Saturday, August 20, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: Chiefs 3, PawSox 1

Swift summation
In the Triple-A team’s fourth-ever regular-season visit to Boston’s ballyard Saturday afternoon, tomorrow’s Red Sox were victimized by one of yesterday’s Red Sox fans.

Massachusetts native Matt Antonelli contributed two of his team’s hits and accounted for two runs, effectively spelling the difference in the Syracuse Chiefs’ 3-1 triumph over the PawSox at Fenway Park.

The loss was a particularly ugly way of prolonging Kyle Weiland’s winless streak, which is now at seven overall games between Pawtucket and Boston dating back to his last win at Rochester on Independence Day.

Recently, Weiland was likely cheated out of a winning decision by the elements when an eventual 6-1 win at Charlotte was suspended by inclement weather after two innings. And he endured a tough losing decision at Gwinnett one week to the date of Saturday’s game owing primarily to the misfortune of countering a superior pitching staff.

But against Syracuse, Weiland was hexed by an overdose of personal gaffes and his teammates’ inability to mooch much off of Chiefs starter Brad Meyers.

Designated hitter Daniel Nava drew first blood for the Sox in the bottom of the first, belting a solo homer into the Red Sox bullpen. But it was simply all downhill from there for the hosts, who are now 2-2 all-time in the still relatively novel Futures at Fenway event.

Antonelli pulled the Chiefs even in the second, leading off with a single, advancing to second on a passed ball to Seth Bynum and scoring ahead of Bynum’s rolling base hit to center.

Weiland briefly gained control soon thereafter and retired each of his next 10 challengers for a 1-2-3 third and fourth. But not long after Steve Lombardozzi broke up that trend with a one-out walk in the fifth, Weiland paid the blinking fee.

Lombardozzi would advance to second on Roger Bernardina’s grounder to first, steal third with Chris Marrero at the plate and grant Syracuse a 2-1 lead with the help of Jesus Valdez’s single.

Antonelli constituted the Chiefs’ third run in the next inning. He led off with a double to left, advanced to third on a wild pitch by Weiland and then came home on Bynum’s single, promptly ending Weiland’s outing.

Meanwhile, after Luis Exposito led off the third with a double, only to be stranded, the PawSox afforded themselves three baserunners over the next five innings. All of them would be abolished before they could be stranded.

In the sixth, Jose Iglesias lined a leadoff single to center, but was picked off with Che-Hsuan Lin at the dish. Nava led off the home half of the seventh with a walk, but was eliminated with Lars Anderson on the Chiefs’ second defensive double play of the game.

Likewise, pinch-hitter Nate Spears led off the eighth with a single to right, but went down with Exposito on an inning-ending twin kill.

PawSox pluses
In relief of Weiland, Jason Rice at least stopped the bleeding and retired nine out of 10 challengers between the first out of the sixth and the conclusion of the eighth. With his third single in four at-bats, Bynum was the only Chief to reach base on Rice’s watch.

Sox stains
Weiland was done after garnering only an even five innings-pitched. He had thrown 92 pitches, only 51 for strikes. In his last three losses with the PawSox, he has lasted no more than 5.1 innings.

Brett Carroll and Ryan Kalish were both particularly quiet at the dish. Carroll batted 0-for-3 with a strikeout and two popups. Kalish, meanwhile, whiffed once and dropped a pair of grounders in his first three at-bats, then ended the game with a lineout to left.

Chiefs notes
Meyers improved to 5-4 on the year after allowing one run on five hits in an even six innings. Atahualpa Severino and Jeff Mandel garnered the hold and the save, respectively, upon allowing only one baserunner apiece in a cumulative three innings of relief work.

Over the course of his first three at-bats, Jhonatan Solano constituted the third out of the first, third and fifth innings. In his fourth at-bat, Solano struck out for the third time on the day to lead off the eighth.

Roger Bernardina finished with a line similar to Solano, going 0-for-4 with three Ks.

With Will Middlebrooks getting his first infield start in Pawtucket, Hector Luna had a rare start at second base. Luna went 0-for-1 with a walk and was caught stealing for the first time in seven attempts this season to bring the second inning to an abrupt end. Luna was replaced by Spears, effective at what would have been his third plate appearance in the bottom of the seventh.

Another pair of positional oddities had Lin playing right field while Kalish took his post in centerfield and Carroll patrolled the spot in front of the Green Monster. Lin was credited with three putouts, all of them liners, and posted a .984 fielding percentage on the day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 7, Clippers 1

Swift summation
The more the baseball gods inexplicably tear them apart, the closer the Pawtucket Red Sox come together. Or, so it seemed by the end of Friday night’s outing.

Whether they did it by driving in runs, crossing the plate themselves or a combination, eight out of nine batters contributed to a 7-1 lashing of the Columbus Clippers at McCoy Stadium. In doing so, they rewarded newcomer Greg Smith in his first PawSox start.

Smith, who was just claimed off waivers from the Yankees organization and was pitching in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre attire as late as last Saturday, plugged the hole in Friday’s lineup card left by injuries to Matt Fox and Brandon Duckworth. He took a step beyond that with a one-run, seven-inning gem against the I.L.-leading Clippers.

Almost anything the southpaw Smith’s outing was, Columbus starter Mitch Talbot’s wasn’t. By the time Talbot was finished, the veteran of 42 Major League games had thrown 84 pitches in a mere 3.2 innings.

