One of the first observations that I have seen with this Cedar Rapids team is that they are very close, and that they have a lot of fun playing baseball. JD Williams is kind of the leader in the have-fun category, but what he starts, seemingly most of the players follow along. It’s also clear that manager Jake Mauer, and his coaches Gary Lucas (pitching) and Tommy Watkins (hitting) have the ears and the utmost respect of the players.
I had a chance to meet Tim Goodrum (Niko’s dad) the other night, and he introduced me to Adam Walker (Adam’s dad). The Twins do talk about character being important a lot. You meet these fathers, and I’ve interacted with several parents and players in the past as well, and you get a better sense for why the players (still young kids) have such a high level of character.
I’ll be sure to write more notes and observations from my trip to Cedar Rapids in the coming days, but let’s briefly discuss what happened in the Kernels/Snappers game last night, as well as let you in on how the other Twins affiliates did.
Cedar Rapids Kernels 9, Beloit Snappers 7
Following Opening Night’s 16 run game (9-7 Kernels win) which also included 16 strikeouts by Kernels pitchers, Friday night’s game was much more crisp. The Kernels cleaned up their defense with a strong showing, and the pitching was very good for both teams. Because of that, the game was finished much quicker. However, though there were less runs, there was a lot of drama, and any time the home team wins in walk-off fashion, it’s a great night.
Down 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, Dalton Hicks led off with a solid single to right field. He was pinch run for by Candido Pimentel. Adam Walker flew out to center for the first out, but Travis Harrison came through with a big double to right centerfield. Pimentel was able to score easily to tie the game, making the decision to pinch-run him pay off right away.
Harrison, a throw-back who doesn’t wear batting glove, said after the game of the at bat, “I was looking middle-out because I figure he wouldn’t want to come in and lose it on one pitch if I took a chance and hit a home run, and he gave it to me right there, a middle-away fastball and I couldn’t have hit it any better.”
That brought Niko Goodrum to the plate with Harrison on second base and one out. He lined a hard single down the right field line. Mauer waved Harrison around third base, and when the right fielder bobbled the ball, there was no play on the plate. There was, however, a rush toward second base to mob Goodrum.
Goodrum said, “I was moved up on the plate looking for a fastball so I could drive him in, and that’s what I got. I knew right away that he was going to score.”
“Run faster! I knew where the right fielder was playing before the ball was hit. I got a pretty good jump on it, so I knew I could probably score. I just had to make sure I could stay on my feet and get in there.”
Goodrum acknowledged that it was his first walk-off hit in professional baseball. How did he feel about the hit and being piled on after the game, “Pretty exciting!”
The story of the game up to that point was another solid night of pitching from the Kernels pitcher. Hudson Boyd made the start and gave up just one run on three hits. He did walk three and struckout three. With two outs in the top of the 5th, he hit a batter, and that was the end of his night.
It was clear that pitching Coach Gary Lucas wanted Boyd to get that final batter, but Boyd was removed. “It’s more protecting his career, to be honest for you. It was his first time out. You’d like to get him a win and that will look nice and everything, but most importantly, I was hoping he’d go out on a positive note.”
Mauer added, “Boyd got better as the game went on, which is very encouraging. The young man’s first start. He’s never pitched in cold weather before. I thought that was encouraging his last couple of innings there. With him I think the biggest thing, and a lot of young guys can do that, where they don’t trust their stuff, and he’s got pretty good stuff. I thought he got a little finesse, tried to be a little too fine when he walked a couple of men, but then he got a little aggressive again, which is good.”
Boyd was also happy with his game. “The second inning was rough, but I came out in the third and made some adjustments. I didn’t want to let one bad inning to become two. I tried to put it behind me. My changeup was really good tonight. In the fourth and fifth inning, my curveball was working. It had some bite. In that second inning, I couldn’t get my fastball over, so I walked a couple of people.”
Boyd seemed legitimately concerned about pitching in the cold weather on Wednesday, but he said it wasn’t a big issue for him on Friday night.
“Actually, I didn’t even notice it. I actually didn’t think I even needed my sleeves. Once I got out there, it was natural.”
Left-hander Steven Gruver came in and got the final out of the fifth inning. He then worked three more innings. He gave up just an unearned run on one hit and two walks, and he struckout two. Unfortunately, he gave up one run in the top of the 8th frame that gave the Snappers a 2-1 lead.
