8/15: Just One Thing

 

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Does “batting around” mean nine or 10 batters come to the plate?

It’s a question that has stumped the baseball intelligentsia about as much as “is a hot dog a sandwich?” has perplexed the rest of the general public.

Senators broadcaster Terry Byrom and I had a spirited conversation on press row tonight discussing that. For the record, he’s all in the camp of nine. Me? Honestly, I’m not sure where I fall on it, but I like to take the opposing viewpoint just to be difficult. (Note: that actually explains a lot about my life)

Anyway, assume Byrom is correct, and it only takes nine batters to bat around the order. How often does it happen? No hard numbers, but I’d say that before Thursday night’s game the Senators have done it about five to eight times total this year. That’s enough times that fireworks and confetti don’t shoot off when it occurs, but still rare enough out of 1000+ innings played so far this season to sit up and take notice.

So what the Senators did Thursday night was pretty remarkable.

In back-to-back innings (the second and third), the Senators batted around sending nine men to the plate in each frame. Both innings began with Ian Sagdal reaching base safely and ended with Michael Taylor striking out.

In those innings:

  • David Masters had two doubles, drove in two runs, and scored two
  • Pitcher Tyler Mapes had a pair of singles driving in two, and scored two
  • Nick Banks also had a pair of singles, scored a pair, and drove in one
  • Tres Barrera and Andrew Stevenson each scored twice
  • And three different baserunners scored on wild pitches…and if it wasn’t for a fortuitous bounce, that number would have been four!!
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8/14: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

A night after the Curve and Senators exploded for 23 runs on 33 hits, the two teams combined for zero runs through Wednesday night’s first nine frames. Onto the tenth, we went, and with it, Altoona’s Chris Sharpe was placed on second base to start the top half of the inning.

It’s a rule that has been in place since the beginning of the 2018 season for the minor leagues. Although previously used in international competition, purists decried the implementation of the rule last year amid a flurry of changes Major League Baseball made as part of their initiative to speed up the pace of play.

Count Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy as someone who isn’t a fan after almost two full seasons of playing under the new rules.

“I don’t like it to be honest,” LeCroy said. “I like the old way. I think there are other ways to change it maybe, but I’d rather it just be the way it was.”

Trust me. I understand that way of thinking. But observationally I also think it has actually shortened the games.

Wednesday’s game was Harrisburg’s 11th extra-inning affair this season. Eight times a winner has been decided after only one extra frame, and the most they’ve had to play is 12 way back in mid-April.

Looking at complete minor league data comparing the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the results tell a similar story.

In 2018, games ended after only one extra inning 73 percent of the time. That’s an increase of 24 percent over 2017’s numbers. An average of 15 minutes per game was saved per contest that went into extras.

But why should I care about the time? I don’t. The more baseball, the better. But another argument can be made that its best outcome is preserving the young arms on any staff.

After the rule change, only 18 games across the entire minor leagues went more than three extra innings. Compare that to 2017 when a whopping 162 games went longer than that. Would you believe the longest game in 2017 went an extra 12 innings? Whereas the max a game went in 2018 was six extra frames.

For all the talk about the minor leagues being developmental, I don’t see any upside to a pitching staff having to man an extra 12 innings. That will easily wreck a bullpen for the next two weeks.

I got the uproar when this was announced. Old schoolers want to protect the sanctity of the game as it was and always has been. But there have always been tweaks to the rules of the game whether it’s something big like the designated hitter, or something much smaller like the mound height.

I’ve come around on the rule…until they try to enact it at the Major League level and then we’re back to rioting in the streets.

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8/13: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Tonight’s error-laden slugfest was another prime example of why the pitcher win is an irrelevant stat.

Since Harrisburg Senators’ pitcher Jackson Tetreault couldn’t finish the fifth inning, by rule he cannot be awarded the win. So it is left up to the sole discretion of the official scorer who he bestows the honor.

I do not disagree with the choice of Jordan Mills tonight. The lefty reliever got the final two outs of the fifth inning without allowing a run. But in doing so, he wasn’t very “effective” loading the bases on two singles and a catcher interference before inducing an inning-ending fielder’s choice.

The problem wasn’t the selection of Mills. It’s that no one else deserved it either.

Andrew Lee threw three innings which saved the bullpen from overtaxing itself the game after a day off. But the 25-year-old right-hander allowed three runs including one of the five Altoona homers on the night. What was an 11-5 game when he entered was suddenly down to only three-run lead before the offense tacked on two in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Called in to secure the victory, Aaron Barrett wasn’t much better. He breezed through the first two batters before allowing a single, home run, and a single. Mercifully, Barrett got Jason Delay swinging to end the game.

So who should get the win? Why is it even a thing anymore? We have all these stats that show a pitcher’s effectiveness and a win isn’t one of them.

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8/4: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Maybe it was only one inning against a strikeout-prone trio of Richmond batters. But then again perhaps reliever Kyle Barraclough is starting to figure things out if Sunday afternoon’s outing is any indication.

The 29-year-old right-hander struck out the side as he buzzed through the heart of the Richmond lineup needing only 13 pitches to punch out Jalen Miller, Jacob Heyward, and Zach Houchins.

After giving up a three-run homer to Justin Turner on July 26 and subsequently returning to Harrisburg, Barraclough worked two shutout innings with one walk and three strikeouts against Hartford on Thursday night. On Sunday, the 6-foot-3 reliever looked even sharper, and it was the way he challenged the Flying Squirrels in the strike zone.

