Results tagged ‘ Xavier Avery ’
Can he be a regular? A star?
I think L.J. Hoes should be a least a second-division level regular, even if he doesn’t improve a bit. If he improves a little, he’s should be a solid regular. If he improves a lot, specifically by increasing his power, he’s got a chance to be a minor star, a .290 hitter with around 20 home runs.
For more of my thoughts on L.J. Hoes, see here.
The Tides have lost five of their last six games — three at home to Rochester and two of three at Syracuse — essentially killing (at least in my Chicago-fan mind) any hopes of reaching the playoffs. And, just as Bill Hall’s home run turned the season around (at least temporarily), there is one obvious play in which the Tides’ season momentum turned downward.
It wasn’t in the first game of this skid, in which the Tides struggled gamely, pitching two emergency promotions from Class A. No, the turning point game the next game, in the eleventh inning of what turned out to be a fifteen-inning loss. With Xavier Avery and Lew Ford on first, and one out, Joe Mahoney sliced a line drive into short center field, a little to the left of second base. Rochester’s Clete Thomas got a good jump on the ball and made a diving catch. Because Avery had broken for third on contact, he was easily doubled off second base. It’s likely that if Thomas had not made the catch, Avery would have scored the game-winning and game-ending run. Instead, the Tides lost in fifteen innings, their second straight loss.
In the press box, we debated whether or not Avery made a baserunning blunder. Ian Locke, the media relations representative, argued that he had; that Avery should have played it a quarter of the way. If Thomas had caught the ball, Avery could have gotten back to second base; if Thomas could not catch the ball, Avery, with his speed, could still have reached third base safely. Ian’s played a lot more baseball than I have, and I respect his opinion, but in this case I disagree.
On a play like that, I think you have to sell out one way or the other. If you, say, play it halfway, you’re likely to lose no matter what. So, the question is whether you assume the outfielder will make the catch, and stay close to second, or assume the outfielder won’t make the catch, and go all-out for third. The problem with assuming the outfielder will make the catch is that if he knows that you’re playing it safe, he can let the ball drop in and easily force you at third. So, by selling out for second, you’re conceding that you’ll be forced at third. Plus, if you sell out for third, and the outfielder is not only unable to make the catch but redirects the ball away, you can still score.
So, in my opinion, Avery made the only reasonable decision. It didn’t work. But sometimes the other guy just makes a good play. Or, to paraphrase George Pickett is alleged to have said when asked why the Confederates lost the battle of Gettysburg, “I always thought Clete Thomas had something to do with it.”
It was bound to happen. After I was fortunate enough to score a string of several very-good-to-outstanding baseball games, I got to work the Father’s Day match between Norfolk and Toledo. It was a sloppy, poorly-played game, a game that taxes the datacaster’s abilities both because the game action is not very compelling and because the goings-on in the press box can be very compelling. Fortunately for Tides fans, Toledo contributed most of the poor play.
Tides starter Chris Tillman wasn’t very sharp, as 32 of the 88 pitches in his six innings missed the strike zone. But he was effective, as he gave up one run on three hits and struck out eight. Toledo baserunning mistakes helped Tillman out some, as Tillman picked one runner off first and a second was caught stealing after he got a miserable jump. I still don’t see Tillman pitch and think “Wow, this guy’s too good for AAA” but I must say he’s been pitching well.
The originally-scheduled Toledo starting pitcher was called up to Detroit, so Detroit promoted a relief pitcher from AA to be the first pitcher in a “bullpen day.” A bullpen day is when the team doesn’t have a normal starting pitcher available, so the team hopes to have four pitchers go two or three innings each and nurse the team through the game. The Mud Hens starting pitcher did quite well the first time through the order, but as soon as the leadoff batter game up for the second time he fell apart; with two outs in the third, the Tides got a walk, a hit batsman, and another walk. In came the next pitcher, who got Miguel Tejada to line out to right field.
The Tides took advantage of the sloppiness in the fifth. Blake Davis placed a bunt perfectly for a single. Then, Caleb Joseph struck out on a pitch in the dirt. Davis raced for second, but Joseph’s backswing hit catcher Rob Brantly, killing the ball and forcing Davis to remain at first. Then, on a 2-2 pitch, Xavier Avery was hit by a pitch. Nate McLouth singled in Davis with the tying run. Then Lew Ford smote a hard fly to deep right-center field. Avery scored easily, and Ford rounded second thinking “triple.” But McLouth, who should have scored easily, was held up at third; Ford stopped suddenly and retreated to second, which fortunately wasn’t covered. The Toledo pitching coach came out and ordered Miguel Tejada intentionally walked. With the bases loaded, Joe Mahoney hit a medium-speed grounder back to the pitcher. He threw home to force McLouth and Brantly threw a perfect strike to try to double up Mahoney. The throw was too perfect, as it was right on line and struck Mahoney as he was approaching the bag. I’m not sure that Mahoney wouldn’t have beaten a throw that didn’t hit him; but the ball bounded behind first as Ford scored and Tejada moved to third. Although catcher Brantly didn’t make a wild throw, he was charged with an error. A fourth run scored on a single.
