River Cats Notebook: Bocachica's Return

In a season that has seen the River Cats lose key players to injuries and promotion, Sacramento got a boost this week with the addition of veteran Hiram Bocachica. In this edition of River Cats notebook, we find out about Bocachica's impact on the team, potential roster changes in the wake of Daric Barton's injury and which position player may be the next candidate for an emergency relief role.

Hiram Bocachica's Return Has Immediate Impact

When Hiram Bocachica debuted for the Sacramento River Cats last September, he launched a homerun in his first at-bat. That at-bat came after four and a half months of rehab from a broken wrist. Bocachica parlayed that hot start into a quick recall to Oakland, where he spent the last few weeks on the A's roster.

Bocachica would like to get back to the major leagues, and he seems on-track to repeat his feat from last year. He missed most of spring training and the first six weeks of the season after having to undergo yet another surgery on his wrist. After a rehabilitation stint in extended spring training and with the A-Stockton Ports, in a déjà vu moment, Bocachica returned to the River Cats on May 22 and homered again in his first at-bat.

The veteran utilityman has played in only three games for the River Cats thus far, but he has already made his presence felt. He has been on-base seven times, stolen a bag and driven in three runs. His ability to play all three outfield positions and some infield makes Bocachica a valuable commodity for a team like Sacramento that has been decimated by injuries.

"He's doing exactly what he did last year for us, putting the ball in play with some power. The joke was that I put him in the four-slot right off the bat and I got a lot of heat for putting a guy there who had been hitting in A-ball, but he made me look good," Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco said with a laugh.

DeFrancesco mentioned that the team will be careful with Bocachica to ensure that he doesn't put too much wear and tear on his wrist.

"His wrist something you've got to be careful of. It gets sore on him when he overworks it," DeFrancesco said.

In a less than ten days with Stockton and Sacramento, Bocachica has already been hit by two pitches.

Pitching Staff Spent

Earlier this season, second baseman Keith Ginter had to make an emergency pitching appearance when the River Cats were running short on available hurlers. If pre-game work was any indication, centerfielder Charles Thomas could be the next emergency option. Thomas was working on his pitching motion with River Cats pitching coach Rick Rodriguez before Wednesday's game versus the Iowa Cubs. Thomas worked on a number of things during his light-hearted "bullpen", including his curveball.

Sacramento's pitching staff has been heavily affected by the injuries to the Oakland A's staff. Oakland currently has five pitchers on their roster who were expected to be on the River Cats at the start of the season, and a sixth pitcher (Matt Roney) has had two brief stints in Oakland this season. Sacramento is also missing relievers Kazuhito Tadano and Tim Rall, who are injured. A number of other Sacramento hurlers, including Wednesday night's starter Juan Dominguez, have struggled for different periods of time, which has also worn down the pitching staff.

All of this movement has made it difficult for DeFrancesco and Rodriguez to put together a cohesive pitching staff.

"[This has been the most difficult season] since I've been here, yeah. They say that pitching is the key to the game and it is true. We've had a tough time finishing games and executing, but everyone is doing their best and it is giving other players opportunities also," DeFrancesco said.

"The five guys who are up there [in Oakland] now are getting an opportunity, so they have to take advantage of that. Sometimes, the windows of opportunity are quite small."

Roster Movement

Although a roster move had not yet been made, DeFrancesco indicated that a pitcher may be added to the River Cats roster to replace Barton rather than another position player. He mentioned Scott McClain, Nate Espy and Bocachica as possibilities to play first base.

"Prior to [Barton's injury], we had 13 position players, so it would have been difficult to get everyone at-bats," DeFrancesco said.

If the A's did decide to promote a position player, Midland's Brant Colamarino and Vasili Spanos would be candidates to take Barton's place. Colamarino, a slick fielding first baseman, spent half of last season with the River Cats, but he was sent down to AA at the start of this season because the A's wanted him to get regular playing time. He was off to a fast start at AA in April, but he has been in a slump for the past few weeks and has seen his average drop from the .330s to .230.

Spanos, a corner infielder, has been one of the Rockhounds' most consistent hitters. He has never played above AA-ball. Spanos is a good fielder both at first and third, but he has been DHing for much of the season, as he is stuck defensively behind Colamarino and Brian Snyder at Midland.

More On Barton

DeFrancesco was understandably disappointed for Daric Barton that he would have to miss development time to deal with his elbow injury. Barton had been in the middle of a three-week slump when he got hurt, something that DeFrancesco felt was a good learning experience for the phenom.

"This is probably the first time in his career that he has had to deal with failure, so that is probably good [for his development long-term]," DeFrancesco said.

"[When he comes back] he needs to continue to work on his work ethic and his defense and just come to the park and play everyday to get experience. Barton's right elbow is always sore, and now his left elbow is going to be sore, so he's going to have to make some adjustments. It's unfortunate that it happened."

Barton and the River Cats coaching staff have been hard at work this season on improving Barton's glove work. DeFrancesco said that he has seen some gradual improvements in Barton's first base play. Many fans forget that Barton has gone from high-A to AAA in a year's time and that the speed of the game increases dramatically with each level change.

"We are out there working every day [with Barton] at seeing balls off of the bat. The balls come at you harder here and they come at you even harder at the next level, so we are just working on getting him used to that and getting his timing down," DeFrancesco said.

Praise for Nate Espy

Players never like to get demoted, especially six-year minor league veterans. However, Sacramento first baseman Nate Espy had to swallow a difficult pill earlier this season when he was sent from AAA to high-A Stockton to get at-bats.

Espy hit .382 with a homer in 10 games for Stockton and then returned to Sacramento on May 2. Since that time, Espy has been on fire, hitting .341 with two homers and 14 RBI in 25 games.

"Espy came here and there was no room for him. We wanted him to get some at-bats, so we sent him down to A-ball. He handled it really well, kept his head up. He battled and came back up here and he has been unbelievable for us. Two hits every game, it seems like," DeFrancesco said.

Charitable River Cats

The River Cats debuted some new threads on Wednesday, as they wore special red home jerseys for the first time this season. The jerseys say "Rio Gatos" and are part of a Spanish-themed promotion. The team will wear them every Wednesday home game for the rest of the year and the red jerseys will be auctioned off to a TBD charity at the end of the year.

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