has plenty of talent left. His 4.15 ERA and nearly identical 4.18 FIP remain middling, but they’re a vast improvement over his struggles the last two years in the Royals organization (5.69 ERA, 4.78 FIP) and it seems like Montgomery is finally heading in the right direction. Montgomery outdueled the Braves’ rehabbing right-hander Brandon Beachy, who allowed 2 runs, 1 earned, in his 6 innings of work. Ramon Ramirez did allow a run in 1.1 relief innings, but Josh Lueke was lights out to close out the game, tossing 2 perfect innings with 3 strikeouts to lower his ERA to 0.60, coincidentally the same mark that Fernando Rodney managed in his record-setting 2012. You have to wonder how long it will be before the Rays give Lueke another major league chance.
In terms of the offense, it was basically just Brandon Guyer and Cole Figueroa–they went 4 for 6 while the rest of the Bulls went 0 for 21. But thanks to an error, Guyer’s RBI single, and a balk, they managed to scrape 3 runs across with just those 4 hits and a bunch of walks. Guyer didn’t score a run, but he certainly made his best effort to, swiping three bases to bring his total to 22 on the year against just three caught stealings. We’re still waiting for Guyer the hitter to come all the way back after his shoulder surgery as he’s still not hitting for power, but Guyer is stealing bases with impunity and doing everything he can to help the Bulls win. Great to see Montgomery and Guyer impressing as the Bulls found a way to win.
High-A Florida State League: Dunedin Blue Jays 8, Charlotte Stone Crabs 5
Call it Hellickson’s conundrum–you have a talented pitcher who pitched extremely well the first several innings but then hits a rough patch and allows a few runs. However, he gets through it and you decide to send him out for another inning. Then, though, he begins to struggle again. What do you do? Do you take him out, telling him that you don’t believe in him? Do you leave him in and hope for the best, risking what should have been a relatively easy win in the process? We saw with Jeremy Hellickson how annoying that quandary can be for the manager of the pitcher. In the case of Felipe Rivero in Wednesday’s game, Stone Crabs manager Brady Williams’s choice proved to be incorrect (not that he deserves blame for making a perfectly valid decision), and not only was Rivero’s confidence blown but the game was lost as well.
Over the course of the first 5 innings, Rivero certainly wasn’t dominant but was pitching very well, allowing just 1 run as he gave up just 3 hits and a hit batsman. The run came on an extremely fluky series of events, with Peter Mooney getting hit by a pitch and subsequently advancing to second on a wild ptich and third on a passed ball before scoring on a K.C. Hobson sac fly. But it was in the 6th inning that Rivero began to show signs of coming apart. Rivero walked Mooney for his first walk of the game and his frustration only grew when a Richie Shaffer error gave the Blue Jays two runners on with one out. Rivero lost focus and the results were disastrous as Hobson drilled a 3-run home run to give Dunedin a 4-2 lead. But then Rivero appeared to get right back on track, getting Marcus Knecht to ground out and Gustavo Pierre to fly out to end the inning, and Williams decided to send him back out for the 7th inning. Rivero immediately got right back into trouble, allowing a walk and a single before a sac bunt moved the runners up and an intentional walk loaded the bases. Even then, though, Williams’ faith was not shaken–Rivero had forced 10 groundouts to that point in the game, and Williams hoped he could force a double play groundball to escape the jam. Instead, Shane Opitz drilled a 2-run double and Hobson later laced a 2-run single off Matt Ramsey, and suddenly Dunedin was ahead 8-2. The Stone Crabs’ 3-run rally in the bottom of the inning went to waste as they lost 8-5. Rivero wound up going 6.1 innings allowing 8 runs, 7 earned, on 6 hits, striking out 1 while walking 3. His ERA went up from 3.71 to 4.13 in the process as what looked like it had a chance to be a turning point exploded before anyone knew what hit them.
On the offensive side, Ryan Brett had another big game for the Stone Crabs, going 2 for 4 with 2 stolen bases, an RBI, and a run scored. Brett is not only hitting .346 but has stolen 21 bases in just 45 games while getting caught just 6 times. Kes Carter also went 2 for 4 with a double, 2 runs scored, and an outfield assist, but the most interesting player of the game award goes to Jonathan Quinonez, who got called up from Short Season-A Hudson Valley all the way to the Stone Crabs and went 1 for 4 with a 2-run single. Quinonez hit .337 for the Renegades, and while we’ll have to see how long his stay in High-A last, it will be a major test for him to see whether his hot start can last at higher levels.
Low-A Midwest League: Great Lakes Loons (LAD) 5, Bowling Green Hot Rods 1
Blake Snell’s ERA now stands at 4.14 on the nose. And as encapsulated so perfectly by what we talked about above, evaluators have no idea what to make of him anymore. His start against Great Lakes saw him struggle through another inconsistent outing, going 5 innings allowing 4 runs on 7 hits, striking out 6 while walking 4. He did manage a 6-1 groundout to flyout ratio just to tantalize us. Rivero can definitely give him a run for his money, but it’s hard to argue that Snell is the most polarizing top pitching prospect in the Rays system right now. Snell has had a few games when he has been entirely unhittable, striking out 10 while walking none in one game and 9 without a walk in another, and on the season he has struck out 69 batters in 74 innings while forcing an impressive 2.11 groundout to airout ratio. But he has also walked 52 batters, a scary 6.3 per 9 innings, and you have to wonder whether he’s a case of a pitcher with great stuff simply showing lapses or a pitcher who should be a pitch-to-contact guy trying to do too much. The scouting report on Snell entering the season is that he’s a future number three or number four starter. Do you look at his stats and see a pitcher with the potential to be more or exactly what we thought before and maybe worse?
Snell wasn’t the only player to take the field for the Hot Rods, and some of the other guys deserve a mention as well. Jose Alberto Molina went the final 3 innings allowing just 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 1 and forcing a 5-0 groundout to flyout ratio. And on the hitting side, Tommy Coyle went 2 for 4 with his 31st steal and Justin O’Conner went 2 for 4 with a double and also picked a runner off first base. For the first time in his career, O’Conner is finally putting up respectable numbers, managing a .251/.309/.396 line with 13 doubles and 9 home runs, and you have to hope that he’s making real progress.