The Undercards: Jace Conrad Delivers Game-Winning Triple
By Robbie Knopf
Exciting things were happening in the Tampa Bay Rays system on Saturday. Alex Colome made a rehab start, several prospects had breakthrough performances, and the Bowling Green Hot Rods played a thriller of a game.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 4, Gwinnett Braves 1
Matt Buschmann had a nice return to the Bulls rotation after he delivered a 2.97 ERA for them in 97 innings in 2013 (after a successful stint at Montgomery). He went 5.2 innings allowing an unearned run on 3 hits, striking out 3 while walking 4. His control certainly wasn’t at its sharpest, but he kept Gwinnett off-balance all night. Jim Miller followed with 2.1 innings of scoreless relief, working around 3 hits with a strikeout, before Jordan Norberto tossed a perfect ninth with a K.
Ryan Brett went 0 for his first 9 at Triple-A, but he finally came through in this game, going 2 for 4 with a walk and a run scored. He has a chance to make his big league debut by the end of the year if he lives up to expectations. Among the veterans, Corey Brown had a big game, going 2 for 5 with a double and 2 RBI, while Jake Elmore went 3 for 5 with an RBI. Elmore is hitting .444 in the early going, and Eugenio Velez is just behind him at .429 after a 1-for-2 day with 2 walks.
Double-A Southern League: Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN) 4, Montgomery Biscuits 3
Jared Mortensen is searching for more consistency in his return to Montgomery, and we certainly can’t just whether he is finding it from one game. Even so, his season debut was about as good as he could have hoped. He went 6 innings allowing 2 run, 1 earned, on 4 hits, striking out 9 while walking 1. Mortensen is an interesting sleeper thanks to a fastball touching the mid-90’s, although he will turn 27 in June.
Zach Cooper had a rough relief outing to ruin this game for Biscuits, although Jhan Marinez did toss 1.2 shutout frames to end it working around a walk. On the offensive side, Richie Shaffer kept playing the way he is supposed to, going 2 for 4 with a walk and an RBI, and his Double-A repeat buddy Cameron Seitzer went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored. Shaffer is now hitting .455 on the young season as he hopes to prove that he’s ready for Durham.
High-A Florida State League: Fort Myers Miracle (MIN) 4, Charlotte Stone Crabs 3 (11 innings)
The Charlotte bullpen completely collapsed in this one, blowing a 3-0 lead after 6 innings. Alex Colome did have a fine rehab start, going 3 innings allowing no runs on 3 hits, striking out 1 while walking none. He managed a 5-2 groundout to flyout ratio. The Rays need Colome more than ever, and he would be a great placeholder until Alex Cobb comes back. We will have to see how Nate Karns does this afternoon and in future starts–Colome may even outlast him in the rotation.
Chris Kirsch, the regularly scheduled starter, followed Colome with 4.2 innings allowing 1 run on 2 hits, striking out 3 while walking 3. He’s forced a lot of groundballs the last few years (although not particularly in this game), but the Rays would love to see him miss some bats. Armando Araiza caught Colome and him and helped them out by throwing out both runners that dared to attempt steals against him.
Joey Rickard had a nice game at the plate for the Stone Crabs, going 2 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored, while Andrew Velazquez went 2 for 4 with a walk and another run. Rickard actually had the only RBI for the Rickard in this contest at the other two runs scored on a balk and a wild pitch.
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Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 7, South Bend Silver Hawks 5 (12 innings)
Bowling Green finds themselves with too many infield prospects, and Jace Conrad is one of the older players on the list. The Tampa Bay Rays are still excited to see what he can do, though, and he has showed why the last two games. Conrad gave the Hot Rods a 6-5 lead in the 12th inning of this game with an RBI triple to cap a 3-for-6 day with 2 RBI, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored. Conrad played third base rather than his usual second, but Bowling Green could play him in a variety of spots to get him in the lineup.
Coty Blanchard had a nice game as the Hot Rods’ shortstop, going 2 for 4 with a walk and a run scored, and Nick Ciuffo continued his hot start to the year by going 2 for 5 with a double and an RBI. The Rays are expecting huge things from Ciuffo now that the stomach virus that bugged him last year is in the past. The 2013 first rounder has been a little bit disappointing so far, but he has plenty of time to turn that around.
On the mound, Hyrum Formo had a solid season debut, going 6 innings allowing 3 runs on 5 hits, striking out 3 while walking none. His groundout to flyout ratio was 8-4. After Damion Carroll had an iffy outing, Brian Miller went 3 innings allowing just an unearned run on 3 hits, striking out 4 while walking none. Miller is advanced enough that Charlotte should soon come calling. Mike Franco then struck out 2 in the 12th to record the save for Bowling Green.