West Virginia @ Hagerstown (DH) – July 26
Game One – West Virginia 8, Hagerstown 4
Game Two – Hagerstown 9, West Virginia 3
The West Virginia Power split a doubleheader Monday with the Hagerstown Suns. Game One feature two rehabbing pitchers, Jordan Zimmermann and Brett Lorin. Zimmermann is expected to be the Nationals’ number two starter once he makes it back from Tommy John surgery, and it looked like it’d be a tough game for the Power when he fanned the first two hitters, Elevys Gonzalez and Jarek Cunningham. Both hitters tried to work the count and fell behind, then couldn’t handle it when Zimmermann started changing speeds. After that, however, the Power hitters got more aggressive early in the count and hammered Zimmermann throughout the rest of his outing.
Game Two was a different story, as West Virginia starter Quinton Miller, another pitcher working his way back from injury, failed to get through the first inning and got tattooed for seven runs. Hagerstown coasted from there.
One news item: Two weeks ago, injured pitchers Victor Black and Jeff Inman were with the Power in Hagerstown. Neither was there on Monday, although another injured pitcher, Kyle McPherson, was. According to one of the players, Black is through for the year. The same is almost certainly true of Inman.
Comments on specific players:
Lorin had little trouble with a fairly good Hagerstown lineup, except for one belt-high fastball to J.P. Ramirez that cost him two runs. Lorin is 6’7” and an intimidating presence on the mound. The West Virginia battery was quite a sight, as catcher Ramon Cabrera is 5’7” at most. He throws with an easy motion that probably entices scouts to think he can add velocity. His fastball registered from 88-92, mostly 91-92. If he threw anything other than a fastball in his four innings, I didn’t see it. This could be a product of the fact that he hasn’t pitched a great deal since returning from hip surgery, as well as the organization’s focus on fastball command. Lorin located the pitch very well, producing a surprising number of swings and misses. He also got an even more surprising number of called strikes, especially for a pitcher throwing little or nothing besides fastballs, and who was in or close to the strike zone consistently. I’m not sure of the explanation for this, but it could be his fastball gets in on the hitters faster than they realize it will. Lorin appears to be primarily a flyball pitcher and he does well at jamming hitters to produce popups. He probably came out after four innings due to a restricted pitch count. On the whole, it looks to me as though he needs to move up soon to face more challenging hitters.
Lefty Eliecer Navarro pitched the final three innings of the first game. He was less impressive, getting hit hard throughout. In his first two innings enough balls were hit at the fielders for him to avoid damage, but it caught up with him in the seventh and he allowed two runs. He throws in the mid- to upper-80s and mixes in a lot of breaking balls. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher and may have problems with hitters at higher levels.
Miller simply got pummeled. He threw almost all fastballs, which is typical at this level the first time through a lineup. The Suns’ hitters, however, simply sat on the fastball and Miller didn’t have enough on it to get hitters out. He missed few bats and wasn’t able to put hitters away after he got two strikes. I didn’t see the gun readings for him, but I doubt he threw anything above 90. He threw maybe two sliders and a changeup, all of which went for strikes. He throws from a lower arm angle than most pitchers, although I’m not sure I’d call it three-quarters. I saw him a year ago and he had a high-effort delivery, which isn’t the case now. I also don’t believe he was throwing with a lower arm slot, but that may just be a faulty memory. In any event, it looks like the Pirates are trying to smooth out his delivery.
Jarek Cunningham had a better day than his 1-for-8 line indicates. He hit one long drive that was caught, another to the wall in center that the centerfielder dropped for a three-base error, and a blistering line drive that the shortstop snared. At the same time, he had several bad at-bats in which he struggled to recognize off-speed stuff, resulting in a lot of swings and misses, and called strikes. This has been the case when I’ve seen him in the past. On the positive side, the ball jumps off his bat when he makes good contact. He showed good speed on the error and in going from first to third on a single to center. He also showed pretty good range in the field on at least one grounder in the hole, and he has a good arm.
Evan Chambers played only the second game. He was pounding the ball two weeks ago, but he’s slumped since then. He was quoted in an article very recently as saying he needs to be more aggressive and take fewer pitches, so it’s hard not to wonder whether he’s struggling with his approach. He took a lot of pitches in three of his four at-bats on Monday and got behind in the count every time. He finished with two strikeouts and two weak grounders.
Jose Hernandez and David Rubinstein appear to be the Power’s designated organizational bats. Both were later round draft picks who are rather old for this level, 24 in Hernandez’ case and 23 in Rubinstein’s. Hernandez is listed at 5’11”, but I doubt he’s that tall. He looks like he has wiry strength, though, and he takes a big cut without swinging and missing all that often. He crushed the ball in all three at-bats against Zimmermann, including a long HR beyond the outer wall in left. That’s not easy territory to reach in Hagerstown, which has a sort of reverse Kiner’s Korner in left. Rubinstein is similar to Jason Delaney in that he takes a controlled swing and tends to serve the ball to right-center. Unlike Delaney he runs well and doesn’t have especially good plate discipline. He had three singles altogether on Monday, without driving anything.
If you’re not sure what scouts mean by “bad body language,” you should watch Jesus Brito, the player the Pirates got from Cleveland for Brian Bixler. Brito played only the second game. In his first at-bat, he struck out on a pitch that bounced in front of the catcher. Even after he realized the pitch had bounced, Brito turned and walked to the dugout instead of running to first.
Elevys Gonzalez played third in the first game and short in the second. He does everything decently and nothing exceptionally well. He handled all his routine chances in the field in the two games and got the bat on the ball except for that first at-bat. He had a triple in Game One that was actually a soft liner that the right fielder lost in a very tough sun. He hit a double into the gap in Game Two. He’s (deservedly) been taking playing time away from Brito lately, but I can’t see him as more than a minor league utility guy.
Rogelios Noris got West Virginia going in Game One with a three-run HR to right-center on the first pitch he saw from Zimmermann. He didn’t hit anything hard after that, although he managed a walk in Game Two and didn’t strike out at all. For a guy who came in with a 97:10 K:BB ratio, that’s an achievement. Noris has a hitting style that’s very similar to Steve Pearce’s back when Pearce was in the low minors: He’s extremely aggressive and gets his weight forward at a very early stage, which makes it difficult for him to adjust to off-speed pitches. On Monday he managed to hold back enough to make contact every time up, but he didn’t have good swings after the HR. In the outfield he wandered a bit on a couple flies, which may be an indication why he plays only left. His arm appears at least average, maybe a bit better.