Mauer said, “Gruver had the hiccup with the lead-off walk, but other than that, he was phenomenal.”
Lefty Brett Lee came on for the top of the 9th. He is scheduled to start for the Kernels on Tuesday, but he came in and struckout the side on his bullpen day.
And then came the bottom of the ninth, walk-off heroics! There’s a lot of excitement in Cedar Rapids for the Kernels this year.
I want to encourage people to check out Metro Sports Report and the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Both provide some great information on the Kernels. You’ll also want to follow the Kernels website for a lot of information on the team as well as the ability to listen to the games live online.
Byron Buxton went 2-3 with a walk, a first inning leadoff blast and his second stolen base. I noted on Twitter during his first at bat versus the Snappers (A’s) starter Michael Ynoa that there was over $10 million in signing bonuses during that plate appearance. Ynoa received $4.25 million dollars as a 16-year-old from the Dominican. He has pitched very little because he had Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago. Last year, he pitched a combined 30 innings between rookie ball and the A’s Low A team, yet the A’s chose to put him on their 40 man roster. In the first inning, it’s fair to say that the Twins $6 million man, Buxton, won that battle. He got a pitch on the inner half of the plate and launched a long, towering home run over the left field fence, out of the ballpark and onto the street behind. It is already being said that it bounced off the street and hit the second floor of a house.
Just as impressive as Buxton’s power is his speed. He stole his second base of the season last night. However, in one at bat, he hit a routine, three-bounce ground ball to third base. The third baseman fielded it cleanly and made a strong, accurate throw to first base. Buxton beat the throw by a half-step. There is no question that Buxton has a bit of developing to do, but first, he is quite advanced for his age, and second, he has the potential to be a 40-40 type of player.
Mauer said after the game of Buxton, “He’s a very talented individual. There is no doubt about it. He stayed back. He got a hanging breaking ball in that first at bat, and he unloaded on it. That was a big time swing. In talking to him, he’s going to affect the game a lot of ways, even if he’s not swing that bat very well, with his speed and the pressure he can put on. He made a nice play, a ball hit to right center with nobody out, caught the ball, turned, Boom, right to the cutoff man. It was fantastic. Not only the wherewithal and the athleticism to catch it, but to keep the ball down, right to the cutoff man. That guy had no chance in advancing. Stuff like that, you want to see especially with young outfielders. Some may get excited and think the guy’s going to go, but he was calm, collected. He is a pretty special talent, no doubt about it. It’s a matter of him doing it every day. He’s going to be in there, without a doubt.
- Drew Leachman was put on the 7-Day Disabled List. In the opening game, he had a stolen base. His left (non-throwing) shoulder caught the base and jammed. Following the game (after having two more at bats in the game), he was icing his shoulder. On Friday, he could not raise his right arm at all. Mauer said of Leachman, “Young man’s trying to play, gut it out. He’s a guy with experience, put up pretty good numbers here. We’ll miss that presence here in the middle of the lineup. It’ll give somebody an opportunity to step up too.
- Who will replace him? As of post-game, Mauer did not know. I asked if it could be an arm, and Mauer said, “I would like it to be an arm. You know, there’s a few guys down at Extended that are pretty good pitchers that we thought had a chance to break with us when everything shook out. That’s usually how it happens. There’s three or four boys down there that are getting close. I don’t think it’ll be a starter. I think it’ll be a bullpen guy. We’ll know tomorrow.”
- Tyler Grimes caught his first game as a professional player and really did a nice job. “He’s caught in spring training and in Instructional League, so that was a whole learning experience for him too.” I was at the ballpark early, and when I was there, Grimes out stretching in his knee pads. Soon after, backup catcher Jhonatan Arias was with him, coaching and instructing him on various catching techniques. Then Jairo Rodriguez, the Opening Day catcher, was out there a well, helping Grimes through drills. I have to say that those two catchers being willing to help their teammate (yet also a “competitor” in the sense that they all want to advance). I found that to be pretty classy.
- Niko Goodrum acknowledged two goals for the season. First, “I want to steal 40 bases real bad!” Second, “I hit 200 pounds, and I hope I can stay up there!”
- The Kernels will send 2012 2nd round pick Mason Melotakis to the mound at 2:05 today to face the Snappers.
