Stockton Notebook: Ports Back On Track

It has been a disappointing season overall for the High-A Stockton Ports, but they aren't out of the playoff picture completely. With a recent stretch of good play, the Ports are within striking distance of a post-season berth. Chris Kusiolek delivers the latest on the Oakland A's California League affiliate.

While the Ports have experienced numerous setbacks this season between lingering injuries, underachieving performances, and wild inconsistency, Stockton has found themselves seven games behind Visalia in the second half standings at 17-26. Before losing on Sunday, the Ports had put together a 7-3 stretch that tied their best 10-game winning percentage since they began the 2012 season with the same record.

With three consecutive series victories over Visalia, Bakersfield and Lancaster, Stockton has a rejuvenated sense of optimism. Despite subtractions of key arms such as Blake Treinen and Ryan Doolittle (both lost to injury), Stockton's staff has risen to the occasion with shutdown outings from starters Josh Bowman, Sean Murphy and relievers T.J. Walz, Pedro Vidal and newest member of the bullpen, Ian Krol. Stockton has also plugged away offensively with Max Stassi, Josh Whitaker and Chad Oberacker leading the charge along with Myrio Richard and Yordy Cabrera having recently returned to add another spark.

While their offensive consistency has fluctuated, Stockton still ranks second in the league in homers with 122. And a pitching staff in flux has surrendered a mere 297 walks (second fewest in the California League) and have punched out 930 (third most in the league), which equals a league-leading 3.13 K/BB.

Comings and Goings

Stockton has seen their roster undergo countless changes since the All-Star break, beginning with the release of Anthony Capra. The former Wichita St. Shocker and fourth-round selection struggled to regain his footing while in the California League, surrendering four homers in just 11.1 innings pitched while walking 11. Coinciding with Capra's release, another Port bid adieu to the organization as Juan Nunez became the second Stockton member to be released in a span of four weeks. Nunez grappled with injuries and only had 11 plate appearances for Stockton, recording two hits.

The DL list has had no shortage of members for the Ports as well, with Nino Leyja, Blake Treinen, Tony Thompson, Mitch LeVier, Yordy Cabrera and Ryan Doolittle all succumbing to injuries. Doolittle, who was taking his second lap through the Cal League, is lost for the season after injuring his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and will require at least 12 months of rehab. Before the injury, Doolittle had anchored Stockton's bullpen with a 31:3 K/BB in 24.1 innings pitched.

Cabrera spent nearly a month on the shelf after he reaggrevated a back injury he sustained in spring training. He returned to the line-up last week. Thompson was placed on the DL following a concussion, but similar to Cabrera, he has returned to the active roster. Leyja has been on the DL since June 12. Treinen, who still leads the ballclub in GB%, also remains on the DL, but he recently threw a simulated game and could return soon.

Two players were promoted from Low-A Burlington to Stockton: right-hander Max Perlman, 35th round selection of the 2011 draft and a Harvard alumnus, and Ryan Pineda, who returned to Stockton following a demotion earlier this season.

The lone transaction that transpired for reasons other than a release or DL replacement was a swap at backstop for the Ports. On-base specialist Beau Taylor was promoted by the organization to Double-A Midland. Veteran Ryan Ortiz was sent down to Stockton from Midland. In 59 plate appearances since his demotion, Ortiz has accumulated a 784 OPS with three homers and seems to be flourishing in the Cal League while applying his veteran leadership towards the pitching staff. Taylor, on the other hand, has taken some adjusting to the Texas League, with a meager 602 OPS with the Rockhounds thus far.

Who's Hot

Nobody has constructed a post-All-Star break that can touch Josh Bowman's. The native of Tampa has mowed down opposing Cal League lineups with heightened precision and another pitch added to his repertoire. In eight starts (51.1 innings pitched) since the break, Bowman has walked only five while striking out 49. He has nearly equaled his strikeout total of the first half in 19 fewer innings and has become far more efficient in terms of control (2.94 BB/9 first half and 0.87 BB/9 second half). Bowman has picked up the slack in a Ports rotation grieving after the loss of Blake Treinen and asserted his role as the ace in Stockton.

Since returning to Stockton, Ryan Pineda has easily been the most reliable offensive component on the squad. Batting .326/.400/.465 following the All-Star break, the middle infielder has jolted an ailing Stockton offense, whose averages have fallen following the departure of Miles Head. Pineda's presence has especially been welcomed at the bottom third of Stockton's lineup, as the former CSU-Northridge Matador is steering the Ports in the direction of a playoff position.

Coupled with Pineda, Michael Gilmartin has had paralleled success following the break. A vital piece within Stockton's post-season run last year, Gilmartin experienced a lengthy slump at the start of the year. As of late, the 2011 All-Star has seen a phenomenal resurgence statistically, batting .305/.399/.454 with 11 extra-base hits (five homers) in 161 at-bats.

Max Stassi, who earned Cal League Player of the Week honors last week, has flashed his muscle recently, bashing a total of 14 homers during his 2012 campaign, with nine of them following the All-Star break. Stassi, finally with a healthy shoulder, has taken full advantage, batting .308/.383/.513 in his previous 10 contests.

The bullpen, despite the glaring departure of Doolittle, has held its ground, especially with the addition of Ian Krol. Krol, who relocated to the bullpen to limit his innings after missing the 2011 season, has fared well in four appearances. In 6.2 innings pitched, Krol has three walks and 12 strike-outs while benefitting from a more consistent defense, allowing a single hit and zero runs. Pedro Vidal has also found success in the bullpen as well, punching out 25 in 26.2 innings pitched.

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