The Undercards: Minor League Opening Day and Joey Rickard, Hot Rods Come Out Swinging
By David Hill
There is nothing quite like Opening Day. Regardless of what level or sport that one plays, the first time that the games mean something always has a special feeling. Last night, three of the Tampa Bay Rays minor league affiliates were scheduled to kick off their season, as the Durham Bulls, Montgomery Biscuits and the Bowling Green Hot Rods were slated to take the field for the first time in 2013.
Triple-A international League: Durham Bulls v Norfolk Tides (BAL)- postponed, rain
The Durham Bulls will have to wait one more night for their Opening Day, as the game was postponed due to rain. Tonight’s game at 7:05 will mark the first game of the season, while Thursday night’s game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Saturday.
Double-A Southern League: Birmingham Barons (CHW) 5, Montgomery Biscuits 2
When one is a 29 year old pitcher who has yet to have sustained success above the AA level, it may be important to have a quick start to the season to attempt to get to the next level. For three innings, Matt Buschmann had managed to keep Birmingham scoreless, even though a runner was thrown out at home in the first inning. However, everything fell apart in the fourth. Trayce Thompson led off the inning with a home run to put the Barons ahead, and, four batters later, Tyler Saladino drilled a grand slam. Buschmann bounced back to record two quick outs, but was pulled after walking Keenyn Walker. The Biscuits scored twice in the bottom of the fifth on the strength of RBI singles from Kevin Kiermaier and Shawn O’Malley, cutting into the Birmingham lead. However, although Merrill Kelly (3.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 3 K) and Braulio Lara (2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 1 K) held the Barons to one hit for the rest of the game, the damage had already been done as Birmingham gained the victory. Buschmann took the loss, giving up five earned runs on seven hits and 4 walks over 3.2 innings, while recording only one strikeout. Buschmann looked strong at times for the Rays this spring, but his control was off in this one as just 46 of his 81 pitches were strikes and he paid the price. On the positive side, Kelly and Lara were excellent and 7 of the 9 Biscuits in the lineup did collect a hit, including the Double-A debuts for Cameron Seitzer (who jumped all the way from Low-A), reigning Rays Minor League Player of the Year Todd Glaesmann, and Riccio Torrez, who especially stood out as he laced a triple.
High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs v Palm Beach Cardinals- postponed, rain
If there’s anything to like about the Trop, it’s a dome that allows the Rays to play even when it’s raining. The teams in the Florida State League are not so lucky, and the Stone Crabs and Cardinals will play a doubleheader tomorrow beginning at 5 PM.
Bowling Green Hot Rods 8, South Bend Silver Hawks (ARI) 2
The Hot Rods and the Silver Hawks had been engaged in a pitcher’s duel through six innings, as the score was tied at 1-1. Bowling Green then exploded in the seventh, scoring five times against South Bend reliever J.R. Bradley. Joey Rickard had the big hit of the inning, a two run triple that pushed the score to 4-1. Rickard scored one batter later on Andrew Toles‘ double, and added an RBI single as part of the Hot Rods’ two run eighth. Jeff Ames started for Bowling Green, and pitched well in his five innings of work in his full-season ball debut, allowing one run on two hits while striking out four batters. Reinaldo Lopez earned the win, allowing one hit and a walk in two scoreless innings of relief. On offense, the Hot Rods had several big performers. Rickard went 2 for 5 with the big triple, 3 RBI, and a run scored and also going 2 for 5 was Patrick Leonard, the forgotten piece acquired in the Wil Myers trade, who went 2 for 5 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored in his Rays organization debut, and Andrew Toles, the Rays’ 2012 third round pick, who went 2 for 5 with his RBI double and a run scored. Also standing out was Marty Gantt, who went 2 for 4 with an RBI and 2 runs scored, Tyler Goeddel, who went 1 for 4 with a walk and an RBI, but the most exciting game may have been Justin O’Conner, the former first round pick who has disappointed in the minor league each year so far but got this year off to a great start, going 1 for 3 with a double, 2 walks, a stolen base and a run scored. The power is nice, but after O’Conner struck out 73 times versus just 18 walks last season, seeing him walk twice in a game might finally mean he has broken through with his plate discipline.