MiLB Week in Review: Shepherd Has Hot Start

The minor league baseball season kicked into gear last Thursday, and despite some of the typical weather-related issues that come with early-April baseball, all four of the Tigers full-season affiliates managed to complete four games.

AAA Toledo Mud Hens
3-1, 1st in West Division

Perhaps inspired by the early season exploits of their big-league brethren, the Mud Hens began the year with a bang, out-hitting Louisville 18-2 and spoiling the Bats’ opening day with a 13-0 thrashing on Thursday. Xavier Avery and Jefry Marte both had spectacular debuts for their new organization, with Avery going 5-for-5 with a walk, two doubles, three runs scored, and two RBIs, and Marte finishing 3-for-5 with a three-run homer, two runs scored, and six RBIs.

Dylan Axelrod stifled the Hens’ bats for the first five innings of Friday’s game, but some shoddy Louisville defense (5 errors) helped Toledo storm back with six runs over the final four innings to pull off the 7-6 victory. Avery chipped in two more hits, while shortstop Dixon Machado went 3-for-5 with a double and three RBIs, including the game-winning single.

The Hens’ bats fell silent on Saturday, with the squad losing 5-0 to Louisville. Tim Melville’s organizational debut was spoiled in part by wildness, as he walked three batters and hit another en route to giving up four earned runs in as many innings. The Mud Hens bounced back on Sunday afternoon, however, besting Louisville 6-3 to take the series. The middle of the order provided most of the punch, with Tyler Collins notching two doubles and scoring two runs against a rehabbing Homer Bailey, and Marte going 1-for-1 with a walk, a run scored, and two sacrifice flies. Thad Weber gave up three runs over five innings to earn the win, his first for the Mud Hens since 2012.

  • Buck Farmer was spectacular in his 2015 debut on Thursday, pitching 5 ? scoreless innings, and surrendering just two hits and one walk while striking out eight.

  • Machado batted ninth in the first game, but moved to the two hole for the next three. His seven hits are tied for the second most in the International League.

  • Marte’s nine RBIs are the most in all of the minor leagues, and four more than anyone else in the International League.

AA Erie Seawolves
1-3, T5th in Western Division

The SeaWolves were unable to enjoy the same success as the Mud Hens, with Erie’s home opener rained out, and the team losing its first three games before eking out a narrow victory in the second half of a doubleheader on Sunday. The club struggled in all phases during their four-game set against Trenton, getting outscored 31-11 and committing nine errors. The Thunder outhit the Wolves 15-4 on Friday, piling on 11 runs after the 6th inning to finish with a 15-2 win.

The bats woke up a bit on Saturday, with Wynton Bernard and Corey Jones both picking up a couple of knocks and a stolen base, but the Wolves still fell 9-3. Chad Green struggled in his AA debut, surrendering five earned runs on five hits, three walks, and two home runs in just 3 ? innings to earn the loss.

In game one of Sunday’s doubleheader, Austin Kubitza, also making his Double-A debut, fared slightly better than Green, giving up two unearned runs while striking out six over four innings. However, Whit Mayberry surrendered three runs in relief, the offense couldn’t bail out the pitchers, and the SeaWolves fell 5-3. The team finally got in the win column with a 3-2 triumph in game two, as Bernard, Jones, and James Robbins all knocked in a run, and Josh Turley spun a four-hit gem, surrendering a lone run over six innings to earn the win.

  • In his new role as a full-time reliever, Edgar De La Rosa pitched two innings last week and notched his first save since 2010.

  • Erie center fielder Connor Harrell is just 2-for-14 to start the year, and his seven strikeouts are tied for the 2nd most in the Eastern League.

  • The SeaWolves didn’t hit a home run in their first four games, but they gave up seven long balls to the Thunder.

A+ Lakeland Flying Tigers
2-2, T2nd in North Division

In Lakeland the Flying Tigers and Tampa Yankees played four close games, with each team picking up two wins. The Flying Tigers fell 2-1 in their home opener on Thursday, with Kevin Ziomek earning the hard-luck loss after surrendering just one earned run on three hits and a walk over five innings. The Tigers got a measure of revenge on Friday night with a 5-3 win, courtesy of a four-run 8th inning. Newcomer Jiwan James and Javier Betancourt both had two hits on the night, and Francisco Martinez put the squad ahead late with a 2-run single. Montreal Robertson earned the win with two scoreless innings of relief, and Zac Reininger picked up the save with two scoreless frames of his own.

Saturday night’s game was delayed by weather for more than two hours, and when it finally began the Yankees pounced on starter Ryan Longstreth for five runs in the first two innings. He settled down to complete five innings, but the damage was done, and the Flying Tigers fell 7-3. Betancourt went 2-for-4 and provided the team’s only offense with a three-run homer in the 8th inning. Sunday afternoon saw the Tigers even the series with a 4-2 victory behind strong pitching from Tommy Collier and timely hitting from outfielders Jiwan James and Ismael Salgado. Collier tossed 5 shutout frames of one-hit ball, while Salgado provided a two-out, two-run double in the 2nd inning, and James added a two-out, two-run homer in the 7th.

  • The Flying Tigers 8th-inning comeback on Friday night began with two singles against former big-league closer Andrew Bailey.

  • After missing most of 2013 and all of 2014, reliever Joe Rogers returned to action with two appearances last week. On Sunday he earned his first save since 2012.

  • Converted position player Confesor Lara also made two relief appearances last week, giving up three hits and striking out four in 3 ? innings.

A West Michigan Whitecaps
2-2, T4th in Eastern Division

Like the SeaWolves, the Whitecaps had their home opener spoiled by inclement weather, but they were able to win their debut on Friday thanks to some some late-inning heroics. The team trailed the Dayton Dragons 4-2 heading into the bottom of the 8th, but a two-out, two-run single from Zach Shepherd tied the score, and one batter later Will Maddox drove in the game-winning run. Shepherd had two hits on the night, while outfielders Ross Kivett and Michael Gerber both contributed three hits and a steal. Starter Artie Lewicki took a no decision, giving up one earned run on three hits and three walks while striking out five over 4 1/3 innings.

The Dragons and Caps played two games on Saturday, with Dayton taking the opener 4-0, and West Michigan erupting for a 13-3 win in game two. No Whitecaps player reached base more than once in the first game, while six players reached at least twice in the nightcap. Kivett, Gerber, and Giancarlo Brugnoni all knocked in two runs, while Shepherd contributed three RBIs of his own. Last year’s second-round pick Spencer Turnbull picked up the win, striking out four and giving up three earned runs on five hits and a walk in five innings.

Sunday saw the Caps fall 5-1 to the Great Lakes Loons in the first of a three-game set. It was a tight 2-1 affair from the 3rd inning until the 9th when the Loons tacked on three runs. Maddox scored the team’s only run on a wild pitch by Loons starter Brock Stewart, and A.J. Ladwig took the loss despite giving up just two runs and striking out six over 4 1/3 innings.

  • Jeff Thompson started and took the loss in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. It was his first outing since May 2nd, 2014.

  • Top prospect Derek Hill doubled, stole a base, and scored two runs on Friday night. However, he exited game one on Saturday, and hasn’t played since.

  • Infielder Joey Pankake has begun the year 0-for-11 at the plate, but has walked four times against just one strikeout, and has scored two runs.

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