Archive for April 7th, 2012

Game 3: Post-Game Notes

April 7, 2012

Cody Johnson hit two of Trenton's franchise record seven home runs on Saturday, including one that may still be in orbit.

— It would seem that your initial impression of the 2012 Trenton Thunder would be based on which of the three games you came out to during the opening series against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Is what you saw on Thursday and Friday — a team that struggled to score four runs in 18 innings — more indicative of what you’ll see all season?  Or is what happened on Saturday afternoon more likely?  Truth be told, it’s surely somewhere in the middle of the two extremes that bookended the three-game series, but today sure wasn’t bad as far as offensive explosions go.

After Friday night’s debacle, Thunder manager Tony Franklin said he was hoping for an “outburst,” suggesting that “five or six runs” would qualify.  He got much more than that in an 11-2 drubbing of their division rivals.

“It was just one of those days,” Franklin said.  “We were in both of those ballgames that we lost, and we made some mistakes here and there…today, everything just kind of came together.  The score indicates how well we did.”

It took seven Thunder home runs, a new record for a franchise that played its 2,548th game today, to overshadow the debut of Brett Marshall, who is the team’s most highly touted pitching prospect this season.  Marshall got his first Double-A win in his first attempting, holding New Hampshire to just two runs on two hits and three walks through five innings, but he could have been far worse and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Deck McGuire, the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Blue Jays, struggled all day long and gave up five of those seven longballs, including back-to-back-to-back jacks by Zoilo Almonte, Rob Lyerly and Melky Mesa.  It was the first time since April 17, 2004 that the team hit three consecutive home runs, a feat that Robinson Cano was involved with, and only the sixth time in franchise history they’d hit three home runs in one inning. 

Of all seven home runs — Lyerly and Cody Johnson hit two a piece, while Almonte, Mesa and Jose Gil accounted for the others — Johnson’s first home run was the most memorable.  Several players in the clubhouse were saying it was the furthest they’d ever seen a baseball hit, and it was hard to argue given that it landed OVER the batters eye in center field.  The wall itself is 407 feet away from home plate, and the batters eye easily is 30-35 feet high.

“He just left me a 2-0 fastball up in the zone, and I put a good swing on it,” Johnson said.  “The wind helped it out a little bit, but I got a good bit of that one.”

When asked if he’d hit one that far before, the prolific power hitter nonchalantly suggested a ball he hit last season in Reading might have been crushed even harder.  Then, he wondered what the ball he hit today might have damaged on its way into orbit.

“Once it clears the wall, there’s no telling where the ball goes,” he said.  “I think there might be a parking lot back there, so hopefully it didn’t go through somebody’s winshield.”

It’s hard not to be happy for Johnson, who is one of the friendliest and talkative players in the Thunder clubhouse, no matter how things are going.  But the at-bat he was happiest about wasn’t one you’ll see on any highlight reels.  A simple single through the left side had him smiling from ear to ear when discussing it with reporters afterwards.

“That was probably my best at-bat,” he said.  “I stayed on a 2-0 fastball down and away.  It would have been a strike, but I was able to stay on it.  That was probably the best I’ve felt in a while, just being able to stay through a ball like that.”

Despite seven home runs today, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to only see a handful the rest of the month.  As Franklin will tell you, this wasn’t supposed to be a power hitting team.

“I didn’t see it that way coming out of spring training,” he said.  “It just kind of happened, but I do think we’ve got guys in the lineup who are capable of hitting home runs; Mesa, Almonte, Cody, Lyerly.  These guys do have power, but it’s how consistent we’re going to be with it that’s going to make the difference.”

Lyerly had a bit of a bounceback game himself after two tough ones to begin the year, but even his two home runs got overshadowed by Johnson’s moonshot.

“It sure was a good day to hit,” said Lyerly through a big smile.  “I hadn’t swung it really well, even my first at-bat today wasn’t very good.  I was just fortunate to get a couple pitches to hit and put a good swing on them.”

