The small sample size giveth and the small sample size taketh away. A player can be struggling mightily early in the season, but a few great games can suddenly make him look like he’s having a big year. That has been the case with Oscar Hernandez the past few years, and the Rays have to hope his recent success is not another small sample size illusion.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 6, Columbus Clippers (CLE) 2
The Bulls lost their starting pitcher for this game as Nate Karns was promoted to the major leagues, but it did not affect them one bit. Doug Mathis made a spot-start and delivered a solid outing, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits. It is not as though Mathis is a stranger to starting–161 of his 173 minor league games entering this season were starts before he moved to relief this year. Jim Patterson followed with an excellent Durham debut, allowing just a hit and a walk in 3 shutout innings. He struck out 2 and got 2 more outs on the ground. Patterson is not a high-upside player, but as a lefty who can get batters from both sides out, he could see time in the Rays bullpen at some point. Juan Sandoval finished the game with 2 shutout innings. He is 33 years old, but with a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 Triple-A innings so far this year, it is not crazy to think that he will fulfill his dream of pitching in the major leagues.
In terms of the hitters, Roman Ali Solis drilled a 2-run homer, Mike Fontenot went 3 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI, and a run scored, and Cole Figueroa had the other 2 RBIs. Kevin Kiermaier also had a nice game, going 1 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored. Kiermaier now has a .294/.344/.447 line through his first 93 plate appearances on the year. He’s hitting for decent power and even stealing bases, now swiping 8 of 9 bags. If Kiermaier keeps this up, it will be impossible for the Rays to keep him in the minor leagues for much longer.
High-A Florida State League: St. Lucie Mets 5, Charlotte Stone Crabs 0
The overall results were pretty bad, but several Stone Crabs did have encouraging games. Jeff Ames started for Charlotte but went just 3.2 innings allowing 5 runs, 2 earned, on 5 hits, striking out 2 while walking 4. Behind him, however, Ryan Garton had quite an outing, going 4.1 no-hit innings allowing just a walk, striking out 1 and forcing 9 groundouts. Garton has just a 10-8 strikeout to walk ratio in 17.2 IP this season, but an abundance of groundballs has helped him to a 2.55 ERA. Finally, Nick Sawyer finished the game in solid fashion, working around a hit and a walk to toss a scoreless 9th, striking out 2. Sawyer had walked 3 batters while striking out just 1 in his previous two outings, and it’s great seeing him show a better handle of his stuff.
Then are hot streaks and then there is Maxx Tissenbaum. Tissenbaum now has an 8-game hitting streak, but his last 5 games have been something special as he has recorded 2 hits in each game. No surprise that Tissenbaum’s average is up to .343 on the year. It’s incredible how well he’s hitting in his first year as a catcher. Tyler Goeddel also went 2 for 4, raising his average to .306 on the year.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 6, Great Lakes Loons (TOR) 4
The season could not have begun much worse for Oscar Hernandez and Ty Young. Hernandez started just 1 for 27 (.037) while Young was only 2 for 33 (.061). However, the past couple of weeks has been an entirely different story for both players, and that was never more clear than on Sunday. Hernandez went 2 for 3 with a pair of solo home runs and a walk, also picking off a runner at first base. Hernandez has become highly regarded defensively, but the question with him has been his bat. Hernandez is going to need to do more than put up a .389/.450/.722 line for a ten-game stretch, but it is nice to see reminding us that the potential is most certainly there. Young, meanwhile, managed just a .217/.310/.321 line in his pro debut at Hudson Valley last year and his rough start had to get him thinking about life after baseball. However, Young’s 2 for 5 day with a double against Great Lakes gave him a .366/.481/.634 line in his last 52 plate appearances and his career may be promising yet.
Aside from the continued resurgences of Hernandez and Young, there were several other players worth talking about in this game. Blake Snell started for Bowling Green and went 6 shutout innings allowing just 5 hits and 2 walks while striking out 3. He also recorded 10 outs on the ground. Snell has a 2.42 ERA in 5 starts in his second go-around in Bowling Green, and it is hard to see him staying there much longer. Then on offense, the Hot Rods had three additional hitters on fire. Granden Goetzman drilled a solo home run, continuing the run that has been going since the start of the season and simply has not stopped. He now has a .337/.373/.567 line in 110 plate appearances to begin 2014, and he has even shown improved plate discipline of late, drawing 3 of his 5 walks on the year in his last 6 games. Pat Blair also homered as part of a 3 for 4 day with a walk, 3 RBI, and a run scored. He now has a .378/.511/.585 line in his last 10 games and a .333/.444/.480 mark on the year. Finally, we have Alfredo Simon, who went 2 for 4 with a run scored and shockingly stole his first two bases of the year. He has not quite been as unstoppable as the others, but that’s saying something given that he has gone 11 for 30 (.367) in his last 10 games. I know you’re thinking it, so let me just say it–basically every hitter in the Bowling Green Hot Rods lineup is hitting out of his mind.