The Johnson City Cardinals Report: 06/23/08

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The Johnson City Cardinals finished the week (Tuesday, June 17 through Saturday, June 21) with a record of four wins and one loss.  They are currently tied for first place in the five-team Western Division of the Appalachian League with the Elizabethton Twins. 


In the ten-team Appy League, the offense currently ranks last in strikeouts (61) and eighth in batting average (.240) while ranking second in both walks (22) and stolen bases (six).  The team ranks between fourth and seventh in all other offensive categories except wins (four).  The pitching ranks between fourth and seventh in all categories except saves (three – tied for first) and wins (four – tied for first). 


I attended four of the first five games in person and those observations provide the basis for this report.  Game Two was the only game I was unable to attend so I am 4-0 so far. 


Thirty-one of the thirty-four players on the roster played during the first five games.  Catcher Rickey Noland and 1B Curt Smith have yet to play and OF Brian Buck is still rehabbing in Florida. 


The Week in Review


Winning the close ones was the theme of the Week One.  Good fundamental baseball and good pitching from nine of the ten tandem starters helped the team win the close contests this week. 


Game One:  Win 6-3 (12 innings).  The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/18.

Game Two:  Loss 5-8.  The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/19.

Game Three:  Win 4-3 (10 innings). The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/20.

Game Four:  Win 5-4.  The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/21.

Game Five:  Win 7-6.  The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/22.


Speed Notes


SS/3B-Guillermo Toribio leads the Appy League in stolen bases with five.  The next closest thief has three.  Toribio swiped his first two off a rehabbing pitcher in the third inning of Game One.  Toribio stole both second and third base off a pitcher who wasn't really paying any attention to him.  He got outstanding jumps on both steals.  The steal of third was on a caught foul tip-strike three that slowed the throw from the catcher. 


Toribio's steal of second base in the twelfth inning of Game One came with a runner on third.  The catcher intentionally faked his throw to second in fear that the go-ahead run might score on the throw to second. 


Toribio swiped two more bases in Game Three.  His fourth of the year came on a nearly-wild 1-2 pitch with two outs in the second inning that garnered no throw attempt from the catcher.  His fifth stolen base came in the seventh inning on a 1-0 pitch with two outs.  The throw was in plenty of time but a short hop throw from the catcher skipped over the shortstop's glove and into shallow centerfield.


I was able to time two batters who ran full speed to first base on infield batted balls.  Left-handed batter-OF Paul Cruz was timed at 4.43 seconds on a close double play in the tenth inning of Game One while switch-hitter Guillermo Toribio, while batting right handed in his first at-bat of Game Five, was timed at 4.42 seconds on an infield single off the plate.  That gives a slight advantage to Toribio. 


Home Runs


There were four this week with the biggest one being C-Ivan Castro's two-run bomb in the top of the ninth with the Cardinals trailing Bristol 2-1.


Game One:  Jarred Bogany - ~370' opposite field solo home run on an 0-1 pitch in the top of the sixth to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. 

Game Three:  Ivan Castro - ~350' clutch line drive pulled over the left field wall.

Game Three:  Edgar Lara - ~325' opposite field shot that barely cleared the wall. 

Game Four:  Jairo Martinez - ~360' pulled over the left field wall in Johnson City.


Pitch Counts


Mostly because I track them and because the box score doesn't, I thought I would include them for the tandem starters for the games I attended. 


Game One: 

Deryk Hooker – 70 pitches, 46 strikes, 13 of 17 first-pitch strikes.

Brett Zawacki – 54 pitches, 34 strikes, 11 of 16 first-pitch strikes.


Game Three: 

Matt North – 64 pitches, 42 strikes, 11 of 19 first-pitch strikes.

Jon Bravo – 46 pitches, 30 strikes, 11 of 15 first-pitch strikes.


Game Four:

Reynier Gonzalez – 68 pitches, 43 strikes, 8 of 19 first-pitch strikes.

Kevin Thomas – 45 pitches, 32 strikes, 10 of 13 first-pitch strikes.


Game Five:

Randy Santos – 74 pitches, 47 strikes, 12 of 16 first-pitch strikes.

Adam Veres – 35 pitches, 22 strikes, 3 of 8 first-pitch strikes.


Game Notes


·         Edgar Lara's outfield assist in Game One was impressive.  Lara unleashed a perfect throw to third base after making a routine catch in right field to complete a double play.  The play occurred in a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning.  Lara cleared the bench with that inning ending play of the day.    

·         Brett Lilley made two web gems in the same inning in Game Three while playing second base.  The first one was a bouncing up-the-middle grounder that required an off balance, across-the-body leaping-throw from center field.  Very nice!  Then three batters later, Lilley may have made an even better play.  A sharply hit, low roller up the middle required a diving backhand stop and a shovel from his belly to Niko Vasquez for a nice force out to end the inning.  Lilley has also shown that he has no problem turning double plays while absorbing a lot of contact at second base. 