“The stuff is there it’s just a matter of repeating his delivery and commanding the baseball,” Harrisburg pitching coach Michael Tejera said. “Today he repeated his delivery very well, and the direction was good. He was consistent. You can see the results.

“It’s something he’s been working on. He wasn’t getting too much rotation on it. That’s what happens when he gets in trouble, and his command suffers.”

Sunday could be the start of seeing Barraclough returning to the form that had the Nationals trade for him in the first place.

 

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8/2: Just One Thing

 

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

The first two pitches Tyler Mapes delivered on Saturday night were both laced for doubles by Richmond’s Bryce Johnson and Ryan Howard. The next four Mapes tossed weren’t in the strike zone with the last one hitting Jalen Miller.

This wasn’t the start Mapes or anyone in the Senators’ dugout had hoped for entering the game.

The previous night, starter Kyle McGowin couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, and Jordan Mills’ injury taxed the bullpen to pick up the slack. The last thing they needed was a short outing by Mapes, and that’s where things looked like they were headed in a hurry.

The 28-year-old right-hander, however, worked out of the jam allowing only two first-inning runs when the Flying Squirrels’ rally could have put the Senators in a much bigger hole to start the game.

“I was a little worried,” manager Matt LeCroy said. “He did a nice job squashing the damage.”

After that, Mapes settled down and gave the Senators precisely what they needed on the night. He followed with seven shutout innings allowing only five more hits while striking out 10 in his outing.

“Honestly, I found something in my motion,” Mapes said of the adjustment after the first inning. “Something finally clicked in my mechanics. It’s been a while. When I felt that feeling again, I was able to pitch to my strengths.”

Thanks in no small part to Richmond’s hideous defense, Harrisburg exploded for ten combined runs in the third and fourth innings to coast to an 11-2 win. The margin of victory also allowed LeCroy to stick with Mapes through 91 pitches.

“That was huge for our bullpen,” the skipper said. “It allowed me to give some guys a day off.”

Mapes’ season so far has been inconsistent at best, but when the pitching staff needed him to come up large, he delivered in a big moment.

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8/1: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

After a leadoff single and a subsequent four-pitch walk in the fifth inning, Harrisburg Senators manager Matt LeCroy, pitching coach Michael Tejera, and trainer TD Swinford congregated around reliever Jordan Mills.

From the dugout, LeCroy saw Mills doing as he said, “some funky looking stretches that didn’t look normal.” The southpaw threw one more pitch, and that was enough to receive an audience.

After a brief conversation, the powers that be decide Mills’ night was done. LeCroy and Tejera huddled before signaling for the “tall guy” in the bullpen. That would be the 6-foot-4 right-hander Bryan Bonnell.

Because Mills left with an injury, Bonnell was granted as many warm-up pitches as he wanted. Rule 5.07 (b) states:

“If a sudden emergency causes a pitcher to be summoned into the game without any opportunity to warm up, the umpire-in-chief shall allow him as many pitches as the umpire deems necessary.”

It’s a rule we’re all pretty much familiar with. But it did get me pondering a couple of questions I hadn’t thought of before.

Since Bonnell came into the game stone-cold will the umpires allow him any time to loosen up that doesn’t involve throwing? Watch the relievers in the bullpen skipping and stretching before they even throw one pitch. Is Bonnell allowed three minutes of calisthenics, or is he pretty much expected to start throwing right away?

And speaking of throwing, must warm-up pitches be from the mound? I remember Trevor Bauer in his UCLA days used to go behind the mound and get a couple of crow-hop throws in before he stepped up to the rubber. But the rule doesn’t explicitly say one way or another, so I’m left to wonder.

Maybe it’s just my mind wandering almost two hours into a game while it’s still just the fifth inning.

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7/30: Just One Thing

In an effort to write more than I have been, I decided to try at least putting together “Just One Thing” about each game I cover. It might be about a particular play, an at-bat, or a guy’s walk-up song. Whatever piques my interest that game. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Hartford Yard Goats, the Harrisburg Senators ranked dead last in the Eastern League in throwing runners out on the base paths. Through the season’s first 106 games, Harrisburg has caught a league-low 25 runners while allowing 74 successful stolen bases.

But as Tuesday night pointed out, the fault in those numbers can’t be laid entirely at the feet of catchers Tres Barrera and Spencer Kieboom.

Senators’ starting pitcher Kevin McGowan couldn’t have cared less about the runners that reached base. In the first three innings, Hartford ran roughshod to the tune of five stolen bases in as many attempts. The jumps the Yard Goats got off of McGowan made it nearly impossible for Barrera to have a fighting chance.

I say nearly because in the fourth inning Barrera threw out Nelson Molina at second base despite the Hartford second baseman getting a walking lead off of first base. It took a quick transfer, a quicker release, and a perfect throw to cut down Molina.

After the game, Senators’ manager Matt LeCroy said it was the first time the Senators’ staff had seen the 27-year-old right-hander pitch. The skipper knows they’ll have to work on McGowan paying attention to the baserunners and his times to home to give his catchers a chance.

It’s easy to look at the overall numbers and worry about that aspect of the catching corps. But as Tuesday showed that would be unfair to the men behind the plate.

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