Archive for June 27th, 2010

Thunder Fall Back Into First Place Tie

June 27, 2010

(PR) Trenton, NJ- New Hampshire scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning to finish a come-from-behind 8-6 victory on Sunday over the Thunder at Waterfront Park. Grant Duff suffered the loss with key hits from RF Adam Loewen and 1B Jonathan Jaspe. The two teams are once again tied for first place in the EL Eastern Division.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, Loewen smashed a double to tie the game at 6-6. The next batter, Jaspe, singled in two runs off Duff to take an 8-6 lead. Tim Collins pitched a scoreless bottom of the inning for his sixth save of the year.

In the beginning, New Hampshire took advantage of a labored RHP Lance Pendleton, scoring one run each in the second and third innings. The run in the third came after Manny Mayorson stole third base, and the throw from C Jose Gil sailed down the left field line to score Mayorson.

The Thunder took the lead in the third inning, as they plated four runs off LHP Boomer Potts, highlighted by a three-run double by Gil. A sacrifice fly to right field by Luis Nunez scored Gil to make it 4-2 Thunder at the end of three innings.

The Fisher Cats cut the Trenton lead to 4-3 in the top of the sixth inning off Wilkins Arias, as Jonathan Jaspe hit a single and was later driven in on a double by Jonathan Diaz. New Hampshire tied the game 4-4 in the top of the eighth off Tim Norton. Matt Liuzza drove in Adam Loewen, who led off with a walk, to score the tying run.

Trenton was able to get the lead right back in the bottom of the eighth off Danny Farquhar. After Farquhar walked Gil to lead off the frame, Marcos Vechionacci hit an RBI double to the left-center field gap to score Gil and give the Thunder a 5-4 lead. It was Vechionacci’s third hit on the afternoon. Farquhar walked Austin Romine with the bases loaded to make it 6-4 Trenton.

Trenton next travels to New Britain to start a weekday series with the Rock Cats, starting on Monday at 6:35 PM. RHP DJ Mitchell makes the start for the Thunder. New Britain will start RHP Carlos Gutierrez.

Nardi! Again!

June 27, 2010

Pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras was part of a large contingent of Yankees brass to descend onto Waterfront Park for Andrew Brackman’s start last night.  Thankfully, Nardi and company stuck around today…you saw the interview with Mark Newman, but here’s a 15-minute interview that Contreras was gracious enough to give to myself, The Trentonian’s Josh Norris and Ken Mandel from The Bucks County Courier Times.

Question: Since the last time we talked, you got to see a lot of guys from the Thunder pitching staff…any general thoughts on what you’ve seen here as a whole?

Contreras: “Well, you’ve got many Major League prospects.  There are a lot of pitchers here that are going to pitch in the big leagues…without going to names, I’ll let you guys be the judges of that.  I don’t want to leave anybody out.  But we’ve got a bunch of Major League prospects, guys that will be pitching in the Major Leagues.”

Question: What have you thought of David Phelps this year?

Contreras: “David Phelps, really good.  He’s advanced.  He’s got pitches.  His curveball…I just watched his bullpen, and his curveball’s better.  I know he attacks the zone.  He throws a four-seam, two-seam, slider.  He’s got the pitches to pitch in the big leagues, the endurance.  He’s got the game.  He’s got a lot of things going for him.  He’s just got to go out across those white lines and continue to pitch and he’ll do really well.”

Question: You got to see Brackman last night…what improvements has he had to make to be able to get up here after that season at Charleston in 2009?

Contreras: “I saw him in Tampa and of course I saw him here last night.  The biggest part of it is his confidence level.  Yeah, we made some adjustments with his delivery to allow him to be able to throw more strikes than what he did in Charleston.  But the other part of it, is that was his first year coming off the operation.  Not having pitched, we don’t know how he really felt with his arm.  His delivery faltered.  But the last month or so in Charleston, he started putting it together.  He’s done really well and he’s on his way, no doubt.”

Question: What were the adjustments you had to make with him?

Contreras: “He’s more balanced with his release point and making sure his tempo was not real mechanical, real slow.  Now, he doesn’t think about his delivery, he just goes and does his delivery and it becomes automatic, so he’s able to pitch with it.”

Question: Is that more of a delicate process when it’s a guy who is as tall as he is and coming off of surgery?

Contreras: “Well, I don’t know that.  Yeah, he’s taller, his limbs are longer…but it took him very little time to do it.  But injury-wise, he’s an athlete.  He’s not a slug.  It’s not that we signed a non-athletic pitcher and all he can do is pitch, and he got hurt.  He was an athlete, he was a basketball player, he was capable of doing dual things.  It worked out good for him.” 