Unsavory items on Talbot’s tab included six runs on seven hits, three walks, three stolen bases behind his back, a balk and one of his team’s three errors up to that point.

One of two unearned runs was still, for all intents and purposes, Talbot’s fault as his throwing error allowed Daniel Nava to score all the way from first on Lars Anderson’s infield single with two out in the fourth.

The PawSox began their first mosquito-like feeding frenzy on Talbot in the second inning as Hector Luna and Brett Carroll started the second inning with back-to-back doubles. Luis Exposito followed up with a walk and followed Carroll into scoring position on Talbot’s balk.

After a pair of strikeouts, Nate Spears lined his second centerfield single in as many at-bats, this time with enough force to score both runners and augment the lead to 3-0.

With one out in the fourth, Jose Iglesias effectively kindled Pawtucket’s next sugar rush when he reached on third baseman Jared Goedert’s fielding error. He would hustle home for the team’s fourth run on Che-Hsuan Lin’s double to the left-center warning track.

Lin advanced to third on Spears’ sacrifice grounder to second and waited patiently while Nava drew a walk. The two men would subsequently score on a bizarre play as Lars Anderson squeezed out an infield single and advanced to second while Talbot the Clippers engaged themselves in a vain effort to throw out Nava at third.

The Clippers finally got to Smith in the seventh. Nick Johnson and Goedert lined back-to-back singles and Johnson put Columbus on the board with the invitation of Argenis Reyes’ two-out double.

Smith would hand things over to Hideki Okajima after an even seven innings and having thrown 84 pitches to match the besieged Talbot’s bushel.

In the bottom of the seventh, Pawtucket touched Columbus’ second reliever, Matt Langwell, whose outing was at first reminiscent of his starter’s. Anderson reached second on Goedert’s second error of the night, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored his team’s seventh run on Luna’s rolling single to shallow left-center.

PawSox pluses
Although none of them amounted to extra runs, the Sox capitalized on Talbot’s contagious sloppiness and swiped three early bags in as many innings. With two out in the first, Spears and Nava pulled off a double-steal to put themselves each in scoring position while Luna pilfered second in the third with two down in the third.

Spears, who also batted 2-for-4 on the night, is now tied with Lin for the team lead with 13 steals. Meanwhile, Nava has nine on the year and Luna is a perfect 6-for-6 in his stealing attempts on the year.

Sox stains
Handling the DH duties in his Triple-A debut, touted third baseman Will Middlebrooks went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. He was directly liable for leaving a combined three runners in scoring position in the third and fourth. He later swung and missed at a payoff pitch with Anderson at third in the seventh.

Clippers notes
Columbus stranded each of its first four baserunners, only one of whom reached scoring position. That was Cord Phelps, who leveled a two-out triple to right field in the third.

Designated hitter Beau Mills batted 2-for-4 on the night and finished the series 4-for-11. Goedert nailed a pair of singles himself.

Talbot’s first reliever, Paolo Espino, pitched 2.1 scoreless innings, allowing only one hit in the form of a ground-rule double by Jose Iglesias.

Okajima has now pitched four straight scoreless innings with only one hit allowed, that being a single by Jerad Head in the eighth Friday night.

Fresh off the disabled list, Royce Ring polished the game off in the ninth in his first appearance in nine days.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nava has made a positive U-turn in little time

Save for a few homering spurts during last week’s Southern excursion, Ryan Lavarnway’s bat was virtually gone from the PawSox clubhouse for the first half of August. As of Thursday, it had literally vanished with him, gone to Kansas City for the on-and-off slugger’s Major League debut.

Even in bitter defeat, 7-5, at the hands of the Columbus Clippers, Pawtucket can take comfort in the fact that Daniel Nava’s power has returned and chipped in consistently since the tail end of July.

Moments after the Sox squandered a 4-3 lead on the strength of Beau Mills’ eighth-inning grand slam, Nava cultivated the only fruitful seeds in the spontaneous rally effort. With two out in the bottom of the eighth, he launched a solo home run over the left-center wall.

While his teammates couldn’t do anything to build upon that and salvage the game, Nava redeemed himself after flying out to Columbus left fielder Chad Huffman at the left field warning track in his previous at bat. He also saved himself from what would have been his second hitless outing in three nights.

More notably, though, it was Nava’s fifth home run in his last 10 games, dating back to a dinger in Charlotte last Tuesday.

Before that game, Nava had left the yard only three times in his first 94 outings on the year. Overall, he was hitting 90-for-344, translating to a .261 batting average coupled with 26 runs batted in.

Beginning with a 2-for-3 performance that included his dinger and three RBIs, he has upped his overall average to .266, driving in nine runs over the last 10 ventures.

Nava has also enjoyed four multi-hit games in his last 10 played. In his first 94, leading up to Aug. 5, he had 24 to speak of and none dating back to July.

Now he suddenly trails only Lars Anderson for the team lead with 29 multi-hit bushels.

In the current month as a whole, Nava is now hitting 19-for-53 for a .358 batting average. He has hit safely in 12 of his last 14 games.

And remember, for all intents and purposes, his August started three days later than that of his teammates. For the month’s first two days, in the latter half of a four-game home set with the Louisville Bats, Nava served only one plate-appearance, drawing a pinch-hit walk and scoring a run.

