Every minor league baseball player lives for “the hug.” Your manager comes up to you and tells you one of two things: you have either been called up or traded. Either way, you hug your manager and the rest of your teammates and look forward to seeing what future awaits you. It has to make you feel quite special. But two hugs in one game? That’s exactly what happened in the Durham-Toledo game on Tuesday, and like it or not it overshadowed a nice contest.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 6, Toledo Mud Hens (DET) 2
In the 7th inning, Ryan Roberts was pinch-hit for by Mike Fontenot out of the blue. Gustavo Nunez replaced Avisail Garcia defensively an inning later. What was happening? At this point, at least three-quarters of the picture are clear. Garcia was traded from the Tigers to the Chicago White Sox as part of the 3-team deal that landed Jake Peavy in Boston and Jose Iglesias in a Tigers uniform. And we know that Roberts was pulled from the game because he may be called up tomorrow. But what in the world is going on that is causing the Rays to call up Roberts? Is there another trade coming? The question will continue to abound until 4:00 PM tomorrow and who knows what is happening. This commotion at the Triple-A game certainly went beyond the minor leagues and could have a major impact in the big leagues in the coming days and weeks.
And now back to the baseball that was played on the field. This game might have been the headline anyway because it pitted Merrill Kelly against former Rays second round pick Kyle Lobstein. Lobstein was selected by the Tigers in the Rule 5 Draft this season before the Tigers traded the Rays Curt Casali so they could keep him in the organization in the minor leagues (more on Casali in the Montgomery game). Lobstein has had a nice season but had a night to forget against his former organization, allowing 5 runs, 3 earned, in 6 innings. Kelly, meanwhile, battled to earn the victory for the Bulls. Kelly went 5 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, walking 3 without striking out a batter. His outing was hanging on pins and needles, but he kept it together and the Bulls bullpen did the rest. Steve Geltz struck out 1 in 2 perfect innings and Jeff Beliveau struck out 2 in his perfect 8th. On the offensive side, Shelley Duncan had his first big game in way too long, going 2 for 4 with a homer, a walk, and 3 runs scored, and Kevin Kiermaier went 2 for 4 with a double. This was an exhilarating game, and while most of that exhilaration had nothing to do with the game itself, it’s always fun to have something to talk about.
Double-A Southern League: Mississippi Braves 7, Montgomery Biscuits 4
We all hate those games that can effectively be summarized as “The starting pitcher had a disaster outing and his team lost.” This was one of those. Mike Colla allowed 7 runs in 6 innings and the Biscuits failed to compensate. If there is someone else worth mentioning, though, it’s Curt Casali. Casali had a huge game, going 3 for 3 with a double, a walk, 2 RBI, and a run scored. During his time in Montgomery, Casali is hitting .500. And we’re not talking one game or two but five–certainly a small sample but nothing to scoff at. This Casali for Lobstein trade may work out yet.
High-A Florida State League: Lakeland Flying Tigers 8, Charlotte Stone Crabs 4
The only thing worse than a starter collapsing is having the guy behind him be just as bad. Roberto Gomez allowed 4 runs in 4 innings and Shay Crawford allowed 3 more runs in 2 frames. Ouch. At least we have something to talk about with the Charlotte offense. Drew Vettleson went 2 for 5 with a double and a run scored, Jake Hager went 2 for 4 with a triple, and Willie Argo and Jake DePew also had multi-hit games. Vettleson is doing nothing flashy but really has put up solid numbers all season, managing a .281/.331/.401 line in 96 games.
