Limonta Becoming A Cuban-American

May 7, 2012

Tacoma outfielder Johan Limonta is going to be away from the team and miss the next two games for a very good reason.

He’s becoming a U.S. citizen.

Limonta escaped Cuba in 2004 under dangerous and harrowing conditions, defecting to the USA. He attended Miami Dade Community College for a year and then was drafted by the Seattle Mariners.

Today, Limonta is flying to his new home city of Miami, where he is taking the citizen test. He said he has been studying and he expects to pass. When he does pass, he’ll attend a naturalization ceremony and pledge his allegiance to the USA.

It’s a whirlwind for Limonta: fly all day today, test on Tuesday, fly back and try to arrive in time for the day game on Wednesday.

For more on Limonta, check out this story from The Sporting News about how tough it was to leave Cuba.

The Rainiers got smoked on Sunday, dropping a 9-4 decision in Reno. The Aces scored three runs in each of the first two innings to take a 6-0 lead, and their starter Barry Enright was in command all day.

Tacoma has lost three in a row in Reno and needs a win today to avoid being swept for the first time this season. Today is the final day of the longest road trip of the year – the team is 3-7 on the 11-game, 12-day trip.

The good part about the end of this trip is it is a day game today. Today’s game is at 1:05, and the Rainiers will be able to fly home afterwards. We’ll be forced to change planes in the former PCL metropolis of Oakland, but nobody will be complaining about that – people just want to get home.

The Rainiers start RHP Erasmo Ramirez (0-0, 0.00) in his first start of the season – he had been pitching for the Mariners in long relief. Reno will start RHP Joe Martinez (0-2, 4.24), and you can catch the broadcast on 850 AM and streaming online right here.

Links:

Can’t wait to get home – don’t forget, the Rainiers have $5 General Admission tickets Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.


Rally Falls Short

May 6, 2012

Games in Reno are never over until the final out is recorded, and no lead is safe at Aces Ballpark.

Tacoma and Reno played a back-and-forth game on Saturday, with the lead changing six times before Reno ultimately held on for an 11-10 victory. The Aces have won the first two games of the series.

Tacoma rallied to score four runs and take a 10-9 lead in the top of the eighth. Vinnie Catricala had the big hit, a two-out, two-run double to left to bring in the tying and go-ahead runs.

The lead was short-lived, as Reno scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to take a 11-10 lead.

Tacoma had runners at second and third with no outs, and the bases loaded with one out, but could not score the tying run in the top of the ninth.

Scott Savastano had three hits for Tacoma, while Catricala, Johan Limonta, Trayvon Robinson, and Luis Rodriguez each had two hits.

Before the game, we received word that reliever Shawn Kelley was promoted to Seattle, and Erasmo Ramirez was optioned to Tacoma.

Ramirez was working as the long man in Seattle, but he’s going to start for the Rainiers. In fact, Ramirez will start Monday’s series final in Reno. He takes the rotation spot of Jarrett Grube, who moves back into the bullpen for now.

Today’s game is at 1:05, and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts LHP Anthony Vasquez (3-1, 5.34) against Reno RHP Barry Enright (3-1, 1.99). Enright has been Reno’s best starting pitcher this year.

Links:

Time to head to the ballpark for some day baseball.


MVP Dooms Rainiers

May 5, 2012

The MVP got us on Friday night.

Randy Ruiz, the 2009 PCL MVP who was playing in Japan the last two seasons, is back in the states and hitting clean-up for Reno.

Ruiz was up with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Tacoma leading 9-7. Oliver Perez was on the mound. The count went full, Ruiz fouled off a pitch, and then he lifted a low-and-away fastball up in the air to right field for a grand slam home run. Reno won the game, 11-9.

Ruiz is too good of a hitter for Triple-A, and he’s hit when he has been given opportunities in the major leagues (with Toronto in 2009 and 2010). He’s limited defensively, and for some reason MLB teams are not comfortable giving rookies – even older ones like Ruiz – a chance to be the designated hitter.