Brett Marshall picked up the win in his Double-A debut

— Ah yes, Brett Marshall.  The big storylines of the day were supposed to be both his debut and the matchup between he and McGuire.  Rated the 11th-best prospect in the Yankees organization by Baseball America, the talkative Texan struggled early on.  He had thrown 51 pitches through two innings, and seemed well on his way to an early exit.  But he settled down and ultimately allowed just two runs on two hits and three walks in five innings, earning his first Double-A win.

“He did OK,” Franklin said.  “I’m sure there were some jitters there, his first time out there.  His last couple innings, he started to find his rhythm.  His pitches were a little sharper, but he got to his allotment of pitches, so we had to get him out of there.”

Marshall had 81 pitches through four innings and was only expected to throw 90.  Franklin said he was close to taking him out, but his efficient five-pitch fifth made it a non-issue.

“He was close (to coming out),” Franklin said.  “We were talking about if he got this guy or he didn’t get this guy, we had somebody ready to go.  It had nothing to do with the lead, it was more his ability to throw strikes and get guys out.  if he had struggled with his command, we would have got him out of there.”

Marshall was pleased with his performance overall, but did admit to have some nerves early on.

“I was trying to get the first inning of the year out of the way,” he said.

“The wind was kicking and blowing against me, so it makes my ball move a lot more.  You have to kind of adjust to the wind.  I was having a little trouble the first few innings with that, but I got better and settled down.  I can’t lie, I did have some jitters in that first inning, it being my first start in Double-A, but other than that, it was OK.”

Marshall had seen many of the Fisher Cats before, both facing them while they were with Dunedin or watching them while doing the chart in the stands the first two days, and knew he had to keep the ball down against a team that took “big hacks.”  His next start will likely take place on Friday in Akron, and he knows he needs to improve on his command for that outing and future ones.

“I felt like I was all over the place (today),” he said.  “I think I should be a lot more in control now that I got the first game out of the way, so I should be a lot better from here on out.”

Perhaps the only uncertainty surrounding Marshall is if his personal cheering section will come with him.  Around 20 family members and friends sat behind home plate cheering him on, all easily identifiable in RiverDogs-themed “We Are Marshall” attire with his name and number on the back.

“Whenever I have family come, it’s fun having them in the stands being able to watch me, especially because they’re 1,000 miles away,” he said.

“My family came from Texas, and I have an aunt and uncle that live in New York, so they’re only 90 miles.  Them and a bunch of their friends came, so it was nice having them.”

Fisher Cats starter Deck McGuire was knocked around for five innings by the Thunder, giving up five of Trenton's seven home runs.

— A trip to the visiting clubhouse after the game, and things were far less celebratory over there.  Blue equipment bags were being packed, and 6-foot-6, 235 pound Deck McGuire was finishing a post-game meal and drink near the center table where the spread sits.  The clear plastic cup looked more like a shot glass in the tall Georgia Tech alum’s hand, who was very gracious to speak with me afterwards.

“That was definitely a first, but it’s a credit to those guys in other locker room,” said McGuire, who allowed eight runs on 11 hits in five innings.

“They came out swinging, they hit every mistake, and they hit some good pitches.  It’s just one of those days.  It’s early in the year, and I’ve just got to bounce back and go after it every fifth day.  I definitely left some pitches in the middle of the plate, but I was up early in the game, and they got a couple extra-base hits.  I actually thought I made some pretty decent pitches, they just put really good swings on them and got the job done.”

Longballs aren’t something McGuire is too used to giving up.  In 291 collegiate innings, he allowed 29.  In his first 125 1/3 professional innings, he’d given up just 13.  Tonight?  Five.

“Hitting is contagious, and I felt like every time a guy stepped in the box, he was a little more comfortable than the last guy,” McGuire said.

“I’ve just got to try and bounce back and execute my pitches better next time out.  I need to keep the ball down better and out of the middle of the plate more than anything.  I thought we changed speeds well and I thought we mixed it up pretty good, but I just didn’t execute and didn’t really give the guys behind me a chance to make any plays to help me out.” 