Nava sat out the full length of the next game and the team had the subsequent day off before the Buffalo Bisons came to McCoy. Nava was reposted to his usual defensive spot in left field, but all but instantaneously descended from the No. 2 slot in his previous start to No. 7 in the batting order.

Tough to blame manager Arnie Beyeler for that move at the time. After all, Nava had gone 1-for-17 in the preceding seven days of action.

He would remain the seventh batter for the duration of the Buffalo series, ultimately short-circuited by a rainout. But in the three games that were played, he batted 6-for-13, garnering exactly one more hit each night than the previous.

Nava was nudged up to the sixth spot for the first installment of last week’s visit to Charlotte, but mustered only one at-bat in a game that was suspended and picked up the following afternoon.

Normalcy was almost restored for the second half of the ensuring doubleheader last Tuesday. Instead of regaining his usual second spot, Nava immediately preceded cleanup man Lars Anderson and went 2-for-3 with a two-run blast in the fifth that effectively decided the PawSox 5-1 triumph over the Knights.

That constituted his fourth dinger of the year. In a matter of nine days, he has doubled that collection to eight, all of his hits coming from the upper echelon of the PawSox batting order.

And perhaps symbolically, the youngster who has played 60 Major League games, all in 2010, figures to see his first lick of action in Boston this Saturday as part of the “Futures at Fenway” doubleheader.

Suffice it to say, if he props up this pace, the late-blooming Nava ought to see some authentic Yawkey Yard action before the 2011 campaign runs its course.

Post-game pop-ups: Clippers 7, PawSox 5

Swift summation
On a day when starters Matt Fox and Brandon Duckworth were both placed on the disabled list, the last thing the PawSox faithful needed was another dose of unusual vinegary pitching news. Yet the oft-reliable veteran Scott Atchison let it leak anyway.

Atchison had not allowed a single run in a cumulative 11 straight innings pitched leading up to a dramatic bases-loaded, two-out scenario in the eighth.

But after Tim Fedroff and Cord Phelps hit back-to-back singles and Travis Buck drew an intentional walk, Beau Mills belted the Clippers’ second grand slam in three nights, usurping a 7-4 lead.

From there, the PawSox could only whittle down the deficit to 7-5, courtesy of a solo home run by Daniel Nava. The Clippers turned that difference to stone for a steal of a 7-5 victory at McCoy Stadium, spoiling what was arguably a win-worthy Triple-A debut for the freshly promoted Alex Wilson.

Each team’s performance in the first inning was hardly indicative of the encore in the second. Both teams initially went down 1-2-3, failing to put a single ball beyond the infield.

Columbus drew first blood in the top of the second courtesy of Paul Phillips, whose sacrifice fly to right field with nobody out and the bases loaded scored Shelley Duncan from third.

But the PawSox were apt to retort as four straight hits amounted to four straight runs. After Lars Anderson and Nate Spears led off the bottom half with back-to-back singles, Hector Luna’s liner dropped deep enough into left field to score Anderson from second for a 1-1 knot. Brett Carroll wasted no time tripling to right, pushing Spears and Luna home for a 3-1 lead.

Carroll completed the four-run outburst when he scored ahead of Jose Iglesias’ sacrifice grounder to short.

With Mills on board with a walk in the fourth, Jared Goedert homered to right to reduce Pawtucket’s lead to 4-3.

The contesting starters, Wilson and Zach McAllister of Columbus, regained control for a while thereafter. Between the bottom of the fourth and the top of the sixth, neither bat rack spawned a single baserunner. Anderson broke that up with a rolling, one-out single to right-center in the bottom of the sixth.

But after Wilson and Anderson combined to retire 10 straight Clippers, Columbus perked up with a fatal vengeance in the eighth.

PawSox pluses
At times, the Clippers threatened to max out Wilson’s pitch count earlier than preferred from a Pawtucket standpoint. But in his Triple-A debut, Wilson doled out a decent 87 pitches over six innings and passed along a 4-3 lead to Atchison to commence the seventh.

Wilson’s highlights included striking out third-slotted Columbus batter Chad Huffman and cleanup man Buck in each of their first two confrontations. He later caught Buck looking at an 0-2 strike to begin a 1-2-3 sixth en route to retiring each of his final eight challengers following Goedert’s home run.

Luna had yet another solid night at the dish, hitting 3-for-4 and hitting an assertive fly ball for his only out. He has now hit 17-for-39 in his last 11 outings.

Sox stains
Jose Iglesias grounded out each of his first three plate appearances. In the bottom of the seventh, he egregiously spilled an opportunity to potentially augment what was then a 4-3 edge when he hit into a double play that also eliminated Carroll and ended a quick inning. The thing was that it became a double-play primarily because Iglesias failed to realize that his short-distance grounder was in fair territory and therefore opted not to make a break for first base.

In the ninth, Iglesias struck out swinging to strand Luna on second and end the game.

From the bottom of the batting order to the top, it was an even less eventful night at the dish for Che-Hsuan Lin. He went 0-for-4 on the night with a pair of grounders and a set of strikeouts.

Clippers notes
Mills and Tim Fedroff piloted the visitors’ offensive cause with two hits and a walk apiece.

McAllister lasted an even seven innings. In relief, Nick Hagadone allowed one run and hit in the form of Nava’s home run while Josh Judy surrendered a leadoff single to Luna. Otherwise, they had relative facility salvaging McAllister’s second winning decision over Pawtucket this season.

