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Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Jace Conrad, Hot Rods Win Thriller

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We have been focusing on individual performances for our headlines almost the entire season, but the Bowling Hot Rods played a crazy enough game that we had to mention their win. The Tampa Bay Rays organization is coming off a series of tough days, but that began to change on Tuesday as the affiliates went 3-2.

Triple-A International League Game 1: Rochester Red Wings (MIN) 4, Durham Bulls 3

Hak-Ju Lee entered this game having gone 1 for 3 with a stolen base in back-to-back contests. He showed a little bit more in this game. Lee finished 2 for 3 with a double, a solo homer that brought the Bulls within 4-3 in the ninth, and also a walk as he looked better than he had in a long time. The homer was his first since August 31, 2014, but the crazier stats are that he hadn’t delivered multiple extra-base hits in a game since April 14, 2013 and that he hadn’t hit a homer and another extra-base hit in the same contest since August 15, 2011.

In fairness to Lee, he has never been much of a power hitter, but he had become a top prospect by combining excellent defense at shortstop with blazing speed, solid on-base skills, and the occasional flash of power. The latter two parts of his game, though, haven’t returned since the knee injury that sidelined him for most of 2013. He has swiped 10 bases in 35 games this season after managing just 12 in 93 games in 2014, but he finished Tuesday with a terrible .234/.280/.315 line with just a 45-6 strikeout to walk ratio. His journey back to full strength has a long way to go.

Alexi Casilla also went 1 for 3 with a double, 2 walks, and a run scored for Durham while Jake Elmore had a 1-for-3 performance with a walk and an RBI. We have already talked about three quarters of the Durham infield, and the other member, Vince Belnome, got the Bulls on the board with a sac fly. However, their numbers were outweighed by a mediocre outing from Scott Diamond, who went 5.1 innings allowing 4 runs, 3 earned, on 9 hits. Jim Miller did finish the game for Durham with 2.2 hitless innings, working around a walk while striking out 2.

Game 2: Durham 4, Rochester 2

The Bulls were able to rough up Minnesota Twins top prospect Alex Meyer for 2 runs each in the first and third innings and get enough pitching to hang on. Eugenio Velez went 2 for 4 with a double, 2 stolen bases, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, Mikie Mahtook went 2 for 5 with an RBI, and Taylor Motter went just 1 for 4 but delivered 2 steals and 2 RBI. The Bulls managed just 2 other hits in the game, but they did a nice job seizing their opportunities early and Rochester never caught up.

Enny Romero started for the Bulls and delivered a solid outing, going 4 shutout innings allowing 2 hits and a walk while striking out 3. Romero now has a 2.70 ERA and an 11-4 strikeout to walk ratio in his 13.1 innings since returning to Durham following his back injury. Romero still has just one big league game on his resume, a September spot-start in 2013, but we will talk about his prospects in a relief role in a piece later today.

Jhan Marinez followed Romero with 3 hitless innings, walking 2 but striking out 3, before Preston Guilmet had a rough outing. He allowed 2 runs on 3 hits in just a third of an inning as Rochester got within 4-2. Luckily for the Bulls, Ronald Belisario looked sharp to finish the game, allowing just a hit in 1.2 innings while striking out 3. You have to go back to last July 19th for Belisario’s last 3-strikeout game during the regular season. He has a 3.31 ERA for the Bulls, but he’s not on the cusp of the big leagues with just a 10-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 16.1 innings pitched.

Double-A Southern League: Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN) 10, Montgomery Biscuits 3

Blake Snell shut down the top prospects in the Chattanooga lineup on Monday, but Jared Mortensen could not say the same yesterday. He went 4 innings allowing 8 runs on 8 hits, striking out none while walking 1. He allowed 2 home runs, the second by the top prospect in baseball, outfielder Byron Buxton. Zach Cooper then allowed 2 more runs in an inning of work before the Biscuits bullpen got it together. Ryan Garton delivered his best outing of the season, striking out 3 while walking 1 in 2 hitless frames, before Mikey O’Brien finished the game with a shutout inning.

On the offensive side, Daniel Robertson continues to be a monster at the plate, going 2 for 4 with a triple, a double, and a run scored in this game. He is 15 for his last 30 with 5 extra-base hits and 7 RBI in his last 7 games. Or we could go back to his last 22 games, where he has a .364/.447/.636 line in 103 plate appearances. Robertson is looking like everything the Tampa Bay Rays bargained for and more in the Ben Zobrist trade. He is the future of this team at shortstop, and his chances of making the future come early in 2016 are only increasing.

