RC was in Omaha on Thursday to watch the O-Royals' 4-2 victory over the Nashville Sounds. Starting pitcher Denny Bautista threw seven solid innings, yielding only three hits and no runs while walking two and striking out a pair. Ryan Braun picked up the save in a scoreless inning of relief, and Shane Costa continued his hot hitting by going 2-for-4 with two more RBIs.
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A few of RC's impressions (and photos) from the game:
We'd sure like to see more starts like this from Bautista. If he can stay in the strike zone like he did on Thursday, he'll have no problem succeeding in the Major Leagues. Of course, consistency has always been his problem, so hopefully he can use Thursday's start as a building block. Bautista was working off of his fastball, which ranged from 93-98 mph all day long, but he was also mixing in a nasty slider at 87-90 mph, and an occasional knuckle-curve at 85-86 mph.
Denny Bautista was excellent on Thursday
As is usually the case, Bautista came out of the gate with a barrage of 98 mph fastballs, probably four-seamers, in the first inning, but settled down in the innings thereafter to work consistently in the 93-95 range with more movement. After a mini-bout of wildness in the early innings, he really locked in, and he was keeping the ball low in the zone all afternoon. We were surprised he didn't record more strikeouts, but it was of little consequence, as most of the opposing batters could do little more against him than drive the ball into the ground.
Much to our chagrin, Justin Huber sat out for the second straight game with a strained hamstring. In an in-depth interview after the game, Huber told RC that the injury isn't serious, but he'll definitely be out for several more days. We also spoke in detail about Huber's move to the outfield, his earlier promotion to Kansas City, and his June slump, and Huber told us several tidbits we hadn't previously heard. We asked him which position he's most comfortable at, and his answer might surprise you. Be sure to check out our interview with Huber, posted today on Royals Corner.
Shane Costa had a nice day, picking up two RBIs on two groundball singles. He didn't hit either particularly hard, but both found holes. Costa, who snapped his 16-game hitting streak on Wednesday, is presently hitting .377 for Omaha. And he still looks really mean.
Shane Costa singles home a run in the first inning
Andres Blanco can still pick it. Blanco flashed both his arm and range, and he made the play of the day. On a ball hit to the right field side of second base, Blanco ranged far to his left, spun, and threw a bullet to nail the batter-runner by a couple of steps. He made all of the routine plays easily as well, and he's still a lot of fun to watch out at short.
Blanco made the play of the day.
The most impressive performance of the day, however, was turned in by closer Ryan Braun. We'll have more to say about Braun in the coming days -- including an interview that we'll publish later this weekend – but Braun came in and completely mowed down the Sounds in the ninth inning, recording two strikeouts and his second save in a perfect inning of relief. Braun's fastball consistently registered 98 mph on the stadium radar gun, and he told us after the game that he's actually been throwing harder than that lately. He set up one K by throwing a 98 mph heater under a batter's chin, and then bouncing a nasty strike-three curveball (which teammate Justin Huber refers to as "The Terminator") away in the dirt at 83 mph. He also showed an excellent slider, which he threw at 88-90 mph.
"Nasty" is the only way to describe Ryan Braun
RC saw Braun pitch quite often in the Carolina League in 2004, and we were absolutely convinced that he'd appear in the Royals' bullpen at some point in 2005. However, he developed a shoulder problem that required surgery, and he missed nearly the entire 2005 season. Braun told us after the game that he feels no lingering effects from his earlier injury, and that he's throwing better than ever. On the season, Braun now has a 1.99 ERA with 12 saves and 61 Ks in 45.1 IP between Wichita and Omaha.
We had hoped to talk to newly acquired second baseman Jeff Keppinger, but he hadn't arrived in Omaha yet. However, prior to the game, we did get a chance to see Ruben Gotay, who was traded for Keppinger, say goodbye to his former teammates, and we snapped a photo as he was making the rounds through the dugout.
Farewell and good luck, Ruben.
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