** Where to even begin? Given everything that happened today — Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances going on the DL, word of Kevin Millwood’s arrival spreading, etc. — that may very well be the most memorable of all the home openers in Waterfront Park history outside of the first. So let me break things down starting with last things first and first things last…
** What an incredible sequence of events on the Thunder’s final out in the ninth inning. After Ray Kruml singled home Corban Joseph to cut the deficit to 4-2, Austin Krum took a mighty swing and sent a ball hurtling towards the right center field warning track…Senators center fielder Jonathan Tucker got a great break on the ball and laid out in full stride while running towards the fence on the warning track to make what appeared to be an unbelievable catch. All that matters here is that first base umpire Shaun Lampe, who probably wasn’t as far down the line as he could have been, ruled it to be a catch and the third out of the inning. Depending on who you ask, however, and the perspective changes a little bit.
“I got a pretty good read on it, but he hit it pretty good,” Tucker told me afterwards.
“It hung in the air for a while, so I had the chance. Me and (right fielder) Archie (Gilbert) had a beat on it, either one of us could have caught it. I just caught it at the last minute.”
You definitely caught it, Jonathan?
“Definitely,” he said.
“I just looked up, and I didn’t really see anybody making a call, and the guy was still running. During a rain delay a couple days ago, they showed the play with Knoblauch, where he stopped and the guy scored and continued the play. So I made sure I threw it in, I didn’t want to just stay out there and have them call him safe and let their guy score. So I got it in.”
Thunder manager Tony Franklin, however, thought throwing the ball in on a third out was a bit more curious than the explanation that Tucker provided to me.
“To me, and what I told (the umpire), is he got up and threw the ball in. That’s the third out of the inning, so pretty much he’s going to catch it and run it in,” Franklin said. “But he didn’t do that, he threw it in. That was my only gripe.”
From our perspective, and keep in mind we’re probably around 450-475 feet away, it was very difficult to tell whether Tucker caught the ball or not.
** And now we’ve reached the Naoya Okamoto and Jose Pirela portion of the program. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and both didn’t exactly win over the impressive crowd of over 6,600 fans during their respective first games at Waterfront Park.
Okamoto, who came into a 2-1 game in the ninth inning after two and two thirds innings of scoreless, stellar relief by Tim Norton and Brian Anderson, self-destructed after getting the first two batters of the inning out, allowing the next five to reach on four walks and a brutal Pirela error.
Focusing on Okamoto first, his mechanics do not appear to leave much room for error. If you saw the video of him — and my goodness, you should if you haven’t, you haven’t seen anything like him — there are enough quirks in his motion for an entire pitching staff.
“I’m sure Tommy (Phelps) will talk to him about his performance tonight, but it could have been any number of things,” Franklin said.
“It could be mechanics, it could be the focus, it could be a lot of things. You don’t have the chance to talk to him right then and there about what happened, but whatever happened will be addressed. He made some good pitches. he made the pitch to get out of the inning. But we missed the play, that’s the difference in his performance right there. Yeah, he lost the strike zone, he’s got to find the strike zone a little bit better. But he made the pitch to get out of the inning.”
As for Pirela, he could not have looked any more tentative at shortstop. Seven games into the 2011 season, and he already has got six E-6’s on the board. Tonight, it looked like the ball was catching him instead of vice versa. On one play, the bill of his cap got knocked off after he struggled reading a hop, and he recovered just in time to avoid the error…in the ninth inning, however, he wasn’t so lucky. With two runners on and two outs, Steve Lombardozzi hit a fairly routine grounder to short that Pirela had trouble with. He bobbled it, had trouble on the exchange and Lombardozzi beat the throw by a good five steps…the runner from second was chugging the whole way and scored easily.
“I brought him in here, and I told him we have to continue to work. He’s going to be our shortstop,” Franklin said.
“Young shortstops are going to miss those plays from time to time. But in order for us to be a better baseball team, we have to have him coming up with those plays. I think he’s aware of that. I made that perfectly clear. I don’t minimize the fact that these errors are creating a situation for us where it’s going to make our pitchers throw more pitches. We can’t afford to do that. As long he’s willing to put the work in, we’re going to get there. By season’s end, he’s going to be a better shortstop.”
** Shaeffer Hall was outstanding during his first time through the Harrisburg starting nine. Only Lombardozzi, who was hit by a pitch, reached the first time through. Then Hall saw the Senators lineup for a second time. Things didn’t go so well then. Hall gave up five hits and two runs his second time through, and ultimately was tagged for the loss in 5 1/3 innings of work in which he gave up seven hits, two runs and a walk. He struck out four. But I asked Franklin about Hall’s second trip through the order…
“If you’re going to be a Major League pitcher, the second time around after everyone’s seen your stuff, yeah you’re going to have to make some adjustments there. I don’t think you can pitch them the same way,” he said.
“That’s the first time they’ve seen him, and I think once he sees them again, he’ll have a better idea how to pitch them. It’s kind of hard to say what he was doing in that particular instance or what he was thinking. But I’m sure Tommy will address it and they’ll talk about it and they’ll make the necessary adjustments.”
** Bright spots? Sure. When Hall was good, he was very good. Cody Johnson and Melky Mesa each had two hits, and both had a hard-hit ball each…with Johnson’s moonshot of a home run and Mesa’s long double to center field. Also, as I mentioned, Norton and Anderson were both stellar in relief. Anderson in particular was impressive, as this is just his second season as a pitcher after a long time as a Major League outfielder.
** Blisterfest 2011. We’ve covered that to death already, right? Banuelos and Betances have blisters. There are only so many questions I can ask another grown man about a flap of skin on his finger before my head wants to explode. As I mentioned earlier today, Banuelos will start playing catch today and should only miss one start. Betances timetable is a little less uncertain.
**Tony Franklin let Justin Pope coach third base tonight. Franklin, who usually has those “honors,” explained after the game that as a young coach, he wanted to give the former Thunder closer some more experience.
** I spoke to Saturday’s surprise-ish starter, Craig Heyer, for something you’ll see either tomorrow night or Saturday morning. So as not to withhold anything that’s even a shred of newsworthy, Heyer will likely be at a 65-70 pitch count.
** Kevin Millwood. He’s still coming. Still slated for Sunday. If I get any additional info, I’ll pass it along. I wouldn’t expect him to physically join the team until Saturday at the earliest.
** Nice job as a whole by the Trenton Thunder front office tonight. Opening Night or not, to draw 6,629 fans to Waterfront Park on a Thursday night is an impressive task, and everyone should be commended for their efforts. There are a lot of great, hardworking folks in that front office, especially behind the scenes…and it was nice to see a reward of sorts.
** Hope everyone enjoyed the videos tonight. Not sure how frequently I can do that during the year — they are, admittedly a pain in the rear end to do — but if anyone has anyone specific they’d like to see, please let me know and I’ll do my best to fulfill requests.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com