So Long Losing Streak: Chiefs End Winless Streak in Extras
John Hattig plays hero
Sooner or later it had to happen. Twelve times Chiefs hitters came to the dish with a runner in scoring position, and only once delivered a hit. That base knock came at the most opportune time, with two-out and the bases chucked in the bottom of the tenth. Bats reliever Jason Kershner used two letter high fastballs to get two swinging strikes on John Hattig. With the count full, Hattig sent a ground ball back up the middle, which Louisville shortstop Jeff Keppinger made a hell of a backhanded stab for, but didn't have the time to make the put out at first. The ball was hit rather softly, and that benefited the burly designated hitter who isn't exactly the most fleet of foot. The fact that the winning hit was of the seeing-eye variety didn't seem to bother Hattig one bit.
"Whether it's a base hit off the end of the bat or a driven ball over the fence, I'll take it any day," said Hattig, "hard or not I was just trying to make something happen."
Blaine Neal could have been the zero
The Chiefs bullpen took a big hit with Brian Tallet's promotion to the Jays. For one, it lost its only lefty. Besides that though, it leaves this team without a dependable option in the late innings. Converted starter Jason Scobie is trying to become that guy, he threw a scoreless frame Sunday, and Jaime Vermilyea is still trying to get reacquainted with Syracuse. Despite having a 3.67 ERA, the Chiefs have but one save on the season. When you're losing one run games at the rate this team is, including both games of yesterday's double-header, not having a closer is a real problem.
"I don't think we have anyone here right now who has been a closer for a consistent period of time," said Chiefs skipper Doug Davis, "right now it's gonna be bullpen-by-committee."
Blaine Neal might have left that committee Sunday. Up 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Bats designated hitter Mark Bellhorn hit a first pitch moon shot over the right field wall to tie the game. It was a first pitch fastball that just caught too much of the plate, something you can't do to a veteran power hitter like Bellhorn. This has been a reoccurring theme for former Marlins prospect, who twice has seasons of 20-plus saves in the minors. Last time out against Rochester, Neal surrendered two home runs in less than an inning of work. He's not even hitting 90 mph anymore. This team could badly use the services of Brandon League.
Ryan Roberts comes back in a big way
With Sal Fasano and Adam Lind in Toronto, and Mike Vento injured, there aren't many hits in this Syracuse lineup right now. The return of Ryan Roberts from his stint with the Blue Jays was felt immediately today. He reached base in four of his five plate appearances. He scorched two balls up the middle for singles in his first two at-bats. Then, he drew a walk to load the bases in the tenth.
Roberts gives this team a fighting chance against lefties. Typically, the two through four hitters in this lineup are all lefty bats (Russ Adams, John-Ford Griffin, Kevin Barker). It's not a coincidence that this recent losing streak coincides with a bunch of south-pawed pitching opponents. In their last seven games, the Chiefs have faced six left-handed starters. Roberts might not hit for power like Vernon Wells, but he puts the ball in play, and when you're playing on an artificial surface that can sometimes be enough.
Ty Taubenheim outpitched the best hurler in the International League
Taubenheim did something today that all pitchers need to do to be successful, throw strikes low and away. In six innings, Taubenheim fanned five. He had his best stuff working, throwing several sliders late in the count to finish off Bats' hitters, including a 3-2 bitter that made accomplished triple-A slugger Jeff Keppinger look silly.
Taubenheim needed to be perfect because he was facing the league's best starter for the month of April. Louisville's Phil Dumatrait, a former first-round pick of the Red Sox acquired in the Scott Williamson trade in 2003, entered today at 4-0 with a 0.38 ERA. Dumatrait worked around trouble all day, but eventually faltered in the sixth, when he was pulled after walking the first two Chiefs hitters of the inning. He would hit the showers having just an earned run against him, but his inability to throw strikes, he walked four, ended his day prematurely. This allowed Taubenheim to leave the game with a lead and put his team in position to get off the schnide. Victor Zambrano might be the short term right now, but don't be surprised if Taubenheim and Dustin McGowan's phones are lighting up a month from now.