A low-scoring pitcher's duel exploded in the seventh inning on Sunday evening in Keizer. Fleming Baez (the grandfather of the AquaSox) silenced the crowd of 2,601 by crushing Steve Macfarland's 2-0 pitch over the left field fence for a grand slam that gave Everett a 5-1 lead. Unfortunately, the lead would evaporate and then some in the bottom of the inning. It started off with Phil Hann giving up three singles and a walk to lead off the inning, cutting the Sox advantage to 5-2. Hann gave way to Eddy Fernandez, who gave up another RBI single before Trent Kline deposited a ball almost exactly where Baez did in the top half of the inning for another grand slam (on, yes, a 2-0 pitch). Stunningly, the AquaSox now found themselves down 7-5 without having recorded a single out in the inning.
On this night, though, it was a series of missed opportunities that doomed the Frogs. In the first inning, Volcanoes pitcher Ari Ronick threw 11 of his first 12 pitches out of the strike zone, loading the bases with two walks and a hit batter. But Travis Howell and Baez struck out, followed by a Wellington Dotel ground out to end the inning with the bases loaded. Luis Nunez singled and was moved to second on a sacrifice in the second inning, but was erased on a caught stealing. Nunez would've scored on Tyson Gillies' single. Gillies got the AquaSox on the board in the inning on a bizarre sequence that resulted in Gillies getting credited with a steal of home. With Kevin Reynolds on first and Gillies on third, Reynolds took off for second. S-K catcher Trent Kline threw down to second, which is when Gillies broke for home. Volcano second baseman Ryan Lormand cut off the throw, but didn't fire home, and when Reynolds stopped in his tracks and headed back to first base, Lormand didn't throw over there either. Lormand's mental error cost Salem-Keizer an out, but he made no physical error, giving Gillies the steal of home. Everett would once again go on to load the bases in the frame after Nate Tenbrink reached on error and Manelik Pimentel walked, but Howell struck out looking for the second time to leave the sacks full and end the inning. Trailing 7-5 in the eighth, Everett loaded the bases yet again on singles by Gillies and Reynolds, followed by a walk to Nate Tenbrink. But Pimentel grounded into a 5-3 double play that scored a run but left the Sox with just a runner on second and two out. After a Travis Howell single that was cut off well in center field, leaving Tenbrink at third, Baez popped out to squash the Frogs' last real threat.
Scouting notes: Wellington Dotel played a spectacular right field on Sunday. In the first inning, he gunned down a runner who was attempting to advance to third on a fly out. Wellington's throw was a perfect laser beam, hitting Pimentel right in the glove on the fly from medium depth in right. Dotel went on to record five putouts overall, including a great sliding catch. Another diving attempt on a fly ball into the gap in the eighth inning came up just a bit short, and the ball squirted away for a double. But I like how Dotel attacked the ball in right, and confidently called off his teammates. He certainly seems to have the range to play center, but his arm is probably most useful in right. Unfortunately, his bat is holding him down. He's 22 right now and hasn't really played beyond this level. Last year he struck out 60 times in 140 at bats against only seven walks. He made contact all five times last night, but the plate discipline needs to improve. He reached well out of the zone on an 0-1 pitch with the bases loaded in the first inning and grounded weakly to first base. With a pitcher on the mound who was struggling to throw strikes, Dotel shouldn't be giving him any gifts.
Doug Salinas was effective as the starter last night. He went five innings, giving up four hits and just one earned run --- a walk to lead off the sixth that came around to score after he left the game. He was certainly not overpowering (just one strikeout). He relied, in fact, mostly on slow breaking stuff. Fortunately, at this level, the impatience of the hitters allows this to work. I noticed one at bat where Salinas threw six consecutive off-speed pitches. He threw his share of hangers, though, which were punished. All four hits he gave up were crushed on breaking balls that didn't break. Salinas struck out 70 in 70 innings last season, so he clearly has the ability to use his stuff effectively at this level. He had a good ground ball ratio this year but was leaving a ton of pitches up in the zone yesterday. That's not a good combination for a guy who throws occasionally-flat off-speed stuff. Salinas is only 19, though, so he's got a chance to grow.
Matthew Renfree came on in the sixth and gave up two hits and a walk. Renfree has a little bit of a funky delivery. He comes way over the top, bringing the ball by his right ear, almost like a shortstop or third baseman. Not a lot of fluidity to the motion. He had a good move to first. I wasn't able to get any reliable radar readings.
Phill Hann came on again and looked good striking out consecutive batters in the sixth, but then blew up in the seventh with three hits and a walk, all of which came around to score.
Eddy Fernandez gave up the grand slam to Trent Kline and three runs overall in an inning of work. Much like Saturday, Fernandez was OK when working from ahead, but dreadful when behind in the count. He gave up a ringing base hit on a 2-1 pitch and then the grand slam on 2-0 when he had to come at Kline with a fastball. Because his fastball is barely touching 80, it's going to get hammered on a regular basis. He just doesn't seem to trust that he can throw the breaking stuff for strikes when he needs to, so he gives in with batting practice fastballs. I'd almost rather see him throw something junky on 2-0 to take advantage of over-aggressive hitters (of which there are many in A ball).
Christian Staehely was the last pitcher for the Sox. I didn't get a good read on him because he only threw three pitches.
Bennett Billingsley got the start at short and had a nice day, going 3-for-4. He put down a nice sacrifice bunt in the second inning as well. He played a nice shortstop, too. He doesn't have a great arm but was well-positioned and made all the plays asked of him.
Kevin Reynolds went 3-for-4 as well, and started the rally in the seventh inning. He turns 26 tomorrow, so I'm not quite sure what his future is in the organization. He was at West Tenn for 12 games this year, and hit .400 in 26 games with High Desert last year. He even played eight games with Tacoma last season, so he's been around. If he's thought of strictly as a center fielder, then he's stuck at one of the deepest positions in the organization, which may explain why he's still in short-season ball.
Travis Howell is clearly from the Oakland A's line of thinking. He saw 28 pitches in five plate appearances last night. He struck out three times, twice looking, but also came back from 0-2 to draw a walk in the seventh just before Baez' slam. He singled on a 1-2 pitch in the eighth that could've scored the tying run. Howell's Jack Cust-like mentality at the plate is rare at the low-A level. He's drawn nine walks in 12 games, and has a .512 OBP.