The Undercards: Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
Realizing that “Minor League Recap” is far too generic, we’ll call this feature “The Undercards” from now on- even though we’re passionate about the Rays’ prospects, they will always be just undercards to the prizefights that are the Rays’ major league games. In any event, let’s recap what happened last night to the Rays’ minor league affiliates and see if anything remotely as interesting as the Rays’ thrilling comeback win over the Tigers occurred.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 5, Charlotte Knights (CHW) 4
Whether they come at the start of a game or at the end, runs are runs. While the Rays broke through with a big 4-run 9th against Justin Verlander at the Tigers, the Durham Bulls got their work in early verus Knights starter Charles Shirek. Before that, something extremely strange happened in the top of the 1st for Charlotte: six consecutive ex-big leaguers came to the plate, and you have definitely heard of at least three of them. Ex-Yankee Greg Golson led off the game versus the enigma that is Alex Torres before ex-Red, ex-Blue Jay, and former Rays farmhand Ray Olmedo followed in suit. Ex-Angels phenom Dallas McPherson (now 31, wow), followed with an RBI single to give Charlotte a 1-0 lead. Then ex-Diamondback, ex-Oakland A, and ex-Red Sox Connor Jackson stuck out before our old friend Dan Johnson was hit by a pitch. The final ex-big leaguer and the least known, catcher Hector Gimenez, grounded into a double play to end the inning. Six batters, six big leaguers, one run. How would the Bulls answer? I already gave away the answer: quite well.
Against Shirek, the Bulls got consecutive singles from Will Rhymes, Tim Beckham, and Brandon Guyer to begin the game before Matt Mangini doubled in two runs, Leslie Anderson singled in a third run, and a Jeff Salazar GIDP plated run number four. But that double play was the start of something for Shirek as he allowed just 2 hits and a walk the rest of his outing as he went 6 innings, allowing 4 runs, all in the first inning, on 7 hits. Torres, meanwhile, gave two runs back in the 4th on a Gimenez RBI double and a Jordan Danks (brother of White Sox starter John Danks) sac fly to let the Knights pull within 4-3. Torres, as usual, befuddled everybody with his outing, including himself, going 5 innings and allowing just 2 hits while striking out 6, but somehow allowing 3 runs as he walked 4. Just 52 of his 96 pitches were strikes. Torres would be the winner in the game, but inconsistent performances will not help him return to the big leagues. The Bulls added a 5th run on a Golson error before “Mr. Clutch” Dan Johnson came up with an RBI double off the rehabbing Brandon Gomes that gave the Knights 2nd and 3rd, 2 outs with the tying runs on base in the 8th inning, but Gomes struck out Gimenez before working a scoreless 9th for the save as the Bulls won 5-4. Tim Beckham had a nice day for the Bulls, going 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored. Torres and the Bulls made it close, but they came away with a win.
Double-A Southern League: Mississippi Braves 8, Montgomery Biscuits 2
For the second straight day, the Biscuits are the outlier in the Rays organization (and are in sharp contrast to this post’s title). This time, that happens to be a bad thing. Another conundrum started for the Biscuits, Alex Colome, and he lasted just 3+ innings, striking out 5 but allowing 3 hits and 2 walks as he allowed 3 runs, 2 ER. He was replaced by Merril Kelly, who completely fell apart, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits while recording just one out. The Braves’ 6-run 4th was the difference as they plastered the Biscuits 8-2. Cole Figueroa was one of the few Biscuits who had a solid game, going 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base, and Isaias Velasquez went 1 for 4 with a double and a run scored. Hak-Ju Lee went 0 for 4 for Montgomery from the top of the lineup.