Wilson was credited with a fielding assist upon throwing out Fedroff as the leadoff man tried to get on base by way of a first-pitch, short-distance bunt in the fifth.

PawSox catcher Luis Exposito barely missed out on an extra-base hit in each of his final two at-bats on the night. In the seventh, he was foiled by Huffman at the left-field warning track while Fedroff caught his fly at the straightaway centerfield warning track in the ninth.

The loss was only Pawtucket’s ninth on the year when leading after six innings.

10 Highlights On The P-Bruins’ 2011-12 Schedule

Friday, October 7: Opening night at the Dunkin Donuts Center will also constitute the inaugural regular season contest for the St. John’s IceCaps. The Bruins, meanwhile, will begin their first of three three-game homestands on the slate as they welcome Worcester on Oct. 9 and Manchester Oct. 14.

Saturday, October 15: Although they are newly separated into different divisions by the AHL’s poorly executed realignment, the league’s two most time-honored New England cities will still converge a healthy 10 times on the year. The first of those meeting will also be Providence’s first road trip as they visit Springfield on this date. The Falcons will pay their first of five visits to The Dunk on Nov. 18.

Sunday, October 16: When the Portland Pirates visit The Dunk, it will be the P-Bruins’ first bout with a Phoenix Coyotes farm team since dropped a 5-1 decision to the San Antonio Rampage at home Feb. 13, 2009.

Friday-Saturday, November 4-5: The first home-and-home series of the season will have the Manchester Monarchs visiting The Dunk before both teams transfer the matchup to Verizon Wireless Arena the following night. Part II of the set will be the P-Bruins first visit to Manchester since the Monarchs brought buses full of its season ticket holders to Providence at the conclusion of last season.

Sunday, November 6: The Norfolk Admirals pay their first visit to Providence since Nov. 16, 2008, when the Bs claimed a 4-3 decision.

Wednesday-Saturday, November 23-26: Thanksgiving Weekend will include the P-Bruins’ first venture outside New England boundaries as they go on a two-city, three-game, four-night excursion. They will visit Hershey the night before Thanksgiving and then make a two-night stop in Norfolk.

Friday, January 6: In keeping with a relatively new holiday tradition, the P-Bruins will vacate The Dunk for the peak of the Christmas/New Year’s season after a Dec. 18 matinee versus Bridgeport. After that, for the second consecutive season, they will go 19 consecutive days without a home game. But they’ll probably give a stick salute saying don’t you cry, they’ll be back again someday, namely this night when the Portland Pirates visit.

Tuesday-Wednesday, February 7-8: The Baby Bs will pay their first visit to St. John’s since splitting a two-game set with the defunct St. John’s Maple Leafs Feb. 28-March 1, 2003.

Saturday, April 14: The 2011-12 P-Bruins will take their third and final road trip outside of New England for a one-night battle with Albany, sandwiched by a pair of home games to curtain the regular season.

Saturday, April 15: The Pirates will be on tap for the regular season finale at The Dunk.

Now would be an odd time for slumping Lavarnway to move up to BoSox

With the Boston Red Sox hitting the road sans David Ortiz and on the heels of an offensive downturn that cost them a home series with Tampa Bay and their lead in the American League East, they’ll logically take any competent, passionate stand-in batter they can for good measure.

Between Double-A Portland and the PawSox this spring and summer, Ryan Lavarnway, on the whole, has proven to fit that job description. He and his mentors and employers alike are openly willing to risk swallowing big silver spoonfuls of strikeouts in exchange for those thrilling occasions when the catcher/DH bashes baseballs in bunches, spiking his own numbers and those of his team.

That having been said, leading up to Wednesday night’s buzz that he may now be getting his first taste of The Show, Lavarnway is hitting 5-for-44 with 13 strikeouts this month. That translates to a .114 batting average and a strikeout for 29.5 percent of his August at-bats.

In other words, when it comes to at least putting the ball in play, the Yale alumnus has been clinging to a C-minus over the last two-plus weeks with a 70.5 percent success rate.

All this coming after he had previously gone an otherworldly 58-for-163, amounting to a .356 average between his June promotion from Portland and the conclusion of July.

Granted, three of Larvarnway’s last four hits have been home runs, and he like the rest of the PawSox have been facing stingier pitching of late, especially from the Gwinnett Braves this past wraparound weekend. He has now belted a sound 16 dingers, sprinkling them out at a still-reasonably consistent rate over 54 games-played with the PawSox.

Then again, look at the data some of Pawtucket’s other leaned-on hitters put up while facing the ace-laden G-Braves staff.

Daniel Nava went 6-for-16 with a pair of dingers. Hector Luna was 9-for-14 on the weekend and one of three PawSox batters to get through the series without striking out once. Brett Carroll, who was himself mired in a brief slump not long ago, went 3-for-4 Monday night and 4-for-12 in the series.

Nate Spears, Lars Anderson, Jose Iglesias and Che-Hsuan Lin all mooched a cumulative three hits apiece against the International League’s team ERA leader.

In his last three games and 13 plate appearances, Lavarnway has reached base five times, but only once by way of a hit, that being a solo homer at Gwinnett Monday night.

That momentarily splashed his 0-for-17 drought dating back to the series finale in Charlotte last Thursday. But afterwards, he struck out twice to finish the series with six Ks in 18 at-bats.