Question: When you do have a guy with height like that…Chris Young, Randy Johnson, those kind of guys come to mind.  Do you just kind of accept the walks with guys like that?

Contreras: “No, no, no.  Randy Johnson, it was the same thing.  I was with the Expos and Randy’s delivery was bad.  All of a sudden, he got his delivery down.  It had nothing to do with arm strength, he just had bad mechanics coming out of college.  Once he got fixed, then he pitched well.  It can be with anybody.”

Question: Did you work with Randy with the Expos?

Contreras: “No, I didn’t work with him, because when I got there, I was in Double-A and he was at Triple-A.  And then he went to the big leagues, and then we traded him away.  Him, (Brian) Holman and (Gene) Harris for (Mark) Langston.” 

Question: Speaking of guys coming off of surgery, what can you tell us about the progress of George Kontos?

Contreras: “George, he pitched three innings last night.  He’s starting to get himself loose.  He was down in extended for a while.  He’s coming back, and he’s just going to get better.  His first time out wasn’t very good, and then last night he pitched better…I think yesterday might have been his third outing.  He’s starting to feel better, and his stuff is starting to get crisper; better location, better command.  I don’t know a timetable, but I don’t see him staying there all year.”

Question: There had been some questions about the way he was used, being used in a relief role…is there any sort of plan for a conversion to the bullpen with him right now, or is it just a matter of getting him innings?

Contreras: “De La (Rosa), we’ve got him as a starter now, but you’ll see he’ll never pitch more than five innings.  Last night, George had 60 pitches, and had just about enough at three and 45 or whatever the amount of pitches he was.  So, these guys coming back off of operations, if we see these guys as relievers in the future, we’ll keep them in those little short stints.  That’s where you get Betances, you see him as a power starter, he’s at a higher pitch count.  Is he ever going to pitch eight or nine innings this year?  No.  He’s got a pitch count, and if it’s four innings, six innings or five and a third, that’s going to be plenty for him.  We just have to make sure these kids are healthy, have a healthy finish to this year.”

Question: Is Betances down in Tampa for the rest of the year?

Contreras: “I see it as that, but I don’t make that call.”

Question: Manny Banuelos and Brett Marshall are down in the GCL right now…are they likely to be heading up somewhere pretty soon?

Contreras: “Yes.  Marshall pitched five innings today and pitched really well.  Banuelos pitched three innings yesterday and threw really well.”

Question: You mentioned De La Rosa, and it isn’t unfair to say that he’s struggled quite a bit this season…have you seen anything from him that would tip you off as to why that is?

Contreras: “I haven’t seen him.  Just today, we did a little bullpen.  There’s a couple things that I made little adjustments to.  We’ll see what happens.”

Question: Graham Stoneburner has generated a lot of positive attention lately…can you talk about what you’ve seen from him?

Contreras: “Stoneburner has pitched really, really well.  But he’s made one jump already, he’s gone from Charleston to Tampa.  I believe he should stay there.  Maybe September or the in the playoffs, if Tampa’s not (in), maybe you see him.  Otherwise, I see him at Tampa.  (Adam) Warren, Warren may be different because he’s been at Tampa all year.  Once he’s clicking, you’ve got a chance to maybe see him here, but that’ll be up to him, mostly and making sure that we feel comfortable that he’ll succeed when he comes here.” 

Question: When we last spoke about Stoneburner, you talked about his slider a little bit.  Have you seen that develop since then?

Contreras: “Yeah, I have seen it, and it’s gotten better.  The changeup…he’s pitching well.”

Question: Hector Noesi is someone who’s gotten here recently and been nothing but impressive since he got here.  Can you talk about the transition he’s had to make from Tampa to Trenton?  You must be pretty pleased with him…

Contreras: “Well, you see, with Noesi, there’s not much to work with with Noesi.  What he’s learning is his slider.  He can command the fastball, he can command the sinker, he’s got the curveball.  Still, he’s got to get a little better with his curveball.  But, he’s got the changeup.  His delivery’s solid and he can command both sides of the plate.  We’ll see what happens.” 

Question: Noesi doesn’t seem to have had as tight a pitch limit as some of the other guys here, he threw 111 pitches in one start, which is uncommon for here…

Contreras: “That was the game he pitched nine innings?  That won’t happen again.  That won’t happen again.  No need.  We’ve got relievers that are prospects also.  It’s not important to pitch nine innings on any day.  Noesi probably could have pitched nine innings his last time, too…but there’s no need.  There’s guys in the bullpen that need to pitch.  Now, if our starter gets knocked out in the second or third inning and our bullpen is being used a lot, well we may have to extend our starters if they’re able to.  But if they’re pitching well and the bullpen is rested, they need to pitch also.  They’ve got to get to the big leagues too.  Nine innings is not important.”