·         Niko Sanchez started a very nice double play in the bottom of the tenth inning of Game Three.  A bouncing groundball up the middle took a last second bad hop that Vasquez deftly fielded and then backhanded to Lilley to start a double play.  Quick reflexes and soft hands were just what were needed to execute that key game-deciding play in a close game. 

·         Travis Mitchell executed a perfect suicide squeeze bunt with one out in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded in a tie game on Saturday night to complete the "Game of the Week".  Joey Hage led off the inning with a clutch single and later scampered home when the best bunter on last year's team got the sign on a 0-1 pitch.

·         The defense of this year's team appears to be a little bit better than last year's team in the early going.   The team appears to be executing the fundamentals better than last year. 


Pitch Velocities


Bristol didn't have their display working and Johnson City got theirs working for Game Five.  Santos was 86 to 88 miles per hour (touching 91 in the third inning) while Adam Veres was consistently 86-88 MPH.  Santos' also featured a very nice 70 to 73 MPH curve ball that he used as a strikeout pitch on at least two occasions.  Santos also threw an occasional change-up or slider in the low 80's that was rarely thrown for a strike.  Veres mixed an occasional curve ball and change-up with his fastball but rarely threw them for strikes.


Players of the Week


Each week, I will select one position player and one pitcher as the Johnson City players of the week.  This week, the position player is Niko Vasquez (right) and the pitcher is Randy Santos. 


Both competitions were tough this week.  Nine of the ten piggyback starters pitched very well this week but Randy Santos' statistics for those who pitched five innings were just a little bit better than the others.  Featuring both a two-seam sinking fastball and a curve ball, Santos shutout the Kingsport Mets over five innings on Saturday night while allowing only three singles and one walk.  The right-hander recorded six strikeouts and had two of his singles decided by the scorekeeper. 


Ivan Castro was leading the race for the position player of the week going into Saturday night's game but a 2-for-5 night with a double and a run scored launched Niko Vasquez into a narrow lead.  Vasquez now leads the team in several offensive categories with those with at least three games and ten at-bats and has played solid defense in the field while displaying the soft hands that many scouts noted before the Cardinals selected him with the 91st overall selection in the 2008 draft. 




·         Manager Joe Almaraz on Travis Mitchell's suicide squeeze bunt:  "We start our early work (in batting practice), our hitting-part of our practice with bunting, and making sure that we are executing correctly, and that would be the end product today, executed with an A+." 

·         Travis Mitchell on the suicide squeeze:  "You would think he (the pitcher) would be throwing something in the dirt (on the 0-1 pitch) but he came at me with a fastball down the middle so I had to get it done."

·         Pitching coach Tim Leveque on the piggyback starting system:  "What will happen in the piggyback is… the new guys will be on the back end of the piggyback for two consecutive outings, so Veres, for example, who threw today, he will be on the back end of the piggyback again, build him up a little bit more, and then when he goes out, his third appearance, he will start.  I think the piggyback is here to stay - here (Johnson City)… as far as I am concerned." 

·         Pitching Coach Tim Leveque on pitch counts:  "We are going to leave them like this for a little bit.  They are going to be able to earn some more pitches.  In time, once they've proven that they can build it up, we'll let them go a little bit more.  In the context of that (the piggyback), we may give them more pitches."

·         Pitching coach Tim Leveque on mound visits after early trouble during the first five games:  "With a lot of these guys, it is their first outing in professional baseball, the main thing you do is you just calm them down, you just make them slow the game down, you just let the game kind-of come to them, that's the biggest thing, if you get a kid who's just drafted, and he's pitching in his first pro game, he is going to get a little amped, or a lot of the kids down in extended spring training for a few months, they look forward to this all year.  Really it's just, making them understand that it's just another game.  You got to pitch your game.  That is the reason that got you here.  Just relax and have fun."

·         Pitching coach Tim Leveque on the health of the pitching staff:  "All the pitchers are healthy so far.  There are no problems injury-wise."

·         Pitching coach Tim Leveque on the closers:  "We're going to be feeling out some guys and situations are going to dictate it.  We got some guys that can close for us but we also got that same guy who can throw two/three innings if we have to go extra innings, or if our starter falters and we need him to give us more than one inning in a game.  In time, they are going to create their own roles.  We have a good, good idea of our bullpen.  We are getting to learn some of the newer guys that we've drafted.  We've got a few guys that can close games for us." 


Week Two Schedule


Brett Zawacki followed by Deryk Hooker – Sunday vs. Kingsport Mets

Carlos Gonzalez followed by Mike Blazek – Monday @ Greeneville Astros

Matt North followed by LHP Jon Bravo – Tuesday @ Greeneville Astros

Reynier Gonzalez followed by Kevin Thomas – Wednesday @ Greeneville Astros

Randy Santos followed by Adam Veres – Thursday @ Elizabethton Twins

Deryk Hooker followed by Brett Zawacki – Friday @ Elizabethton Twins

Mike Blazek followed by Carlos Gonzalez – Saturday @ Elizabethton Twins



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