No one said minor league games were easy to watch. A couple walks, a hit batsman, several pitches that eluded the catcher’s glove, the home plate umpire getting hit with two pitches (not foul balls, just pitches), a ground ball going through the 3rd baseman’s legs, a 2nd baseman who double clutches on an otherwise easy out at the plate, an infielder who fails to charge a ball resulting in an infield single and a pitcher who fails to cover 1st base on what should have been a 3-6-1 double play — and all of that was in the bottom of the 6th inning of the 2nd game of the series between the Bradenton Marauders and Tampa Yankees!
Diego Moreno entered the 6th inning with a 4-1 lead. Last year, Moreno was cruising through high A with two very effective pitches — a 98 MPH fastball and something offspeed that looked like a slider around 90 MPH and made hitters weak in the knees. Tonight, someone (the coaches? Ramon Cabrera?) decided Moreno should only throw fastballs. The problem was, he had no idea where it was going. He walked the first batter on four pitches and hit the next batter on a pitch probably two feet from his intended target. He had his velocity, throwing in the mid to high 90’s.
Moreno finally got straightened out in the next two batters, but that’s not necessarily a good thing as the Yankees’ #3 and #4 hitters smacked shots that I thought for sure were homers. They settled for back to back doubles which tied the score. A wild pitch and a walk later resulted in runners on 1st and 3rd.
After that, the defense basically fell apart which is somewhat understandable after a pitcher single-handedly blew a pretty big lead. The Yankees attempted a double steal with the slowest runner on the team on 3rd base. Cabrera threw to 2nd, Jarek Cunningham had an easy out at the plate, but couldn’t get the ball out of his glove. After a groundout moved the runner to 3rd, a hard two-hopper went to Elevys Gonzalez with the runner going home; Elevys brought his glove up too early (perhaps in anticipation of the easy out at the plate) and the ball went through his legs into the outfield.
I don’t know what happened to Moreno, but I never saw him look this bad last year. Unlike Duke Welker’s line last night, Moreno got what he deserved tonight.
Prior to Moreno’s meltdown, the Marauders built a 4-1 lead with basically one big hit. With one out in the 3rd, Robbie Grossman jumped on the first pitch to hit a line drive single into left field. Cunningham hit a very weak grounder to 2nd base (following a weak bloop single he had in his 1st at bat), which the 2nd basemen threw into the dugout to put runners on 2nd and 3rd for Evan Chambers. Luckily, Evan did not strike out but rather got the run home on a groundout to short.
In the 4th, Cabrera collected his 2nd of 3 hits, this one a solid single through the right side. He advanced to 2nd on a wild pitch and stayed there as Calvin Anderson hit a smash to the 3rd baseman for the first out. Then came the big hit, as Elevys Gonzalez crashed a triple into right center that just carried forever — on a night with no wind whatsoever. Gonzalez scored on a suicide squeeze by Adalberto Santos in which the Yankees forgot to cover 1st base. After Benji Gonzalez made the 2nd out (by interfering with the catcher on a steal attempt), Grossman beat out a weak grounder on a hit and run to get Santos to 3rd base, who then scored on a wild pitch.
So, of the Marauders 4 runs, 3 came home on a groundout to SS, a suicide squeeze and a wild pitch. They really lacked that big hit to put things away (sound familiar, Pirate fans?).
Other than those innings, the only offensive note were Cabrera’s two doubles. He absolutely roped a line shot over the head of the SS (batting righthanded) in his 1st at bat and then blooped a pitch just out of the 3rd baseman’s reach (batting lefthanded) in his 4th at bat. He lined out to RF in his 3rd at bat. To say that he’s seeing the ball well and centering on it is an understatement.
Moreno not only lost the game, but he ruined a very good start by Phil Irwin. Irwin was throwing in the low 90’s, sitting at 90-91 and occasionally getting to 93. He wasn’t particularly sharp as he had a tough time truly hitting his target, but he generally missed away from the middle of the zone. Cabrera almost always sets up low to one corner or another, so if the pitcher misses by a little, he shouldn’t end up in a hitter’s zone. Yankee batters continually hit the ball into the ground as witnessed by his 9 groundouts. Two of the three strikeouts were on curve balls that froze the hitters for a called strike three. And as usual for Pirate pitchers in the lower minors, a vast majority of his pitchers were fastballs.
One last note is that Porfirio Lopez looked very effective. He was truly pitching, moving in, out, up, down and changing speeds — the latter not only with different pitches, but by varying the speed of his fastball. At times he hit 93, other times he threw his fastball around 88-89. The batters were truly guessing against him, and hit the ball pretty hard the few times they guessed right. But the rest of the time, he made it look easy out there. A nice “mop up” job to finish the last 2 2/3 innings of a game the Marauders really could have won pretty easily.