During the three-game span in question, Lavarnway, who took Tuesday night’s series opener with the Clippers off, has also walked twice and capitalized on a pair opposing fielding errors.

During Sunday afternoon’s 5-0 win over the G-Braves, Lavarnway reached on an error by third baseman Wilkin Castillo in the first and drew a four-pitch pass to first base in the fourth. On Wednesday, he walked to load the bases in the first and reached first on Clippers third baseman Jared Goedert’s fielding error with nobody out in the third.

Is the “Lavarnwagon,” the term coined by one devout PawSox follower in July, ready to roll full steam to Fenway? It hardly looks like it at the very moment.

Assuming the current rumors are true, however long he is up for his first stint in Boston and however much action he sees, Lavarnway should not expect to make the same booming impact he did upon arrival at McCoy. Not at the rate he has been batting in the manner of a hangover after the June/July fiesta.

Witnesses from Red Sox Nation are advised to prepare not to judge based on first impression. Lavarnway can indubitably pave a radiant future with the Sox, but the moment at hand promises to be an intensely fiery baptism.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Luna’s half-full glass switches positions in PawSox victory

The uplifting news regarding PawSox slugger Hector Luna entering Wednesday night’s bout with Columbus: He had a nine-game hitting streak in the works, going 14-for-31 in that span. During that streak, he had elevated his batting average from .247 to .265 on the year.

Most recently, Luna was one of only three PawSox to mooch a hit off of the Clippers in Tuesday night’s series opener that briefly saw Corey Kluber flirting with a no-hitter.

The slight downer in all this: Luna, for all of the balls he was belting onto the ground of late, including an incredible 9-for-15 performance against the stingy Gwinnett Braves last weekend, he had a mere three RBIs to speak of.

Odds are Luna gladly accepted the tradeoff that came in Wednesday’s 5-2 triumph over the Clippers at McCoy Stadium. Assuming both the defensive first-base post and a hard-earned cleanup position in the batting order―both ordinarily occupied by Lars Anderson―Luna went 0-for-4 to snap his hot streak.

But in his first two at-bats, he reached base safely. And he drove in one of those elusive RBIs and played an instrumental role in moving along another Pawtucket run as part of a decisive sugar rush in the first and third innings.

In the bottom of the first, the PawSox were already trailing, 1-0, when Che-Hsuan Lin doubled, Nate Spears reached on centerfielder Tim Fedroff’s error and Ryan Lavarnway drew a four-pitch walk.

With the most luxurious arrangement imaginable at his disposal, bases full and no outs, Luna did enough to justify manager Arnie Beyeler’s reward for his recent surge. He grounded into a force-out that caught Lavarnway at second while placing himself and Spears at the corners and scoring Lin for the equalizer.

The resultant RBI was Luna’s third in as many days, having batted in two at Gwinnett on Monday after going without any in each of his previous six outings. On the next play, Luna advanced to second while Spears granted Pawtucket a 2-1 edge on the strength of the equally hard-hitting Daniel Nava’s single.

In the bottom of the third, Luna’s second at-bat had a visually identical upshot to his first. With Lavarnway and Spears on first and second, respectively, with nobody out, Luna grounded into another fielder’s choice.

And once again, the Clippers managed to tag Lavarnway at second in what proved a Pyrrhic victory. Luna was once again at one corner while Spears was 90 feet away from home. He would get there for what proved to be the winning run on another hit by Nava.

This time, Nava doubled and Columbus right fielder Shelley Duncan was charged with an error as he tried to throw the remnants back into the infield. Accordingly, Nava took a free pass to third base and Luna joined Spears at home for a 4-1 upper hand and the team’s first dose of insurance.

For Luna, the run-scored was another long-time-coming reward for his habitual hitting. While he has now crossed the plate six times over his last 10 games, he has also been stranded more than his share in recent ventures.

But on Wednesday, one of the prime candidates for Pawtucket’s player of the month could collaborate with his teammates and soundly contribute to a winning cause.

Even if that meant accepting a suddenly rare goose-egg in his evening hit column in the process.

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 5, Clippers 2

Swift summation
The night after they fatally withheld their carbonation until the eleventh hour against Corey Kluber and Co. in Tuesday’s series opener, the PawSox picked up where they left off to dismantle Columbus Clippers starter Jeanmar Gomez early on Wednesday.

Gomez ultimately had a blunderstruck defense to blame more than himself as he allowed one earned-run, yet Pawtucket put five tallies on the board in the first three innings en route to a 5-2 triumph at McCoy Stadium.

Columbus’ Tim Ferdoff set the tone for a night characterized by a need for patience as he drew first blood on a station-to-station basis. He singled to lead off the first, advanced to second on Cord Phelps’ base hit, hustled to third on a fielder’s choice and finished the journey home ahead of Nick Johnson’s two-out single.

Pawtucket pole-vaulted right ahead in the bottom half. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Hector Luna grounded into a force-out at third that scored Lin for a 1-1 tie. Daniel Nava subsequently singled to score Nate Spears for a 2-1 edge.

Nava raised the upper hand higher to 4-1 in the third with a two-run double that scored Luna and Nate Spears. On the same play, Nava advanced to third with the help of a throwing error by Clippers’ right fielder Shelley Duncan. From there, he was caught stealing home, but by then Brett Carroll had walked and stole second while the Columbus defense was preoccupied with Nava.

Carroll proceeded to score from second for Pawtucket’s fifth run ahead of Luis Exposito’s single to shallow center.