“I had a kid when I was with the Expos, Richie Lewis from Florida State.  He was pitching in Double-A.  Well, we had a 135 pitch (count) at the time in Jacksonville, and he had a no-hitter in the ninth inning.  He got two outs.  He hit a certain amount…and then I gave him one more hitter.  And he walked the guy and I had to take him out.  I gave him the one more hitter.  The fans went nuts, crazy.  Boo and this and that.  It’s about that kid.  I gave him one more hitter, a chance.  But we didn’t have the prospects in the bullpen like we do here that need to pitch.”

Question: Is there anything else Pat Venditte needs to do to get to Trenton?

Contreras: “Probably just guys moving from here to Triple-A to have openings.  But there’s Ortiz…what about Ortiz, look at Ortiz’s numbers.  And he closes and the whole bit.  Now you’ve got George Kontos in the mix.  And Heyer is going to be back here shortly, he’s going to start pitching shortly.  (Note: Heyer’s mother passed away and he took an extended leave.  He is expected back the first week of July.)  So it’s not about one guy.  There’s guys here, in Triple-A there’s Albaladejo, Melancon.”

Question: Venditte is considered a novelty now…do you see him having two big league arms, or do you think one day he’ll have to stick with one?

Contreras: “I think he’ll stay both sides and go from there.  You’ve got to get people out.  Novelties…you’ve got to get people out.  He gets people out.  When it gets to this level, he’s got to get people out.  It’s not about he can throw both hands, that’ll put another thousand people in the stands, it’s about getting people out.  And it’s about getting an opening.  We’ve been pretty blessed with pitching; George Kontos, here’s a guy who was in Triple-A and he’s in A-Ball right now.  J.B. Cox is finding his way back in A-Ball.  Duffer’s starting to get his act together.  Wordekemper is throwing the ball really well.  He was hot here, and there was an opening and he was the one who went.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

One-On-One With Mark Newman

June 27, 2010

Mark Newman is the Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for the New York Yankees.  Every single minor league decision goes through him.  You want to know something about a Yankees minor leaguer, he’s the guy you ask.  So I did.

Newman, making his first public visit to Waterfront Park this season, was kind enough to give me five minutes of his time outside of the Trenton Thunder clubhouse.  Here’s how it went…

Mike Ashmore: Generally speaking, how pleased are you with the Yankees farm system as a whole right now?

Mark Newman: “We’ve got young players playing very well.  Phil Hughes is 10-1, that’s big.  Gardner is up there in on-base percentage, that’s big.  Cervelli’s making contributions, Pena…Kevin Russo’s in a utility role up there, Colin Curtis is up there doing some nice stuff off the bench.  Robby Cano’s one of the best players in the game.  They’ve all been in Trenton in the last two, three, four years.  You’ve got Ian, Austin Jackson, Joba, so yeah, that’s a pretty good run.  Yes, we’ve traded some this winter, some of them I just mentioned.  Phil Coke’s another one.  So, we’ve got to re-stock a little bit, but we’ve got some good players here, so we feel good.  Our scouts, both domestic and internationally, have really done a nice job.”

Ashmore: Who is standing out to you here in Trenton right now?

Newman: “Romine.  Brandon Laird, big-time.  I liked what we saw of Brackman last night.  David Adams before he got hurt.  David Phelps has been really good.  Noesi.  There’s quite a few.”

Ashmore: Is there any update on Adams right now?

Newman: “It’s going to take a while, it’s going to take another couple weeks.  He’s not around the corner in terms of re-joining the Trenton club.”

Ashmore: Fair to say that Laird has exceeded expectations here?

Newman: “19 home runs in the first half, yeah.  No one had that number.”

Ashmore: Outside of numbers, what has impressed you about him?

Newman: “Well, he’s made huge strides defensively, which is a more subtle part of the game, but it’s really been a part of his progress.  He’s improved as a hitter, but he’s made more improvement as a defender.”

Ashmore: People talk all the time about how Laird’s path to the big leagues is blocked, at least at the corner infield spots.  Has there been any thought of potentially moving him to a different position, or right now, do you like him at the corner infield spots?

Newman: “Well, we’ll try to create positional flexibility with him.” 

