Archive for July 15th, 2011

Confident Kontos On Cusp Of A Call-Up

July 15, 2011

SCRANTON, PA. — The San Diego Padres have developed quite a habit of instilling confidence in New York Yankees pitchers.

Three years after a San Diego Rule 5 Draft selection of Ivan Nova accelerated his development, turning him from a pitcher who hadn’t escaped High-A to big leaguer by 2010, Scranton Yankees reliever George Kontos seems to be on a similar path.

Kontos, a 26-year-old righty who had spent five seasons in the Yankees organization, was a low-risk, high-reward selection by the Padres.  But ultimately, he didn’t stick and was returned to the Yankees per Rule 5 protocol.  While the numbers certainly weren’t what he would have hoped for them to be, the Illinois-born pitcher, who had never been one to be short on confidence, seemed to actually gain more of it after his taste of the big leagues.

“Spring training, going over there and getting to experience that whole process, it was definitely a good experience,” Kontos said.

“Obviously, I would have liked to have pitch a little bit better and been given a little bit more of an opportunity and stuck with the team. But the fact that I was able to go over there and kind of experience that whole thing, it was a great opportunity for me and it definitely showed me that even though my numbers weren’t that great in the couple outings that I had, I could definitely pitch against Major League hitters and get them out. That was the main thing. So I came back this year with tons of confidence, and I think that’s kind of shown as the season has progressed.”

But, while there was confidence that came with Kontos’ stay with San Diego, there were also some adjustments that he had to make after coming to the realization that his road to the big leagues had yet another detour.

“Going back to our spring training was a little bit difficult. It was definitely humbling coming in and seeing all the guys again and coming back,” he said.

“But once we broke camp and got up here, I think it was just normal again. Maybe the first couple days of getting back and seeing all the guys was tough in a way, but everyone made me feel real comfortable. It stunk that I was back because of what could have been, but it was good to be back and see the guys and be back here.”

Kontos seemed to be well on his way to a future in pinstripes as starter, escaping a 2008 nixed-trade that would have dealt him to the Pirates in the process.  Despite a 6-11 record, Kontos established himself as someone to watch in the organization after posting a 3.68 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A Trenton, striking out 152 batters in as many innings of work. 

He began the 2009 season back with Trenton, but wasn’t long for Waterfront Park, being called up to Triple-A Scranton after just four starts with the Thunder.  He’d make nine with Scranton — seemingly getting closer to the big leagues with each one – before his elbow gave out on him.  He’d need Tommy John surgery and missed 11 months, coming back as a reliever.  Kontos struggled at times with command, and was inconsistent in Trenton at times despite posting solid numbers in the end. 

But this year has been different, leading Kontos to say the difference between last season and this season has been like “night and day.”  In 27 appearances in Scranton — Kontos has been used in just about every role possible by Dave Miley this season, including two spot starts — he’s posted a 2-1 record and 2.26 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings of work, while walking just 17 International League batters.

“Last year, coming back to Trenton after surgery, I was kind of just feeling everything out again,” Kontos said.

“Like everybody told me, the second season after surgery is when you really kind of get everything back. So far, that’s been the case. I’ve come back this year and things have fallen into place. My location is significantly better than it was last year, and my velocity is much better than it was last year. The slider’s still the same as it’s been, and my changeup’s developed really well into a good, usable pitch for me. So things have been going really, really well.”

Despite the obvious physical adjustments that come after such a procedure, Kontos credits his turnaround of sorts to changing his mental approach.

“I think it’s just kind of trusting your stuff,” he said.  “Just being mentally capable to realize that you’re OK to go back to doing what you did before the surgery, that’s the main thing. Once you come back from surgery, you’re healthy, but there’s kind of like a mental hurdle that you’ve got to just kind of overcome until you’re back at it 100 percent.”

While Kontos has shown that he’s back to 100 percent, pitching better than he ever has with the Yankees organization, he’s still yet to escape Dunder Mifflin headquarters.  But, while the franchise has added seemingly everyone under the sun to the big league roster but Kontos and added countless options from outside the organization at Triple-A, he’s been able to remain patient and knows his time will come.

“It’s definitely encouraging to see that the organization is going down to the farm to get some guys, and it’s also a little frustrating because I’m putting up good numbers,” Kontos said.

“But at the same time, I think it kind of lights a fire under me and makes me want to pitch as well as I can so I can get my opportunity.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Melquisidec!

July 15, 2011

(PR) (Trenton, NJ) – Steve Garrison’s six dominant innings of one-run ball on Friday night gave the Trenton Thunder (50-42) a 3-1 win victory over the Reading Phillies (47-45) in front of 7,549 fans at Waterfront Park. The Thunder scored all of their runs in the seventh inning with Melky Mesa’s two-run single proving to be the decisive blow to the R-Phils. After losing their final nine games of the first half of the season, Trenton has started the second half with two straight wins, both over Reading in games one and two in this four-game series.