Low-A Midwest League: Dayton Dragons (CIN) 6, Bowling Green Hot Rods 2
After I wrote embarrassingly little about the last two games, surprisingly this one was much more exciting. Blake Snell has been on and off this season for the Hot Rods, but this was one of his good days as he went 6 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 7 while walking 2 and forcing a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. He went neck-and-neck with Reds 2012 first rounder Nick Travieso, who allowed 1 run in 5.2 innings. Snell lowered his ERA to 3.94 and you have to hope that the symbolic gesture of him breaking “the 4.00 barrier” (not that anyone has ever called it that) finally gets him to stop teetering the line between inconsistency and relevancy and pitch the way he’s capable of. Unfortunately, Nick Sawyer had a meltdown behind him, allowing 5 runs, 4 earned, in two-thirds of an inning. At the plate for the Hot Rods, Joey Rickard went 2 for 3 with a triple, a walk, his 20th steal, and an RBI, Andrew Toles went 3 for 5 with a triple and a run scored, and Leonardo Reginatto and Tyler Goeddel had two hits as well.Rickard has quietly had himself an outstanding season, managing a .273/.406/.424 line in 97 games, and he has somehow pulled off a .313 average with 12 walks against just 6 strikeouts in his last 10 games.
Short Season-A New York-Penn League: Hudson Valley Renegades 4, Vermont Lake Monsters (OAK) 2
Boy, have the Hudson Valley Renegades been waiting for a lift the past few games. Aaron Griffin gave them exactly that on Tuesday. Griffin went 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 4 hits, striking out 6 while walking none. The polished college righty has dominated Short Season-A hitters, managing a 2.66 ERA and a 34-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 47.1 innings pitched, and he might be a nice piece of reinforcements for the Hot Rods down the stretch if the Rays so choose. Derek Loera worked around 2 hits to pitch shutout ball in the final 3 innings for the save. In terms of the run support, Ariel Soriano went 1 for 3 with a 2-run single and a walk, Ty Young went 2 for 4 with a run scored, and Granden Goetzman went 1 for 3 with a double, his 11th steal, and a run scored. Big all-around game for the Renegades as they broke their recent tough stretch.
Advanced Rookie Appalachian League: Princeton Rays 8, Johnson City Cardinals 7
This game was wild, and by wild I mean the Princeton bullpen came dangerously close to letting what could have been a blowout win slip away. At least there was plenty to happy about if we keep our focus on the starting pitching and offense. The Rays’ 4th round pick in last year’s draft, Nolan Gannon, had a very promising start, allowing 1 run on 3 hits in 5 innings, striking out 3 while walking 1 and forcing a 7-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Gannon’s ERA is just 4.88 in his 7 starts and 31.1 innings pitched, but his strikeout to walk ratio is an outstanding 25-6. He certainly has a long way to go before establishing himself as a real pitching prospect for the Rays, but he’s starting to move in the right direction. The P-Rays bullpen “conspired” to make Gannon lose this game, but luckily Princeton scored a run in the top of the 9th to make sure Gannon got the win. You score 7 runs and you need an 8th in the 9th to win? Wow. In any event, Bralin Jackson had 2 RBI and 2 runs scored, Spencer Edwards went 2 for 5 with a double, an RBI, and 3 runs scored, and Enmanuel Paulino went 2 for 5 with a double to help net the P-Rays those 8 runs.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Rays 3, GCL Red Sox 1
This game was a lot of fun, especially for the GCL Rays pitching staff. A different pitcher tossed each third of the game for the Rookie Rays, and each left with something to be proud about. Grayson Garvin made a rehab starting and looked about as good as he has in a long time, working around 2 hits to toss 3 shutout innings, striking out 2. Jose Castillo followed with 3 innings allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 4 while walking none and getting four of his other five outs on the ground. And Jose Mujica finished the game with 3 shutout innings, allowing just a hit while striking out 2 and forcing a 5-1 groundout to flyout ratio. Great to see the former supplemental rounder Garvin progressing and Casillo and Mujica showing what they’re capable of. In terms of the offense, Kean Wong went 3 for 5 with an RBI and a run scored, Alexander Simon went 2 for 3 with a double, a walk, and an RBI, and Riley Unroe went 2 for 4 with a walk and a run scored. Unroe, the Rays’ second rounder this year, has hit just .220 to begin his pro career, but 17 walks to go along with his 20 hits have led to a .355 OBP. With Unroe’s approach at the plate looking good, it was only a matter of time before the hits began to fall, and hopefully this game can be the start of that.