The Bradenton Marauders finally won their first game of the season, beating the St. Lucie Mets 4-3. Bradenton had several chances to win a game over the last week, but blew a lot of those chances. Yesterday they threw the game away with six errors. Today the play was much better all around, with good pitching, timely hitting, and not as many errors on defense.
Adrian Sampson got off to a rough start in the first inning, giving up two runs. He settled down and went 4.1 innings, being removed with two runners on and one out in the fifth. Robbie Kilcrease came on and got out of the jam, which kept the score at 2-1 St. Lucie.
Bradenton’s lone run at that point came on a bases loaded walk by Jacob Stallings against top prospect Noah Syndergaard. The Marauders tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning thanks to some strong play by Benji Gonzalez. Gonzalez singled with two outs, then stole second on a key play. Gregory Polanco followed up with his second hit of the night, bringing in Gonzalez. One inning earlier, Polanco singled to break up a no hitter through 3.1 innings by Syndergaard, and later scored on the Stallings walk.
Kilcrease gave up a run in the seventh inning, putting the Mets up 3-2. Bradenton bounced back, again thanks to Gonzalez. Alen Hanson hit a one out infield single, beating out a slow roller to second base. Hanson then stole second for his fourth stolen base of the year. That’s when Gonzalez came up and connected with an RBI double to the right-center gap, bringing in Hanson to tie the score. A two-out Jose Osuna single put Gonzalez on third, and he scored the go-ahead run on a single by Dan Gamache.
That same play caused the benches to clear and tempers to flare. Right fielder Charley Thurber threw home to try and get Gonzalez. Gamache ran to second, but the ball was cut off and Gamache was caught in a rundown. Jose Osuna tried to break for home, and shortstop Matt Reynolds threw to the plate. Osuna tried to knock the ball out of catcher Cam Morton’s glove by colliding with him, but was unsuccessful. Morton said something to Osuna, and Osuna shouted back at Morton. The two continued exchanging words, which prompted the benches to clear. That’s about as far as the altercation got, with everything calming down just in time for the bullpens to arrive in the infield after running in from the outfield.
Zach Thornton came on in the eighth inning and threw two shutout innings, striking out two, to close out the win.
Adrian Sampson Has a Much Better Game
The line score didn’t look great. Adrian Sampson gave up two runs on four hits in 4.1 innings, with a walk and three strikeouts. That was better than his high-A debut, where Sampson gave up six runs, three earned, in 2.2 innings. It’s not hard to improve over the first start. However, Sampson looked considerably better tonight, especially after the first inning.
“Felt good after the first inning,” Sampson said. “I kind of felt like I did last outing [in the first]. A little on edge, just had a little jitters going. After that inning I just kind of didn’t think about anything. Just put my thoughts behind me. Trusted Stallings behind the plate, and got after it early in the count and put them away late in the count. After that first inning I feel like everything clicked. I got in a groove, got in a good rhythm, and everything fell into place.”
Sampson left a pitch up with two runners on in the first inning for one of his few mistakes on the day. That led to the only two runs he allowed. He settled down after that. His fastball, which was in the upper 80s to low 90s in his first start, was much better tonight. He was throwing it 91-93 and attacking hitters. He also got a chance to use his curveball more often. The curve is his best pitch, and one scout commented favorably on the pitch and the command, noting that Sampson can land the pitch whenever he wants to.
“Just based on my stuff, I feel like my stuff can beat a lot of guys,” Sampson said. “I have a lot of confidence in my stuff, and to get to that feeling of ‘I can beat everyone’, I have to be comfortable with where I’m at.”
Sampson was trying to locate early in the game, but got more confident after the first and started pitching, rather than throwing.
“If you’re trying to locate, you don’t put as much behind it,” Sampson said. “You take a little off and you’re kind of soft up there. I feel like if you stop caring, trust your body, trust your stuff, it’s going to end up where you want it to go. And that’s what I did today. My curveball, I never just looped one over. I was strong with the curveball every time.”
Last time out he didn’t get in a position to use his off-speed stuff as much. Tonight he used the off-speed stuff early in the game, especially in the first inning since St. Lucie is an aggressive team at the plate with guys on base. He only threw a few changeups on the night, and pretty much got by with his fastball/curveball combo.
Defense Has Been a Struggle This Year
Earlier today I wrote about how the Marauders have had a poor defense early in the season. The lowlight came Friday night when they allowed six errors. I spoke with manager Frank Kremblas about the defense tonight, wondering if the poor play might result in a visit from infield coordinator Gary Green.
“If it’s one specific guy making some kind of mechanical thing, probably,” Kremblas said on when the team might consider getting instruction from Green. “It’s not mechanical. It’s all mental, in my opinion, from a standpoint of their focus isn’t on what they need to be doing right then. Whether it’s they’re happy they got a hit. Whether sad the umpire made a bad call. Whether the pitcher is not throwing strikes.”
That’s been one of the frustrating things about a lot of the infield errors. They’ve come on routine plays. Alen Hanson has made some nice plays this year, but a lot of his errors have been on plays he should have no problem making. The same goes for Dan Gamache. Chris Lashmet had three errors on Friday, and his issue was actually a mechanical problem. He was holding his glove flat on the ground, which made it more likely for the ball to hit off the heel and bounce away if it took the smallest hop. That’s what happened all three times on Friday. After the game, Lashmet was told to focus on keeping the glove off the ground, allowing the ball to hop up into the web, rather than hopping up off the heel of the glove.
Hanson could have had two additional errors on Friday. He added one more to his total tonight. A lot of Hanson’s errors have been on routine plays, and have been fielding errors rather than throwing errors. Kremblas noted that he’s making poor decisions and not being aggressive. Tonight’s error was a fielding error which ended in a bad throw. Hanson has been working on funneling the ball to his chest, which allows him to make more accurate throws. He didn’t do that in the eighth inning of tonight’s game.
“Today’s error, he didn’t funnel,” Kremblas said. “And he threw wildly. Because he had to hurry up, and as lanky as he is…he caught it here and exchanged down here, instead of bringing it in and making his arm short — which is why you funnel, so that everything shortens up. And he had to hurry, so his arm can’t catch up to his feet.”
Defense is going to be a problem for the Marauders this year, and for someone like Hanson it’s going to be the biggest priority. His offense would look good at shortstop, and he probably will never be a positive value defender, but he does need to improve his defense enough to the point where he doesn’t totally take away from his offensive production.
As for that offense, Hanson’s numbers don’t look strong, but his hitting looks better than the numbers. He’s making good contact, and a few of his hits have gone right to fielders. He’s also been very smart on the bases. Hanson has been a playmaker early in the season, getting timely hits and clutch stolen bases when the team needs a run.