At the game last night, no less than three people stopped me in the concourse to introduce themselves and say Hi. They had all made the trip down from the Twin Cities that afternoon. One was heading back following the game, while a couple of others were spending a night to go to Saturday’s game as well. In two days, I’ve seen two tremendous games, and it has been a lot of fun. In my mind, it is worth the trip, and from those I have talked to, they would agree.
Rochester Red Wings 2, Buffalo Bisons 3
The Red Wings came up short for the second straight game in Buffalo with a 3-2 loss on Friday afternoon. Kyle Gibson started and was very good. The lanky, right-hander worked the first five innings. He gave up one run on four hits. He walked none and struckout four, including a big one to end the fifth inning with a couple of runners on in a 1-1 game. Michael O’Connor came in and gave up one run on three hits in two innings. Anthony Slama pitched the eighth inning and takes the loss. He gave up a solo home run to Luis Jimenez.
The Red Wings had just five hits in the game. Brian Dinkelman hit his first home run of the season. Oswaldo Arcia hit his second home run in as many games. Former Twins starter Ramon Ortiz started for the Bisons. He hit three batters, including hitting Chris Colabello and Drew Butera back to back. Butera was hit in the hand by a pitch and had to leave the game. After the game, he was put on the Disabled List and infielder Eric Farris was promoted to Rochester.
On Saturday, righty Shairon Martis will start opposite Claudio Vargas. Both have pitched in the big leagues.
New Britain Rock Cats 1, Richmond Flying Squirrels 0 (Conclusion of suspended game)
The weather isn’t warm, and the bats certainly are not either. Logan Darnell had started this game on Thursday night. He went 3.2 scoreless innings and gave up four hits and walked two before the rains came. When play resumed on Friday night, Blake Martin took the mound. He went 2.1 innings without allowing a hit. He did walk one, but he struckout three. Bobby Lanigan came on and gave up one hit in a scoreless frame. Jose Gonzalez pitched a perfect inning as well. Michael Tonkin came in and threw a clean ninth inning to record his first save of the season.
The Rock Cats managed just six hits. Danny Santana had three of the hits including a single that scored Eric Farris with the lone run of the game. Antoan Richardson went 1-2 with a walk and a double. Josmil Pinto also doubled.
New Britain Rock Cats 0, Richmond Flying Squirrels 1 (regularly scheduled game)
The bats remained pretty cold for both teams in the regularly scheduled matchup. Trevor May started for the Rock Cats. He gave up one run on three hits and three walks. He struckout four. Edgar Ibarra pitched a scoreless inning despite loading the bases with two hits and an intentional walk.
The Rock Cats gave up just one run, but it was more than enough as Richmond pitchers Jack Snodgrass and Daryl Maday no-hit New Britain. They each walked one batter, but those were quickly erased by two Flyin Squirrel double plays.
Connecticut native Pat Dean will make the Saturday start for the Rock Cats. He had made one late-season start for the team in 2011.
As mentioned above, second baseman Eric Farris was promoted to AAA Rochester to replace Drew Butera on the roster. Farris spent the past three years playing AAA ball in the Brewers organization. Farris spent some time with the Brewers each of the past two years. The Brewers decided to put him on their AA roster, and the Mariners selected him in the AAA Rule 5 draft. Seattle decided to release him just before opening day and the Twins signed him quickly.
To fill Farris’s roster spot, corner infielder and outfielder Curt Smith was activated. He was signed by the Twins after playing for Team Netherlands in the WBC.
Ft. Myers Miracle 4, Bradenton Marauders 1
For the second straight night, the Miracle got some good pitching and enough offense to win a very crisp game. Jason Wheeler began the 2013 season as he pitched most of the 2012 season in Beloit. The tall lefty threw five shutout innings for his first win of the season. He gave up four hits, walked one and struckout three. Miguel Munoz came on and gave up just one hit in two shutout innings. Cole Johnson gave up an eighth inning run on one hit and one walk. Corey Williams came on in the ninth for a 1-2-3 save.
The Miracle had just five hits in the game. Fortunately, catcher Kyle Knudson, who is fully healthy for the first time since signing with the Twins from the University of Minnesota, hit his first home run of the year, a line drive over the left field fence. Then Kennys Vargas launched a towering blast over the wall in right field. Angel Morales provided a double for the Miracle as well. Eddie Rosario got his first hit of the season.
Feel free to leave any questions or comments.