Reading starting pitcher Tyler Cloyd dominated in his first five innings, but the Thunder finally got to the righty in the sixth inning. With one out and the bases jam-packed with Thunder base runners, Rob Lyerly lined an opposite field single into left field to tie the score at one apiece. A batter later, Melky Mesa roped a single up the middle to plate two runners and hand the Thunder a 3-1 advantage.

Steve Garrison put together his most dominant outing of 2011 for the Thunder on Friday night. In a season-high six innings, the lefty from Ewing, NJ allowed just one run on four hits. Garrison’s six punch-outs also stand as a season-high. Since returning to the Thunder from the Disabled List in late June, Garrison is 3-2 with a 4.94 earned run average.

On Saturday night, the Thunder will welcome Brad Lidge and Shane Victorino, both on rehab assignments from the Philadelphia Phillies, to Waterfront Park in game three of the four-game set with the Reading Phillies. Getting the pearl for the Thunder is RHP Craig Heyer (7-4, 3.38), while the R-Phils will counter with RHP Joe Esposito (2-1, 4.50). The SBLI Pre-Game show with Jay Burnham and Hank Fuerst begins at 6:45 PM. Tune-in to the game on 91.3 WTSR and trentonthunder.com.

Fireworks presented by the Mercer County Improvement Authority will follow Saturday’s contest. For ticket information, call the Thunder Ticket Office at 609-394-3300 or log on to trentonthunder.com.

Lidge…And Victorino? Yep

July 15, 2011

(PR) (READING, PA) Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, who is recovering from a ligament sprain in his thumb, is scheduled to make a rehab appearance for the R-Phils on the road, as the club takes on the Trenton Thunder in Trenton, NJ, as announced by the Philadelphia Phillies earlier today.

Victorino is scheduled to join Reading on Saturday, July 16 for game three of the four-game series from Mercer County Waterfront Park. He was placed on the disabled list for the second time this season on July 8 (retroactive to July 4).

The Hawaiian native made his first rehab appearance of the season on Saturday, May 28 for Lakewood (A), and played two games for the BlueClaws. He later continued that assignment and joined Reading for two games (May 31 – June 1). Victorino was activated off the disabled list by Philadelphia on June 3.

A 2011 National League All-Star, Victorino is currently hitting .303 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs for the Phillies in 267 at-bats this season. The speedy Victorino is also 13-for-15 in stolen base attempts this season.

All Trenton Thunder tickets are available at 609-394-3300 or online at trentonthunder.com.

Hockey? On A Baseball Blog? What?

July 15, 2011

Since I know there are some folks who are interested in just Trenton sports who come here, I figured I’d pass this along as well…looks like there’s a movement going on to try to get the Trenton Titans to return.  Check it out here

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Jesus Montero: Catch Him While You Can

July 15, 2011

SCRANTON, PA. — During my recent “call-up” to Triple-A Scranton, I was able to spend a few minutes chatting with former Trenton Thunder catcher Jesus Montero at his locker.

Montero, still just 21 years old, is universally regarded as the game’s top catching prospect ahead of Kansas City’s Wil Myers. But the big question has always been if he’ll remain behind the plate, with most people not associated with the Yankees organization firmly supporting the idea that he won’t.

For his part, Montero said that his work behind the plate is what’s made the most progress since he last called Trenton home.

“My defense has been good,” he said. “I’ve been working all the time with my coaches all the time here, and (Yankees minor league catching instructor) Julio Mosquera when he comes in, trying to do everything hard every time so I get better every single day.”

The bat has never needed work for Montero, who recently was named to the International League’s team in the Triple-A All-Star Game but was unable to play due to a lingering back injury. And it’s largely been the bat, not the glove, that’s led to him being named to his respective league’s All-Star game in each of his first four professional seasons. A .309 career minor league hitter, the Venezuelan-born backstop impressed the Waterfront Park faithful two seasons ago when a simple flick of the wrists sent his first Double-A home run about halfway up the batters eye in dead center, which sits 407 feet away from home plate.

It’s that impressive and seemingly effortless power stroke that will get him to the big leagues…eventually. Right now, it’s just a matter of where he’ll play. The running joke in Trenton was that if you asked Montero about the weather, he’d tell you how much he wanted to catch. Long story short, it’s very important to him, and that’s why he’s continued to work on his defense this season.

“It’s important to me, because the Yankees have been telling me if you can catch, you can play in the big leagues and you can catch in the big leagues,” he said.