High-A Florida State League: St. Lucie Mets 6, Charlotte Stone Crabs 4
Grayson Garvin has faced his detractors. Why did the Rays take a player like him with the 59th overall pick in the 2011 Draft? In his first professional start, he allowed 3 runs in just 3 innings, striking out 4 but walking 5. Garvin entered his start Wednesday with a chip on his shoulder. And once again, he failed to dominate, allowing 6 hits in 5 innings. But he refused to collapse, holding the Mets to just 2 runs, 1 ER, striking out 2 while walking none and also picking off a batter. Unfortunately, the bullpen and his defense collapsed behind him, with Eliazer Suero allowing 3 runs, 2 ER, in just a third of an inning in the 6th, as the Stone Crabs lost 6-4. Mikie Mahtook went 2 for 4 for Charlotte, but made an error that led to Garvin’s unearned run when coupled with an error on a pickoff by catcher Luke Bailey. Bailey had a night to forget, going 0 for 4 with 3 errors defensively at catcher. Bailey also threw out two runners attempting to steals out of three who tried, but that was overshadowed by his errors. Reliever Nate Garcia also made an error that led to a run, although he did go 2.2 innings allowing just that 1 run. The headliner in the Stone Crabs was B.J. Upton in a rehab game, who went 0 for 2 with a strikeout and a walk before being replaced by Cody Rogers in the 6th. Other notable players for the Stone Crabs were Ty Morrison (2 for 5, outfield assist), Riccio Torrez and Robby Price (each went 2 for 4, Torrez also scored twice while Price was caught stealing), Derek Dietrich (1 for 3, run scored), and Phil Wunderlich and Hector Guevara (each 1 for 4, Wunderlich drove in 1 while Guevara drove in 2). Unfortunately, only Garvin really played Rays baseball on this particular evening for the Stone Crabs as the defense and bullpen completely came apart. Hopefully the Stone Crabs can get their fundamentals right and get back to winning baseball.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 9, West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 4
The Bowling Green Hot Rods hitters had themselves quite an afternoon. They bombarded the Whitecaps for 18 hits, 6 doubles, and 9 runs, and four Hot Rods had 3-hit days and seven had multiple hits. It started at the top of the lineup with the dynamic duo of Ryan Brett and Drew Vettleson each going 3 for 6 with a run scored. Brett also had an RBI double while Vettleson stole a base. Todd Glaesmann had a huge day, going 3 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI, and 3 run scored, and Matt Rice went 3 for 4 with a double and 2 RBI as well. The trio of Jeff Malm, Taylor Motter, and the highly-touted Tyler Goeddel went “just” 2 for 5 and a run scored each, with Malm doubling twice and driving in 2, Motter swiping a base and driving in a run, and Goeddel doubling and driving in a run as well. Kes Carter and Jake Hager were the only Hot Rods without hits (and without multiple hits), but Carter walked twice and Hager walked once, so everyone reached base. Believe it or not, the Hot Rods also had some pitching in this game, with starter Jake Floethe impressing once again, going 5 innings and allowing 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 2 while walking none. He forced 11 groundouts compared to just 2 flyouts with his dynamic sinker, and he’s another guy we need to talk about. The Hot Rods were at their absolute best on Wednesday, and with the talented roster they have, hopefully it’s just the start.
In baseball, pitching is critical. When your starting pitchers throw well on the mound, you should win a lot of games. But what’s important as that they stay composed when they go through struggles, continually keeping their team in games even when the hitters aren’t hitting. We saw in yesterday’s major league game how a seemingly insurmountable deficit versus Justin Verlander ended up being overcome because James Shields refused to give in. Yesterday, the Rays’ minor league affiliates went just 2-2. Just half of their 4 starting pitchers kept themselves together even in the face of adversity, and ironically, the two pitchers who did, Grayson Garvin and Jake Floethe, went a combined 1-1. Granted, there’s a reason these starting pitchers are in the minor leagues at their various levels. But we hope to see Rays pitchers at every level deliver the type of gutsy performances teams need to win games that don’t turn out so perfectly at the start. As we saw with last night’s most talented Rays starters in terms of stuff, Alex Torres and Alex Colome, it’s not just your repertoire of pitches. It’s how you use them, especially when maybe you don’t have your best fastball or don’t have your topflight breaking ball. Hopefully in coming days at every level of the Rays organization we will see not just dominance but toughness as they lead their teams to victory.