Of course, Ruiz is with the Arizona Diamondbacks Triple-A club, and they don’t have a DH in the majors. Arizona is playing Paul Goldschmidt at first base right now, he’s hitting .243 with one home run and a .665 OPS.

Some Ruiz hot streak facts:

  • He has homered in four of his last five games.
  • He has 15 RBI in his last six games.
  • He’s working on a 14-game hitting streak (25-for-56, .446).
  • The grand slam was his second of the year already.

Hopefully the Rainiers will keep him in check today.

Saturday’s game is at 6:35 PM, and you can catch it on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts RHP Brian Sweeney (0-0, 4.63) against Reno RHP Chris Jakubauskas (1-3, 5.74).

Links:

  • More about the game, including Tacoma’s offense, in the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune.
  • The Mariners lost their seventh in a row under some strange circumstances. Seriously, the Mariners need to beat the Twins, who are awful this year.
  • Chone Figgins is going to come off the bench for a while.
  • In the PCL, Salt Lake first baseman Efren Navarro is stuck behind Albert Pujols on the depth chart. Pujols 10-year contract certainly trumps his sub-.200 batting average. Vegas hammered Salt Lake, 11-3.
  • Sky Sox first baseman Matt McBride has been a pleasant surprise for the Rockies organization. Also in this notebook: some words about the shockingly good Colorado Springs pitching staff.
  • Fresno just keeps winning. Roger Kieschnick hit a two-run homer in the ninth to beat the Sky Sox, 7-6, even though Christian Friedrich pitched well.
  • Tucson infielder Everth Cabrera appears to be having a bounce-back season.
  • Ooooof. Iowa beat New Orleans 1-0, with the only run of the game scoring in the bottom of the ninth inning… wait for it… on a wild pitch.
  • Here’s a video story about a couple that is travelling the country and visiting every minor league ballpark.

Hopefully the Rainiers can even-up the series tonight. I propose a new rule for games in Reno: first team to ten runs wins!


Catricala Arrives, Rainiers Win Series

May 4, 2012

Tacoma won the rubber match against Tucson, 6-4, and took the series two games to one.

Maybe this year’s Rainiers are really good at rubber matches? There’s a chance for another one against Las Vegas at the very end of June. Hold your breath…

Yesterday Vinnie Catricala came alive. The Mariners Minor League Player of the Year last year hit .349 with 25 homers and 106 RBI between Class-A and Double-A. However, in his first month of Triple-A baseball, he didn’t hit much at all.

Yesterday, Catricala went 4-for-5. He raised his batting average from .196 to .225.

Catricala hit a three-run homer in the first inning – his first Triple-A home run, a drive to left-center off Tucson starter Jorge Reyes (from Warden, WA). He added singles in his next two at-bats, and then doubled in his fourth.

The Rainiers – and, I suspect, Catricala himself – really needed a game like this. As manager Daren Brown said after the game, “Hopefully this will get him kick-started.”

Another thing the Rainiers needed was a good starting pitching performance. Jeff Marquez delivered.

Marquez allowed three unearned runs in the first inning. They were unearned, but he still allowed three straight two-out hits after errors had extended things, and I was concerned. Fortunately, Marquez settled down and pitched very well from the second inning on. He lasted 6.2 innings, giving up four runs (one earned) with just two walks.

Marquez got the win – becoming the first Tacoma starting pitcher to earn a win since April 19. He was also the first Tacoma starter to pitch into the seventh inning since that same date.

Before the game, Brown announced a change to the Rainiers starting rotation.

The team is bumping Forrest Snow up to today, and inserting Brian Sweeney into the rotation to start on Saturday. Anthony Vasquez, Jarrett Grube, and Jeff Marquez follow in that order.

Left-hander Mauricio Robles has changed roles and will now pitch out of the bullpen.

Tonight Tacoma plays at Reno, and first pitch is set for 6:35 pm (pre-game show at 6:20). The broadcast is on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Tacoma starts RHP Forrest Snow (0-3, 7.30) against Reno LHP Zach Kroenke (2-1, 4.50).