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The two other players who had big games for Montgomery are Tyler Goeddel, who went 3 for 4 with a stolen base, an RBI, and a run scored, and Patrick Leonard, who went 2 for 4 with 2 doubles, an RBI, and a run scored. Goeddel has cooled off since his huge April, but you see a game like this and hope that he is finding his groove again. He is 8 for his last 22 (.364) as he hopes to make that happen. Leonard, meanwhile, had just a .569 OPS on the season as of May 14th but has that up to .675 now. He is hitting .412 with 7 hits, 5 of which have gone for extra bases, in his last 5 games.

High-A Florida State League: Charlotte Stone Crabs 11, Jupiter Hammerheads (MIA) 3

Ryne Stanek had the groundballs working on Tuesday, but more importantly, the Stone Crabs were lacing hard-hit ball after hard-hit ball. Pat Blair (BB, 3 RBI, run), Granden Goetzman (3B, BB, SB, RBI, 3 runs), and Juniel Querecuto (RBI, run) also had 3-hit games while Marty Gantt, Kean Wong, Mike Marjama, and Maxx Tissenbaum (2 RBI) also delivered multi-hit performances. Blair began the season in extended spring training but is now up to a .267/.353/.444 line in his 14 games since joining the Stone Crabs.

Willy Adames remains the best prospect for the Stone Crabs, but someone working his way onto the map is Goetzman. Goetzman drew Jayson Werth comparisons after the Tampa Bay Rays made him a second round pick in 2011, but a poor plate approach prevented him from doing much with his impressive tools. After a rough finish to 2014, however, he looked great in the Australian Baseball League and now has a .333/.375/.500 line in 41 plate appearances to start this season. He also has a 9-3 strikeout to walk ratio after he put up just a 53-6 mark with Charlotte last year.

On the pitching side, Stanek wound up going 5 innings allowing 3 runs, 2 earned, on 5 hits, striking out 2 and walking 2 as well. We always want to see more strikeouts from him, but he was forcing groundballs like crazy, posting a 12-2 groundout to flyout ratio. Stanek entered this game with a 52.4% groundball rate compared to 43.4% last season as he is “learning to be a pitcher,” something that will hopefully bode well for him moving forward.

Jeff Ames followed Stanek by throwing 2 shutout innings, getting past a hit and a walk while striking out 2, before Jordan Harrison and Isaac Gil tossed a scoreless frame each. Ames, another one of the many early picks from 2011, has a 2.95 ERA on the season and has been especially dominant of late. In his last 4 appearances, he has an 0.96 ERA and a 10-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 9.1 innings pitched.

Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 8, West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 7

Hyrum Formo had a decent outing for the Hot Rods, going 6 innings allowing 3 runs on 8 hits, striking out 4 while walking none. He departed with his team trailing 3-2, but West Michigan quickly added 2 more runs in the seventh inning off of Mike Franco to make it 5-2. The Hot Rods then had 2 outs and nobody on in the bottom of the frame as it looked like the Whitecaps had pulled away. Instead, Cristian Toribio singled, Thomas Milone doubled, and Riley Unroe brought them both home with a 2-out, 2-run triple to make it a 5-4 ballgame.

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Franco let up another run in the eighth, and it looked like the Hot Rods’ efforts might still go for nought. Once again, they had 2 outs and nobody on, this time with Nick Ciuffo coming to the plate. Ciuffo actually struck out, but he reached first on a dropped third strike. Grant Kay then followed with a single before Jace Conrad pinch-hit for Bralin Jackson and delivered a go-ahead, inside-the-park 3-run home run to give Bowling Green a 7-6 lead. After 2 more hits, Unroe brought in an insurance run on an RBI single. That proved big as Brian Miller allowed a run in the top of the ninth, but he was able to hold West Michigan from there to seal a dramatic 8-7 victory.

Thomas Milone raised his average to .319 on the season as he went 4 for 5 with a double, a stolen base, and 2 runs scored in the game. Riley Unroe, drafted one round ahead of him in 2013, hasn’t had the same luck to start the year, but he delivered one of the best games of his young career as he went 3 for 5 with a triple, 3 RBI, and a run scored. His plate approach has always been excellent, but we keep waiting for him to hit the ball with more authority. Nick Ciuffo also drove in 2 while Cristian Toribio went 2 for 4 with 2 runs scored.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Game 40: Balanced Offense Leads To Win

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