“They tell me already that I can hit, they know that already. But I’ve been working hard really hard on defense so I can play in the big leagues one day.”

“I feel good. I don’t make any of the decisions, but I feel like it. But they’re going to decide first. I’ll just do my job here.”

Montero, who is in his second full season in Triple-A, said that the jump was beneficial because he’s gotten to play with older players and catch older pitchers, which he feels has accelerated his learning curve. Defense aside — and that’s a big thing to just push aside, mind you — there’s little that’s keeping him out of the Bronx. And that’s OK, says Montero.

“No, it’s fine for me. I’m still young, and I’ve got things I’ve got to learn still,” he said. “I’m doing my job here and I’m trying to do everything good and one day play in the big leagues.”

But when asked just where it was he’d like to play in the big leagues…well, the answer was predictable.

“It’s important to me, because I’ve been a catcher all my life,” Montero said.

“I’m just trying to be a catcher in the big leagues. I’d like to catch in the big leagues and I’m trying to work hard behind the plate and help the pitchers win every time.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

Game 91: Post-Game Notes

July 15, 2011

— I’ll get to the game in a minute, the news after it is somewhat significant.  DH Cody Johnson has been sent down to High-A Tampa, while OF Zoilo Almonte has been called up from High-A Tampa. 

In 74 games, Johnson was hitting .226 with 15 home runs and 45 RBI. The big problem? 138 K’s in 297 AB’s.  He played just a handful of games in the outfield, primarily serving as the team’s regular designated hitter, and was a one-dimensional player who was way too inconsistent.  Regarded as a nice kid by everyone in the media, Johnson declined to speak to us after the game…which is understandable.  The move also likely spells the beginning of the end of the road for him in this organization.

He was given plenty of time to put everything together by the Yankees organization, and didn’t.  It can hardly be viewed as good sign that a player who spent the entire first half of the season in Double-A is getting demoted, which is something the Yankees rarely do with their position players at this level.  Once you’re up, you’re up.  Up is Zoilo Almonte, and it’ll be hard to see a scenario in which he doesn’t stay up.  In 69 games in Tampa, Almonte hit .293 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI, primarily playing in left field.  Almonte, like Johnson, is just 22 years old.

Melky Mesa and Ray Kruml are sure to have regular spots in the outfield, and it would seem Almonte would as well.  It would also seem as though DeAngelo Mack picked a bad time to get hurt, and that Damon Sublett…who has actually played very well as of late, will become the team’s fourth outfielder at best.

— Trenton won the game, 9-5, snapping a nine-game losing streak that included a four game sweep at the hands of Reading that ended the first half.  J.C. Ramirez was very hittable on the mound for the Phillies tonight — he certainly wasn’t the only pitcher they had who had a rough night, but we’ll get to that later — and the Thunder bats were alive early and often.

“We needed to beat these guys, they had a stranglehold on us there for a minute,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

“It was good to get a win tonight.”

Ray Kruml continued his hot streak by going 3-for-4 to up his average to .306…and he added a stolen base in the process.  Jose Gil also continues to have a nice year, and his 3-for-3 night got his average up to .281.  And he stole a base too!  Jose Gil!  With NO THROW!!!

Shaeffer Hall scuffled through five innings and wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him in the past…he gave up four runs on four hits and three walks, and struck out three batters. 

“He was pretty good, he battled,” Franklin said.

“Not real sharp, but he did well enough to keep us in the game…he did a nice job.  But he’s always given us an opportunity to be in the games.”

— Brad Lidge was not good tonight for Reading.  His catcher, Tim Kennelly, didn’t do him many favors behind the plate, which led to three wild pitches…but Lidge also walked a batter, hit two and nearly struck a third in Brad Suttle, who flew out to deep right field instead.

“(That was) pretty close, I thought it was going to hit me.  But I got out of the way, luckily,” Suttle said with a laugh. 

“I had faced him the last series, and surprisingly he threw me a lot of offspeed pitches.  I feel like I had a good plan, but I just missed it, so I was a little disappointed.  I knew I got it a little off the end.”

Lidge told reporters after the game that he had an uptick in velocity but lost some of his control.  Suttle didn’t notice too much of a difference at all between facing him this time and several days ago in Reading.

“I knew he had a good slider and a good curveball, and I think I hit a slider.  He’s got a good sharp curveball, and good control of his offspeed pitches.  Tonight, he was a little bit wild though.”

Tony Franklin, meanwhile, thought Lidge showed signs of his old form.

“He bounced some balls that got by the catcher, but he’s still got his good stuff,” Franklin said.

— Looks like Ryan Pope will be returning to the closer’s role.  He finished out the game for the Thunder tonight — albeit not in a save situation — and will likely be used in that role.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com