Links:

  • I wrote the Rainiers game story for The News Tribune, and they confirmed that they received it, but it does not appear on their website. Sorry, no link.
  • The Mariners lost in Tampa and got swept in a four-game series, and Larry Stone writes that Chone Figgins role as the leadoff hitter is in jeopardy.
  • Larry LaRue caught up with first-year Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss to get his take on the team’s offensive struggles. I wouldn’t want to be Chambliss right now – the M’s have a recent history of scapegoating the hitting coach during times like these.
  • Take a five-minute break and allow yourself to be entertained by John McGrath’s preview column on the Mariners series with the bumbling Minnesota Twins. He even pauses to throw a friendly elbow at Ron Fairly.
  • There are no Mariners farmhands on this week’s edition of the Baseball America Prospect Hot Sheet – but there is good news: a person named Miles Head is on it.
  • Old-school baseball columnist Bruce Jenkins has a brief piece on Bryce Harper.
  • In the PCL, Collin Cowgill had three hits to help Sacramento beat Colorado Springs, 6-1. River Cats outfielder Michael Taylor was called up by Oakland.
  • The Sacramento Bee has an interesting story on the family of pitcher Brad Peacock.
  • Salt Lake’s seven-game losing streak ended in Fresno last night. Fresno is 21-7, but the Giants have attacked their roster.
  • Neil Ramirez tossed a gem for Round Rock, and the Austin newspaper really needs to hire someone to write headlines. Tanner Scheppers is healthy and closing.
  • Memphis walked off Iowa on Eugenio Velez’s game-winning hit.
  • Albuquerque had 24 hits in a 15-5 win over Oklahoma City, and Scott Van Slyke homered twice.
  • Nashville was unable to polish off a four-game sweep of Omaha.
  • Attendance is up in Omaha – and that’s a rarity in the PCL right now, as the April numbers appear to be down throughout the league. April attendance is fickle – I expect the crowds to rebound to normal levels over the course of the summer.

Buckle your seat belts – the ball always jumps out of Aces Ballpark, and today it is really, really windy.


Rubber Match!

May 3, 2012

“Rubber match” – that’s a phrase we don’t get to use around here very often.  I have no idea what it means, but when I was a kid listening to games on the radio, that’s how the announcer described the final game of a three-game series in which the teams had split the first two.

Through the magic of the interweb, I have learned that “rubber match” started in lawn bowling in the 16th century, moved to bridge in the 18th century, and is now used in baseball.

The PCL plays almost exclusively four-game series, so we get a lot of 2-2 splits and a handful of 3-1s and some rare 4-0 sweeps. There are no rubber matches in a four-game series. This series in Tucson, however, is a three-gamer, and someone is going to win it. Last night Tucson had a comeback win to even it up, 1-1. The rubber match is tonight.

This has been a very even series. Both games were decided in the ninth inning, by one run. Both featured comebacks – last night Tacoma took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but Tucson rallied for two runs to ties it, and then won in the bottom of the ninth on Anthony Contreras‘s one-out RBI double.

Tonight’s rubber match is at 7:05 and you can hear it on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online right here. Little-known fact: you must wear rubber gloves while listening to a rubber match. Tacoma starts RHP Jeff Marquez (1-2, 7.13) against Tucson RHP Jorge Reyes (1-4, 5.81).

Here is some good news: Carlos Peguero, currently on the disabled list with a torn meniscus in his knee, is playing in an intersquad game in extended spring training today.

Of the disabled list Rainiers, Peguero is closest to returning. Adam Moore, Darren Ford, and Mike Wilson along with pitcher Matt Fox are also on the DL.