— I didn’t see Marshall over 93 MPH.  McGuire was around 90 MPH.

— Zoilo Almonte finally had his breakout game after going 0-for-his first two.  He went 3-for-5 with a home run and two RBI today to get out of his mini-slump. 

“That’s what he’s capable of, and that’s why people are starting to talk about the kid,” Franklin said.  “He’s got that kind of ability.  The first couple nights were kind of difficult, but we’ve got a long way to go.  Hopefully, we’re going to see a lot more of what we saw today in the next few games.”

Kelvin Perez was one of four Trenton relievers to shut down the Fisher Cats for the final four innings.

— There’s a lot you could overlook in this game, but the bullpen shouldn’t be one of those things.  Kelvin Perez, Lee Hyde, Preston Claiborne and Ryan Pope each got one of the final four innings and allowed just one walk (Perez) and two hits (Pope) while striking out six.  Perez and Claiborne particularly stood out, with the former hitting 94 MPH on the gun with a very hard fastball, and Claiborne no slouch at 93 MPH. 

— Spoke to Craig Heyer about his Triple-A debut, in which he spun 4 1/3 scoreless innings for Empire State.

“There’s not many easy outs up there,” he said.  “I kind of got away with some pitches a little bit.  I had a little run, a little sink on the ball.  I just kind of tried to locate as best as I could.”

Heyer, who was so excited to finally have a set role, knew what he was getting into when he got the surprise call-up.

“They said they just needed a guy to fill in, pretty much what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years,” he said.  “I knew Manny Delcarmen was going to start, go a couple innings, and I was going to come in and try to go as far as I could.”

Heyer told reporters he feels like he could be in somebody’s bullpen in the big leagues one day, but for now will return to his starting role with the Thunder, which will resume Tuesday.

— Here’s some video from today, including Cody Johnson’s first home run…

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT


Game 3: Pre-Game Notes

April 7, 2012

12:10 PM — Addison Maruszak is playing his 108th game in the field as a member of the Trenton Thunder, but this is his first as a shortstop.  But before he became a super-utility man, he came up as a shortstop, so this isn’t a real big deal for him…

“It’s just another game,” he said.  “I played there a little last year (in Scranton) and I was fine.  I’ve been practicing, even though I haven’t played there for a while.  I’ve played it for such a long time that it’s kind of like riding a bike.”

Maruszak says that shortstop is actually more comfortable for him than other spots since that’s where he started in the organization.

“You’ve got a little more footwork involved there,” he said.

“You can cheat a little more there, you can see pitches are coming.  You can see the swing path a little better.  It’s a position that, even though you’re not fast, you can play it pretty well because you’ve got to play it smart.  I feel I do that pretty well.”

Jose Pirela at second is also an interesting choice — although he has played there for Trenton before — and Tony Franklin says that’s one of many places you’ll see him at this year.

“You’re going to see Petey in the outfield, you’re going to see him at third base, you’re going to see him at second, you’re going to see him at short,” Franklin said.  “We in the organization feel like he’s got some value as a utility guy.  He’s a pretty good athlete.  He’s handled himself at various positions during the spring fairly well.”

Something else I asked about was if it’s realistic for Cody Johnson — who stressed how much he wants to play in the field at Media Day — to do just that.  Doesn’t sound real good.

“It is, but you look at the numbers,” Franklin said.  “(It would be) at the expense of taking both Almonte’s out and Mesa out and Brewer out.”

So, something I brought up that I’ve thought for a while is if Cody could play first base.  At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he’s a big boy to be playing in the outfield, but he might profile well at first, a position he’s never played before professionally.

“I’ve never seen him in the infield, we’ve not done that,” Franklin said.  “If you’re going to be a defensive player, you’ve got to play somewhere.  Here’s the deal, besides the pitcher and the catcher, the first baseman probably handles the ball the third most on the team.  That’s a very skilled position, and it takes a lot.  I don’t think he’s worked out there.  It would just be plain wrong on my part to put him there.  I’m not saying he couldn’t be a heck of a first baseman, I just don’t know because I’ve never seen him take grounders.”