In the fourth, as reliever Junichi Tazawa’s first challenger, Phelps grounded into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded that left himself and Argenis Reyes on the corners and scored Luke Carlin to make it 5-2.

Gomez and reliever Matt Langwell combined to let only one more PawSox batter on base in the latter four-and-a-half innings.

But Tazawa, Randy Williams and Michael Bowden were almost equally sharp, allowing only three Clippers on board and stranding each of them within the same time frame.

PawSox pluses
Whilst safeguarding a 2-1 edge with two men on and nobody out in the top of the third, the third baseman Spears and the centerfielder Lin collaborated to thwart Phelps’ plans to turn Duncan’s third-inning fly into a sacrifice, turning it instead into a critical double-play.

On the offensive side, Lin’s leadoff double in the first constituted his first extra-base hit since another double versus Buffalo 12 days prior.

Succeeding Tony Pena, Jr. with one out in the fourth, Tazawa had his longest of three relief outings in his first week-plus with the PawSox this season. He made the most of it by allowing only one unearned run and one walk while striking out five of his 10 challengers in 3.1 innings-pitched en route to his first Triple-A victory of the season. Tazawa went a cumulative 3-3 between Salem and Portland earlier in the year.

Tazawa’s five strikeouts were one more than either of the two starters mustered on the night.

Sox stains
Only a tiptoe-standing defense and an opportunistic offense eclipsed Pena’s early-and-often follies Wednesday night. Through three innings alone, Pena’s bushel of hits-allowed was already up to six, matching that of his previous two outings, which lasted an even seven and five innings, respectively. And he had already thrown 58 pitches and had a hit-batsman on his tab up to that point.

Pena left after walking Fedroff to load the bases with one out in the top of the fourth. He initially led Fedroff in the count, 0-2, but crumbled with his first ball being a wild pitch that put Reyes and Carlin in scoring position. He would be charged with Carlin’s run-scored as Tazawa worked on his behalf.

Clippers notes
Gomez went on an early pattern between multi-run and 1-2-3 innings. While he let two PawSox cross the plate in the first and three in the third, he also retired the side with no trouble in the second and fourth. Gomez appeared to be settling down when he retired Ryan Lavarnway, Luna and Nava in order in the fifth and then throwing a 1-2-3 sixth.

Phelps went (3-for-4) on the night with a pair of leadoff doubles in the third and seventh innings joining his single in the first. Fedroff, Phelps and Johnson joined him in the evening’s multi-hit club with a pair of singles apiece.

The cleanup-hitting Duncan and No. 6-hitting third baseman Jared Goedert each struck out three times.

In his last three games and 13 plate appearances, Lavarnway has reached base five times, but only once by way of a hit, that being a solo homer at Gwinnett Monday night. Lavarnway has also walked twice and reached on an opposing infielder’s error. On Wednesday, he walked to load the bases in the first and reached first on Goedert’s fielding error with nobody out in the third.

After three appearances Wednesday night, the DH Lavarnway was replaced by pinch-hitter Lars Anderson in the bottom of the seventh. With Anderson getting the better part of the game off, Luna filled his usual defensive post at first base.

The four PawSox pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts.

The PawSox are now 24-32 when the opposition scores first.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rhode Island fans take bronze in Sports Business Journal rankings

Out of 241 total mentions, the Sports Business Journal placed the Providence-Pawtucket fan base at No. 3 on its bi-annual leaderboard of American minor-league markets Monday.

Taking the PawSox and P-Bruins into expressed consideration, the magazine gave Rhode Island fans a 76.2 score, trailing only San Bernardino County, Calif. (80.82) and Hershey-Harrisburg, Pa. (a perfect 100).

The Ocean State base also placed No. 5 in "Economy Rank," tenth in the way of "Tenure" and sixth overall in the attendance category.

The latter comes with little surprise. The Baby Bs, despite being a Calder Cup playoff no-show two years running, drew a nightly median of 7,324 fans last season, good for fourth in AHL attendance. Meanwhile, with a month remaining in the 2011 season, the PawSox have brought 7,777 fans per night to McCoy Stadium.

Other noteworthy finishers on the SBJ leaderboard included: fifth-ranked Portland, Me., home of the P-Bruins divisional rival Pirates and Red Sox' Double-A club; No. 12-rated Springfield, Mass., the only AHL New England city that rivals the tradition of Providence; and Hartford/New Britain and Bridgeport, Conn., who placed neck-and-neck at 45th and 46th, respectively.

Monday, August 15, 2011

PawSox vie to send a tougher tempest to top-dog Clippers

If the notion of a series pitting the International League’s top two records―which this week’s PawSox home set with the Columbus Clippers shall be―isn’t enough, each participating club bears a newly-crowned I.L. honoree.

As might have been expected, PawSox pitcher Matt Fox is coming home from a southern road trip with the title of Pitcher of the Week. He figures to toe the rubber in Thursday’s bout with the Clippers at McCoy Stadium vying to build upon a complete game at Gwinnett on Sunday and a cumulative 2-0 record, 0.60 ERA, one earned-run on four hits and 15 strikeouts in as many innings-pitched last week.

Meanwhile, going into Monday’s action, Clippers’ DH/outfielder Chad Huffman was fostering a 12-game hitting streak between July 31 and August 13, going 22-for-40 in that span. He had reached base safely in 23 consecutive games, batting .333 over that time. And he is fresh on the heels of attaining the IL’s Batter of the Week laurel, having hit 13-for-22 for a .571 batting average in a span of six games.