Links:

  • Here is the Rainiers game story for The News Tribune, which I speed-typed a good 30 minutes after the paper’s deadline due to the long game that was undecided until the final pitch. As Larry LaRue would say, Yikes!
  • Kyle Seager had a great game, but the Mariners lost in Tampa on Wednesday night.
  • Some really good Mariners stuff on Baseball Prospectus today. For free, a pitch-by-pitch look at the showdown between rookies Jesus Montero and Matt Moore. For subscribers, a scouting notebook that includes Double-A pitchers Danny Hultzen and Carter Capps.
  • The national media is all over the story on former Rainiers slugger Bryan LaHair. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
  • Baseball America has a preview of the Triple-A affiliation shuffle that may – or may not – go down after the season. No concerns in Tacoma; the Mariners and Rainiers are signed through 2014. Las Vegas – Toronto is the root of any changes we may see in the PCL.
  • In the PCL, Salt Lake lost its seventh game in a row. Fresno got ‘em, 5-4. Fresno is 21-6!
  • Colorado Springs is adding starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin, who was struggling with the Rockies.
  • Sacramento outfielder Brandon Moss says there is no shame in minor league milestones. The River Kitties beat Colorado Springs, 8-3.
  • The Tucson groundskeeper had a groundskeeper’s nightmare: a concert on his recently improved field.
  • Nashville edged Omaha in the 11th inning, 5-4, on Corey Patterson‘s game-winning double.
  • Round Rock starter Martin Perez struggled, but the Express still pounded New Orleans, 10-5.
  • Brandon Dickson tossed a gem, allowing only a home run to former Rainiers infielder Luis Valbuena as Memphis topped Iowa, 2-1.

That’s it for today. Not sure if I’ll have much of a post for you tomorrow – we have our first really tough PCL travel day of the season. There are no direct flights from Tucson to Reno.


Rainiers Win A Shocker!

May 2, 2012

Anybody who says that they saw this one coming is either a liar, or a relentless optimist.

Trailing 9-5 and hitless for the previous four innings, Tacoma rallied for five runs in the top of the ninth and stunned Tucson on Tuesday night, 10-9.

It was an incredible comeback for a team that needed something – anything – good to happen after dropping the last three games in Las Vegas.

The blow-by-blow of the ninth inning rally is in the Rainiers game story I wrote for The News Tribune – it’s the first link down below. For this post, I’m going to focus on two other things.

First, the Rainiers offense – which I complained about yesterday – came alive early in the game. Tacoma scored five runs on 11 hits over the first four innings against Tucson starter Colt Hynes. But when Hynes left the game at the end of the fourth, the Rainiers were hitless until the ninth.

With the rally, Tacoma finished with 10 runs on 16 hits. If the Rainiers had not scored in the ninth, and went down in order, they still would have had five runs on 11 hits – and I’d be saying that was progress. This was a good offensive game without the ninth.

Tacoma has two hitters who are heating up: Trayvon Robinson was 2-for-5 with a double, a run, and an RBI, and he’s hit safely in six straight games; and Scott Savastano hit a pair of doubles and he has also hit in six straight games, going 9-for-19 during that stretch.

Second, the bullpen deserves massive props. Sean Henn, Josh Kinney, and Shawn Kelley combined to pitch five shutout innings, allowing three hits and no walks. This put the Rainiers in position to win.

Kelley has been particularly impressive. He has a 1.32 ERA, and in 13.2 innings he’s given up 6 hits and 4 walks while striking out 18.

It was the Rainiers first shocking comeback of the year, at a time when the club really needed it.

Tonight’s game is at 7:05, and Tacoma sends RHP Jarrett Grube (0-1, 9.64) to the mound against Tucson RHP Josh Geer (2-3, 7.30). The broadcast airs on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streams online right here.

I always check the weather reports for the cities that we visit on the road, to figure out what to pack and to see if its cooling off enough at night to require a coat. The forecast for Tucson today was 94 degrees and “abundant sun.”

Abundant sun?

Can you imagine if the weather used such adjectives in forecasts for Tacoma? It would read something like “43 degrees, abundant drizzle” or “48 degrees, excessive gray.”

No thanks.