But the really bad inning was the bottom of the eighth. With one out and a runner on first, the Toledo third baseman tried and failed to backhand a fairly sharp grounder hit by Avery. McLouth hit a slowish grounder to short; the shortstop thought about forcing Avery at second, decided against it, and dropped the ball as he was starting to throw it. That brought in pitcher #4, who evidently hadn’t warmed up enough. His first eight pitches — four to Ford, four to Tejada — missed the strike zone. Both batters walked and two runs scored. Believe me, the inning was much worse to watch than it was to read about. Fortunately for me, he recovered enough to retire the next two batters and not require runs to be scored as earned to the pitcher, but unearned to the team.
When, as in the International League, a team plays 144 games, there’s going to be a fair share of clunkers. One-sided blowouts, slow-moving slogs, exhibitions of poor play — those are the risks a patron of a baseball game takes when purchasing a ticket to a particular game. If a first-time attendee happens to stumble across one of those sleep-inducers, he or she may never go to another.
On the other hand, a fan who attended Friday’s game between between the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and the Norfolk Tides saw baseball at its best as an entertainment option. A bit of background — the Tides played Scranton (in Batavia, New York, for reasons that you either know or don’t need to know) in mid-April. Two of the scheduled four games were postponed by bad weather, and because Norfolk only makes one visit to the Yankees every year, the games were rescheduled to this series between the two teams in Norfolk. So Friday’s game became a doubleheader. In the minor leagues, doubleheaders are two seven-inning games. So the first game was scheduled to be a seven-inning game.
With the preliminaries out of the way, let me start with the linescore:
This was a seesaw game in which neither team ever led by more than one run. There was longball — Corban Joseph gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with a solo home run in the first; Jamie Hoffman tied the game in the bottom of the first and Jai Miller gave the Tides a 3-2 lead in the fourth with solo home runs. There was clutch hitting — the Yankees’ second and third runs scored on two-out singles wtih runners in scoring position. The pitching wasn’t dominant, but obviously all the pitchers kept their opponents from blowing the game open. The defense was outstanding. Not only were all the routine plays handled routinely, but also Scranton shortstop Ramiro Pena seemingly fielded every ground ball he could get to, and made strong, accurate throws. Tides first baseman Joe Mahoney turned a high chop into a nifty 3-6 forceout.
In the top of the seventh, I saw what may have been the most perfectly executed play, by everyone involved, that I have ever seen. Scranton’s Kevin Russo laid down as perfectly placed a bunt down the third-base line as a Yankee fan could hope for. But Tides third baseman Miguel Tejada charged in, grabbed the ball with his bare hand, and threw hard to first base. The throw was low and slightly toward second base, but Mahoney was able stretch and scoop the throw on a short hop to put Russo out. Mike, the official scorer, and I both agreed that that was as well-executed a play on all ends that we had ever seen.
Fittingly, the game ended in the bottom of the last inning. With one out, Carlos Rojas walked and was replaced at first base by pinch-runner L.J. Hoes, making his AAA debut. On a 3-2 pitch, Xavier Avery, recently sent down by Baltimore, singled Hoes to third. Veteran Lew Ford continued his hot hitting by slamming a game-winning single to right-center field, scoring Hoes. As soon as we in the press box saw the speed and trajectory of Ford’s hit, we knew it was game over — or, as an umpire once said in a similar situation in a recreational softball game I was playing — “Handshakes, everyone.”
The second game? Fittingly, it was rained out and rescheduled for the following day. It would have been hard for any other game to top the first one as an entertainment.
The Tides open their season at Charlotte tonight, and as of this morning the final roster had not yet been set. We do know that Brad Bergesen will be the starting pitcher tonight, and that Chris Tillman will be starting sometime in the series. The best guess is that Jason Berken will start the home opener on Monday.
For yesterday’s exhibition game, the Tides roster was at 28, which increased to 29 when Zach Phillips was optioned to Norfolk. So four players still need to be assigned elsewhere. The Tides won the exhibition against the Orioles, 6-4, but don’t read too much into that. Although the Orioles did start their regulars, they weren’t exactly going all-out, as it was more important not to get hurt than to win. The Orioles gave all their starters two at-bats before a parade of reserves and low-level minor leaguers finished the game.
It appears that Xavier Avery, whom I thought would go to Bowie for more seasoning, will start the season with the Tides. He dropped a very nice bunt that he beat out for a single, and showed good speed. It remains to be seen if he has the drive and all-out effort of Kyle Hudson, but he’s the same type of player.
Finally, an inside note for you minor-league geeks. It’s fairly well-known that Dave Rosenfield, former general manager and current holder of a position roughly equivalent to “semi-retired legend”, makes out the International League schedule every year. The original draft schedule had the Tides opening at home tonight, but when it became clear that the Orioles would be visiting he switched things around, moving the Tides to a road start and bringing Charlotte in some other time.