There is a kicker in all this that ought to inject a little giddiness into the McCoy masses whilst bursting the bubble of hypists and two-way storyline suckers in the media. Huffman all but personifies a recent trend in his clubhouse that is characterized by bulking up on cupcakes.

Much of Huffman’s more recent success has been reaped at the expense of the I.L.’s sub-.500 bottom-feeders. But against the much-stingier pitching staffs of, say, Lehigh Valley and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre between July 18 and July 25, he batted 2-for-15 with a pair of walks.

In a similar vein, the Clippers entered their Monday doubleheader with Rochester bearing a runaway league-leading record of 77-45 and having won 11 of their last 14 games. But of those recent 11 wins, only one has come against a supra-.500 team, namely the Louisville Bats.

The Bats and the Indianapolis Indians, holding respective records of 62-61 and 65-58 entering Monday’s action, are liable for each of Columbus’ three most recent losses.

Before their nominal hot streak began over the final weekend of July, the Clippers went a wretched 10-16 for the first four weeks of the month.

And against fellow playoff contenders, they have had less-than-satisfactory results of late. Between July 18 and July 25, Columbus went a cumulative 3-5 against the IronPigs and Yankees.

Not even Sunday’s return of seasoned Major Leaguer Shelley Duncan from the parent Cleveland Indians will necessarily be of gale-forced help.

Duncan was on recall to The Show for all of 10 days. Over the course of his 10 Triple-A games before that, he batted a mere 4-for-33 for a .152 average, coupled with eight walks and nine strikeouts.

And this was mostly against the lowly pitching staffs of Norfolk and Syracuse. In his last seven outings with the Clippers before Monday’s doubleheader, all opposing the Tides and the Chiefs, Duncan was still beneath the Mendoza Line with a .190 batting average.

During the aforementioned swing with Pawtucket’s top dog divisional rivals, Duncan went 4-for-29 with two walks, including a lemon-based 0-for-16 doughnut against Lehigh Valley.

Odds are, unless the active roster collectively perks up, Columbus will start to feel the effects of losing the likes of Ezequiel Carrera and Jason Kipnis, who unlike Duncan have not been loaned back since their respective promotions on July 11 and July 22.

That is especially if their the direction of their barometer with fellow I.L. heavyweights is any indication. Against those still realistically in the playoff derby―the PawSox, Lehigh Valley, Scranton, Durham, Gwinnett and Indianapolis―the Clippers started on a 20-7 run. More recently, they are 11-14 within that group.

Against the same bunch, the PawSox started at 10-13, roughly in line with their 26-25 start overall. But since June, they have gone 18-12 versus fellow contenders and 43-27 overall entering their Monday night series finale at Gwinnett.

The Sox, on the strength of four two-out runs between the eighth and ninth inning, cultivated a 7-3 decision, all but stamping their status as the hottest team in the I.L. and a group that is peaking at the right time after a stumbling start to their spring.

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 7, Braves 3

Swift summation
After the momentum swayed throughout the wee phases, then settled in limbo through seven innings, the PawSox bat rack and bullpen got the better of their Gwinnett Braves counterparts to crack open a 7-3 victory at Coolray Field Monday night.

With the win, Pawtucket completed its most successful out of seven eight-game road trips in 2011, having taken three out of four bouts with Charlotte and Gwinnett each. They are also off to a 10-3 start in August at the halfway mark of the month.

Ryan Lavarnway broke the ice in a hurry for the PawSox, catapulting a home run to straightaway center for his first hit of the series and a 1-0 lead in the first inning.

Before there were any outs in the second, the Sox had sprinkled on additional three hits and two runs. Daniel Nava led off the stanza with his second solo shot in as many days. Brett Carroll followed up with a single up the middle, stole second with Hector Luna at the dish and scored ahead of Luna’s subsequent base hit to left.

The Braves pulled even under both the run and hit heading in the bottom of the third. Jeff Fiorentino deposited a leadoff single in right-center, advanced to third on a wild pitch to Matt Young and scored Gwinnett’s first run with the assistance of Young’s sacrifice fly to center.

With the bases cleared and two away, Ruben Gotay went on board, then flew home with Stefan Gartrell, who homered into the Braves bullpen to draw a 3-3 knot.

After four full scoreless innings, the PawSox were on the verge of yielding Gwinnett reliever Anthony Varvaro a second straight 1-2-3 stanza in the eighth. But Varvaro breathed life back into the visiting bat rack by walking Carroll and Luna on a combined nine pitches.

In turn, Nate Spears stepped up and singled to right to score Carroll from second and send Luna to third. Four pitches later, Jose Iglesias sent Luna and Spears home for a 6-3 edge as he doubled over the head of Young at the left-field warning track.

Luna collected his second RBI hit of the game in the ninth, scoring Nava from second on a single to the opposite field in right.

PawSox pluses
The defense bailed themselves and starting pitcher Brandon Duckworth out of multiple self-imposed scares near the end of his six-inning outing. Jeff Fiorentino mooched a leadoff single off the veteran hurler to commence the fifth, only to be caught stealing by the catcher Lavarnway and second baseman Nate Spears.