Links:

  • We lead off with the Rainiers game story from The News Tribune, which includes the blow-by-blow of the big ninth inning rally.
  • According to this story on Carlos Quentin, the Rainiers will only have to deal with him for three innings tonight, and not at all tomorrow.
  • The Mariners losses always seem to be frustrating – not just because they lost, but because of how they lost. Yesterday’s game in Tampa fit right in with the rest.
  • John McGrath writes that the end is near for Chone Figgins.
  • From Larry LaRue’s notebook: Mike Carp is happy to be back in the big leagues, and some crazy Mariners (read: relief pitchers) climbed in the catwalks at the Trop.
  • The Mariners are only scoring on solo home runs because that one fan found that old man’s monkey paw. I knew it was something like this!*
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners pitcher Travis Blackley is back in the big leagues – way to go, Travis!
  • Larry Stone has another story on his visit to the Mariners Double-A team in Jackson, Tennessee – and this time he focuses on the hitting prospects.
  • For ESPN Insiders, here is an article on the Top 5 potential #1 starters in the minor leagues. The Mariners have the top-ranked prospect.
  • In his ESPN Insider column (mandatory daily reading for me), Buster Olney notes that the Oakland A’s plan to activate Manny Ramirez on May 30, and Manny will be allowed to “rehabilitate” in the minors for ten days before that. Manny should be with Sacramento May 20-29. 
  • Yes, I would pay extra tax to fix the roads in Tacoma. Sheesh, the potholes are so prevalent where I live, it’s like a war-torn nation or something. Let’s have a little pride and fix our awful street surfaces.**
  • In the PCL, a couple of guys who started the season in the Major Leagues helped Sacramento blast Colorado Springs.
  • Fresno came back from a 5-run deficit to beat Salt Lake, 9-7. Salt Lake has lost six in a row, the last five after the call-up of Mike Trout.
  • Round Rock has moved lefty Michael Kirkman into the starting rotation to try to have him gain some consistency.
  • Iowa ripped 20 hits and blasted Memphis, 13-4. Brett Jackson was 4-for-5 with four runs scored.
  • Nashville had a good start from Willy Peralta and beat Omaha, 8-5. The Sounds are trying to bounce back from the worst April record in Triple-A baseball.
  • A former Rainiers player was fired from his job as the Detroit Tigers clubhouse DJ. Oh, the shame!
  • It was pointed out to me that yesterday I linked to the incorrect Jim Flavin when referencing the lead actor in the Rainiers video for the $5 ticket promotion on the upcoming homestand. In fact, the Jim Flavin I linked to yesterday is deceased. Whoops! The real Jim Flavin who appears in the video is this one.

That was certainly a stirring win last night – can’t wait to see what happens tonight!

* Jeff Sullivan is a treasure and we must enjoy him while we’ve got him.

** My favorite Tacoma pothole is the recurring 10,000 foot crevasse in the round-about at Stevens and North 38th. Every time they fill it, it redevelops in a few weeks – and my left front tire hits it every time I go around, even though I know it’s there.


Oasis In The Desert

May 1, 2012

Greetings from Tucson, the tranquil middle of this 12-day Road Trip To Bankruptcy.

The team arrived yesterday afternoon and had the night off. Personally, I caught up on my reading and my sleep, and am now fully recovered from the weekend in Las Vegas.

So, let’s talk some baseball.

Cashman Field in Las Vegas was not the cure for the Rainiers hitting woes that we hoped it would be. The team was has held to run totals of 6, 0, 5, and 2 in the four games at one of the best hitter’s parks in professional baseball.

As a team, Tacoma hit .186 (24-for-129) and scored just 13 runs in the Las Vegas series. That’s a problem – 13 runs and 24 hits can be accomplished in one game at Cashman.

We can’t chalk that up to Las Vegas pitching, either. The 51s entered the series with the worst team ERA in the PCL.

Hitting is a problem for the Rainiers right now, and it’s not going to help that Mike Carp is on his way to join the Mariners – well, I think it’s not going to help, but maybe it will. Carp wasn’t hitting here.

Now the Rainiers face a Tucson team that is getting healthy and starting to play better.

After losing 3 of 4 in the first five series of the year, and opening the season 5-15, Tucson just earned a tough split on the road at Sacramento.

