Everyone wants to make a good first impression. Some do better than others. No one could possibly do better than Kevin Brandt did in his Hot Rods debut.
Double-A Southern League: Tennessee Smokies (CHC) 9, Montgomery Biscuits 4 (7 innings)
Marquis Fleming had been a fun story afrter going from a reliever forever to tossing 6 innings in consecutive spot-starts including 6 shutout frames his last time out. But most fun stories in baseball come crashing down. Fleming lastedjust 2.1 innings allowing 9 runs, 7 earned, on 8 hits. The Biscuits did get shutout relief from Austin Hubbard and Neil Schenk to prevent the game from getting any more embarrassing than that. On the offensive side, Mikie Mahtook went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored and Todd Glaesmann went 1 for 2 with a hit-by-pitch, an RBI, and a run scored.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 5, Bradenton Marauders 4 (10 innings)
Everyone wants to be that player who steps up to the plate and delivers the game-winning hit. For a pinch-hitter, though, it’s an entirely different story. Unlike a typical hitter, the opportunity is yours not from luck but from your manager’s decision, and that has to give you confidence. But whatever confidence you may have is counteracted by the fact that you didn’t start the game to begin with, and more importantly, that you’re going from warming the bench straight to a high-leverage situation without any time in between. It was clutch enough that Jeff Malm won the game for the Stone Crabs, but doing so as a pinch-hitter raised the degree of difficulty and made it even more special.
The Marauders opened the scoring with lone runs against Felipe Rivero in the 1st and 4th, but he managed to keep it together and deliver a solid outing. He went 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 6 hits, striking out 5 while walking 3 and forcing 8 groundouts against 2 flyouts. The Stone Crabs made sure he wouldn’t take the loss in the bottom of the 5th, scoring on a Willie Argo sac fly and a Jake Hager RBI double to tie the game at 2. Bradenton went back ahead against Matt Ramsey in the 6th, but Drew Vettleson drilled a 2-out, 2-run double in the 7th to put Charlotte ahead 4-3. However, the back-and-forth affair continued as a Taylor Lewis RBI triple knotted the game at 4 and sent it into extra innings. In the 10th inning, though, Jeff Malm finally took the game to its conclusion, lacing a 1-out RBI single to give the Stone Crabs a walk-off win. The game paralleled Malm’s up-and-down season quite well, with every home run seemingly matched by a couple of games where he looked lost, but hopefully his game-winning hit can be a harbinger of things to come. Alejandro Segovia also went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk and Richie Shaffer went 2 for 5 in the victory.
Low-A Midwest League: Lake County Captains (CLE) 3, Bowling Green Hot Rods 2
It was completely inexcusable that the Captains lost this game. But let’s not get so caught up in the team lost that we undermine the efforts of Kevin Brandt. Brandt has had a wild season. He was supposed to start the season at Short Season-A Hudson Valley, but injuries forced him all the way up to High-A Charlotte and he battled to do a decent job, managing a 4.15 ERA in 6 appearances and 13 innings pitched. With his confidence from that stint as feather in his cap, Brandt did indeed head to Hudson Valley and pitched very well, going 4-3 wtiha 2.00 ERA and a 45-11 strikeout to walk ratio in 10 appearances, 5 starts, and 45 innings pitched. That was enough for Brandt to receive a promotion of his own volition to Low-A Bowling Green on Monday. And when his opportunity came, he sure made it count. Brandt went 6 no-hit innings allowing just a walk while striking out 3. His groundout to flyout ratio with an incredible 12-2, utilizing excellent fastball command to keep hitters off-balance all game. He departed with the Hot Rods ahead 2-0 after RBI singles by Tommy Coyle and Justin O’Conner in the 4th and 6th. Andrew Hanse followed with a perfect 7th to keep the no-hitter going before alllowing a 1-out single in the 8th. Nevertheless, Hanse pitched incredibly as well, going 2 innings allowing only that hit and striking out 4. The 9th inning, however, was a different story.. Marcus Jensen has put together an incredible season for the Hot Rods, entering August 5th with a 2.20 ERA and a 58-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 65.1 innings pitched. Jensen had struggled, though, in his previous three appearances entering Monday, allowing 3 runs on 4 hits in 5 innings pitched, striking out 4 and walking 4, and this game was officially rock bottom. Attempting to nail down the save in the 9th, Jensen managed to record just 1 out, allowing three straight hits to begin the inning and a Jeremy Lucas walk-off double to end it as the Captains won 3-2. These are the losses that hurt the most. But for Brandt, he can rest assured that while his team failed to seal the deal, he did as well as he possibly could have hoped in his Hot Rods debut.
Rookie Gulf Coast League: GCL Red Sox 3, GCL Rays 2 (7 innings)
Regarding this game and the Montgomery game, there were supposed to be doubleheaders, but the Montgomery game went too late and rain prevented the second GCL game from starting up. In the Montgomery game, playing only 7 innings with a nice repeive as they were getting blown out. In this one, you have to wonder whether the GCL Rays could have come back with two more innings to work with. Wilking Rodriguez began the game with a rehab start for the Rookie Rays and worked around 2 hits to force a scoreless innings, striking out 1. If you forgot Rodriguez, he was a solid pitching prospect with a fastball touching the mid-90’s and a good slider, but he has fallen off the grid with shoulder surgery, appearing in just 9 games the last two years and 20 the last three. However, if his stuff is still what it was, look for him to head to the bullpen and quite possibly expedite his development in he stays on the mound.
Back to the game. Freddy Alvarez followed with the next 4 innings and pitched well, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits, striking out 6 while walking none and forcing a 4-0 groundout to flyout ratio. Yomelbin Almonte didn’t do that bad in the last 2 innings either, allowing 1 run in 2 innings of work, but that 1 run was enough to make the GCL Rays’ 7th inning comeback fall short. On the offensive side, Taylor Motter went 3 for 3 with 2 doubles in a rehab appearance, Ryan Henley went 1 for 3 with a run scored, and Riley Unroe went 0 for 2 but walked twice and scored a run. Unroe isn’t hitting for any power, managing a .244 average but just a .317 slugging percentage, but his plate discipline has been outstanding as he has managed a 34-24 strikeout to walk ratio, and that bodes extremely well for him moving forward.