In the sixth, Duckworth saw his two challengers get on board by way of an infield single and a throwing error by Luna. But Spears proceeded to initiate a double-play that saw Mauro Gomez to third. In turn, Gomez was left stranded as Duckworth got Wilkin Ramirez to whiff on a payoff pitch.

Sox stains
Che-Hsuan Lin egregiously spilled a potential opportunity to renew Pawtucket’s lead with the 3-3 tie still intact in the top of the fifth. On board with a one-out single, he was caught stealing in an elaborate 2-3-6-4 rundown after Ryan Kalish took his second strike en route to an inning-ending swing and miss.

Granted, this was Gwinnett pitching to them, but four of the more leaned-on batters struck out multiple times apiece. Kalish whiffed three times while Lavarnway, Anderson and Spears were each benched on strikes twice. In five plate-appearances, Anderson failed to put the ball anywhere near the outfield.

Braves notes
Gomez led the offensive cause for the hosts, going 3-for-4 with three singles.

Jaye Chapman, who promptly succeeded Varvaro after Iglesias’ two-run hit, copied his successor by missing out on a 1-2-3 ninth in costly, agonizing fashion. After getting Lavarnway and Anderson out, Chapman yielded singles to Nava and Carroll before Luna singled to right, driving Nava home to finalize Pawtucket’s scoring.

Lavarnway, who was in Portland during Gwinnett’s visit to McCoy Stadium in May, entered Monday’s game an unlucky 0-for-13 in the series, making him the only PawSox batter without a hit against the Braves up to that point. His homer at least ensured that he hatched the Gwinnett goose-egg before heading home.

PawSox reliever Tommy Hottovy required only 13 pitches to retire all four of his challengers and claimed credit for the win. Hottovy was followed by Scott Atchison and Michael Bowden, who combined 1.2 innings pitched and allowed only one baserunner in the form of Gomez, who singled off Atchison with two out in the eighth.

Atchison was credited with his fifth hold of the season.

Over their eight-game season series, Pawtucket pitchers combined to strike out G-Braves batters 76 times. Meanwhile, Gwinnett hurlers benched a cumulative 70 of their PawSox challengers in 2011.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Post-game pop-ups: PawSox 5, Braves 0

Swift summation
By the time they had overcooked Gwinnett Braves starter Yohan Flende, cracking open a 5-0 lead by the sixth inning, the only vital task at hand for the PawSox was salvaging Matt Fox’s complete game shutout.

They did just that as Fox allowed only two hits and four baserunners and became the first Pawtucket hurler to finish his own start in the 2011 season in a 5-0 victory at Coolray Field Sunday afternoon.

Fox threw a fairly efficient 99 pitches, struck out seven challengers and only doled out one walk. Meanwhile, from the top to the bottom of the order, his bat-wielding colleagues did their part.

Six different Sox pilfered a hit off of Flende. Of the three who did not, Ryan Lavarnway found his way on by way of a fielding error and walk while Ryan Kalish batted in two runs by virtue of the sacrifice fly.

The PawSox garnered each of the game’s first six baserunners, three via hits, two by way of the walk and one on an error.

Daniel Nava set the tone for a fruitful second inning with a leadoff home run to left-center. Brett Carroll and Hector Luna followed up with a double and single, respectively, to left field. Nate Spears’ sacrifice fly to the right-field warning track scored Carroll from third, augmenting the edge to 2-0.

The Sox ran on a similar sugar rush in the fourth inning, once again nailing three hits in succession and cultivating two more runs. After Spears and Jose Iglesias each batted their way on, Che-Hsuan Lin sent an opposite-field single to right, scoring Spears from second and sending Iglesias to third for a 3-0 lead in the fourth.

Following up on that, Kalish’s sacrifice fly sent Gwinnett right fielder Stefan Gartrell far enough on the run to score Iglesias for a 4-0 lead. Kalish likewise drove in the fifth run on a sacrifice to left that sent Spears home in the sixth.

That fifth run was charged to Flande, who had passed down two baserunners to Ben Swaggerty when he was removed with no outs in the sixth.

PawSox pluses
Spears, a full-time lefty at the plate, entered the game with a respectable .267 batting average against southpaws. In three confrontations with Flande, Spears did not disappoint, going 2-for-2 with a pair of singles and an RBI sacrifice fly.

Sox stains
Through seven innings Lars Anderson was the only PawSox player not to reach base or otherwise contribute to the offensive cause in any fashion. Through four at-bats, he had twice struck out and twice flied out to strand a cumulative three of his teammates.

On the other side of the ball, Anderson did his job for the most part, save for a fielding error that allowed Jeff Fiorentino on board as Gwinnett’s first baserunner in the third.

But in fairness, Anderson was only a minus by comparison to the rest of his mates. In the ninth, he singled to right to at least extend his hitting streak to 11 games.

Braves notes
In relief of Flande, his fellow southpaw Swaggerty retired each of his first six challengers over the sixth and seventh innings. Swaggerty subsequently gave way to righty J.J. Hoover to commence the eighth while another lefty, Dustin Richardson, came on for the ninth. Hoover and Richardson combined to allow two baserunners while striking out three.

Wilkin Ramirez attained the anti-hat trick against Fox, striking out in each of their three meetings, thus constituting the third out of the second, fourth and seventh innings.

Braves’ shortstop Tyler Pastornicky injured his leg in the seventh amidst a vain attempt to tag Iglesias as he stole second base. He was replaced by Brandon Hicks.