Ashmore: When do you anticipate that happening?

Newman: “Maybe in the off-season.  But it’s still first and third.  It would be nice to have what we call a corner utility guy, someone who can play third, someone who can play first, somebody who can DH and swing the bat.  That’s a role that’s important to us as we build our Major League club.”

Ashmore: What did you think about Brackman’s start last night?

Newman: “Good.  His first start here against the best hitting team in the league, I thought it was fine.  I really liked the way he battled to get out of that bases loaded jam, he threw some quality curveballs.  He missed with some curveballs, but his velocity was up to 96 and only had one walk.  Good.”

Ashmore: Are there any guys on the verge of getting to here from Tampa?

Newman: “Most of the guys down there need a little more work, but there’s some really good pitching there.”

Ashmore: Anyone in particular who stands out?

Newman: “Dellin Betances has been extraordinary.  He’s pitching at 95, touching 98 and throwing 84-85 miles per hour curveballs.  Knee bucklers, changeup quality.  Six eight, 250.”

Ashmore: Could he be here before the end of the year?

Newman: “He’s rehabbing his elbow, so I wouldn’t think so.  He’s back from 10 months off after elbow surgery, so you don’t push these guys.” 

Ashmore: Is it a similar situation with George Kontos, or is that different considering he’s been at the upper levels before?

Newman: “He’s been here, so it wouldn’t be as emotionally charged of an environment as it would be for a younger guy, so he could be here.”

Ashmore: People ask me about Pat Venditte and when he’s coming to Trenton.  Is part of the plan for him to be here this year?

Newman: “Right now, there’s not a lot of room in this bullpen, so I can’t say that.  It’s TBA.”

Ashmore: In terms of some of the younger guys like Stoneburner, Warren…guys who are still a little ways from getting here, how pleased are you with their development?

Newman: “We’re getting Manny Banuelos back, he’s one of our top, top, top prospects.  Stoneburner, Warren, those guys…those guys are good.  But it’s their first full season, so you’ve got to take a little time with them.”

Ashmore: Is there anyone here on the verge of a call-up to Scranton?

Newman: “Not right at the moment.”

Ashmore: Do you anticipate Laird staying here all year?

Newman: “I don’t anticipate that far into the future.  You never know.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Game 73: Post-Game Notes

June 27, 2010

Ok, before I get to the Nardi Contreras and Mark Newman comments, I’ve got to take you through this game, which was won by the Thunder, 2-0.  Trenton had four hits (RBI singles from Matt Cusick and Justin Snyder) accounted for the runs, but still managed to pull this one out.  Why?  Two reasons. 

One…Fisher Cats pitching issued eight walks. 

Two…David Phelps.

Phelps has very, very quietly started out the season 6-0 and lowered his Eastern League leading ERA to just 2.04 tonight after pitching six scoreless innings in which he scattered six hits, walked two and struck out seven.  Not only is he a lock to pitch in the All-Star Game in Harrisburg this year, he may very well get the start. 

“I’d be shocked if he weren’t there,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

“He pitched a heck of a ballgame.  He’s been like that all year, so why should anything be any different.  When he’s not like that, you figure something’s wrong.”

Oddly enough, Phelps didn’t feel like he had his best stuff tonight.

“This is definitely an interesting game,” he said.

“My last start, I felt like I had my best stuff I’ve had all year; command, velocity.  And I gave up three runs.  I come out today, and my first couple innings, I’m all over the place and really fighting to stay on line and get my pitches to where I want them to go.  Somehow, I end up giving up no runs.”

Phelps credited his defense and catcher Austin Romine for getting him to throw the ball “through him instead of to the glove.” 

“I feel like sometimes, I try to slow things down and try to be too perfect with my pitches,” Phelps said.

“I find myself trying to get the ball to hit a certain spot where he’s holding his glove, as opposed to trying to throw it through his glove on a line to his chest, which is where I feel like I get better extension and my ball’s got better life on it.”

Eastern League batters are hitting just .199 off of Phelps, who somehow lasted until the 14th round of the 2008 draft.  Under the radar for seemingly his entire career, you could make an argument that despite his numbers, that’s still the case…with more highly touted pitchers such as Hector Noesi and now Andrew Brackman now in the rotation with him.

“You know, I don’t really mind flying under the radar,” Phelps said.

“It’s one of those things where I can go about going about my business without worrying about who’s looking at me and what’s going on.  If some eyes open, great.  It’s always a good thing, obviously.  But whether eyes are opening or you’re under the radar, you have to go out there and do the same thing every day to try to get better each start.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com


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