The turnabout for Tucson was getting catching prospect Yasmani Grandal off the disabled list. Grandal – the key prospect acquired from Cincinnati in the Mat Latos trade – has homered in two of the three games he has played since coming off the DL,and he’s 9-for-22 with three HRs on the season.

Other key Tucson Padres include super-sub prospect Vince Belnome, returning slugger Matt Clark (who is struggling, hitting under .200 and has not homered in 60 at-bats), and corner infielder James Darnell.

One of the keys in this series will be keeping Triple-A veteran Everth Cabrera off the bases. Cabrera has been running wild – he’s 11-for-11 in stolen bases this year, including four steals in one game against Sacramento on Friday night.

The Rainiers are going to have to deal with Major League outfielder Carlos Quentin, who starts a rehabilitation assignment with Tucson tonight. Quentin had meniscus surgery on his right knee in mid-March and has been on the Padres disabled list since then. The Padres picked up Quentin from the White Sox during the off-season – he batted .254 with 24 homers and 77 RBI for Chicago last year.

The opener of the three-game series is tonight at 7:05, and you can hear the broadcast on South Sound Sports 850 AM and streaming online. Tacoma starts LHP Anthony Vasquez (3-1, 2.92) against veteran Tucson RHP Jeff Suppan (0-1, 12.15).

Links:

  • Did you hear about the Rainiers $5 tickets available for home games next week? Jim Flavin stars in the video.
  • The Mariners took a tough loss yesterday, and then catcher Miguel Olivo – who was starting to heat up – went down with a groin injury.
  • Mike Carp is on his way to Tampa to join the Mariners. He’s not in the lineup today – Tucson to Tampa travel, with the time change, means he might not even be there in time for the first pitch.
  • To take Carp’s place on the roster, the Rainiers are adding outfielder Mario Yepez from Class-A Clinton. Soon, we’ll be talking about Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson, and possibly Franklin Gutierrez.
  • Bad news for former Rainiers reliever George Sherrill, who is out for the season with elbow surgery.
  • Larry Stone was on hand to see Danny Hultzen struggle at Double-A Jackson on Sunday.
  • Here is Stone’s wrap-up of his trip to Jackson, Tennessee – with photos.
  • Here is the long, information-packed weekly Minor League Wrap from USS Mariner.
  • Expose from Ben Badler of Baseball America: the new way to lie about your age in the Dominican Republic is to switch families.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks are considering signing Vladimir Guerrero. I wonder if he might need some games in Reno to get ready?
  • The Rainiers were off yesterday, but the rest of the PCL was playing. Jordan Pacheco hit a three-run homer and Colorado Springs won at Sacramento, 5-2. The Sky Sox have a 3.80 team ERA. Humidor, anyone?
  • Fresno handed Salt Lake its fifth straight loss, 9-5. The Grizzlies finished an outstanding month of April.
  • Nashville outfielder Logan Schafer doubled home the winning run with two outs in the ninth to beat Omaha, 4-3. More importantly for the parent Milwaukee Brewers, a healthy Mark Rogers started and pitched into the sixth inning.
  • Tom Koehler punched out ten and New Orleans topped Round Rock, 5-3.
  • Memphis beat Iowa, 5-4, as rehabilitating World Series hero Allen Craig drove in all five runs. I’d post the link, except the Memphis Commercial-Appeal says that I’ve used up my ten free articles for the month. It’s May 1st and this is the first article I’ve tried to read. Whatever.
  • Here’s a nice review of former Rainiers and Mariners pitcher R.A. Dickey‘s book. I bought a copy and have it at home, but I probably won’t get to it until the off-season. Or maybe I’ll bring it the The Springs…
  • The most famous man from Daren Brown‘s home of Amarillo, Texas has passed away.* I wonder if this means that Brownie is now the most famous man in Amarillo?
  • I leave you with proof that the lawyers are just milking the Roger Clemens trial for hourly billing. 

I’m refreshed after the off-day, looking forward to tonight’s game.

* It has nothing to do with baseball, but the linked obituary on Amarillo Slim is an entertaining read.


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