12:00 PM — Lineups…

Thunder lineup: Pirela 2B, Mustelier 3B, Brewer LF, Z. Almonte RF, Lyerly 1B, Mesa CF, Johnson DH, Gil C, Maruszak SS, Marshall P

Fisher Cats lineup: Howard 3B, Diaz SS, Van Kirk LF, Glenn RF, McDade DH, Clemens 1B, Goins 2B, Jeroloman C, McElroy CF, McGuire P

10:15 AM — Not much to tell you just yet.  No lineups, no access until 11:15 and not much sleep for your beloved beat writer.

I can, however, tell you about today’s opposing starter.  While he sounds more like “foil for Brick Tamland” than “baseball player,” Deck McGuire is, in fact, the latter.  And he doesn’t suck.  He’s a 22-year-old righty who was taken 11th overall in the 2010 draft by Toronto.  Baseball America ranks him as Toronto’s eighth-best prospect, and gives a scouting report that has his fastball touching 94 MPH complete with a slider, changeup and curveball.

And surely, you read my feature on today’s Thunder hurler, Brett Marshall.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT

The Marshall Plan? Greatness

April 7, 2012

Brett Marshall has never been someone to shy away from setting lofty goals.

He once boasted to Yankees farm director Mark Newman that he’d be able to hit 100 miles per hour with his fastball one day. Close, but no cigar.

But his most recent goal? Well, the road to that one starts later today. The talented 22-year-old righty makes his Double-A debut Saturday afternoon, but also recently got to experience his first big league camp. He paid particular attention to CC Sabathia.

“I know I’m not left-handed, but I watched CC a lot because I want to eventually be an Opening Day starter,” he said.

“You’ve got to go big. I want to be in the big leagues, but hey, eventually you get to that role and you want to be an Opening Day starter.”

For now, however, Marshall isn’t even the Thunder’s number one man in the rotation, although he unquestionably has the highest ceiling of anyone in it.

“He’s got great stuff. That guy, he’s got a ton,” said Thunder catcher Jose Gil, who caught Marshall during simulated games in spring training.

“He’s got three pitches he throws pretty well. He’s got enormous talent, so I’m going to try to help as much as I can.”

Marshall throws a hard sinker, a slider and a devastating changeup that pitching coach Tommy Phelps described as “really, really good.” But he never did hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun, a claim he chalked up to being “young and dumb.”

“You want to throw hard. I got up to 98 one game, and I was like, ‘That’s pretty cool,'” Marshall said.

“I’d never thrown hard, and I was like, ‘You know what, maybe I could throw 100 one day.’ But then I was like let me just focus on throwing strikes and getting the ball down, and that was the biggest thing I learned. After coming off Tommy John, that’s one thing we worked on, just throwing strikes. Don’t worry about how hard you’re throwing, just get out there and hit the catcher’s mitt and you’ll be fine. That was the biggest thing I learned, that it doesn’t matter how fast you throw.”

Everything seemed to change for Marshall on July 31, 2009, the date of his aforementioned procedure. He came back just ten months later and performed well, but hesitation the following off-season got him off to a poor start with High-A Tampa in 2011.

“After TJ, one thing we worked on was to keep the same arm slot,” he said.

“I did a real good job after TJ. I think taking off those about four or five months from throwing in the offseason, I think that’s what kind of hurt. I was like, ‘I’ve got to start picking up the ball,’ but I was scared to throw again. I was trying to over exaggerate getting over the top and it wasn’t the same. I was lucky to fix it.”

Marshall’s mechanics were off in April. A natural three-quarters arm slot thrower, he was throwing from too far over the top, and the results showed — He pitched to a 9.00 ERA that first month. Initially, he couldn’t fix the problem, but one day it clicked. He tricked himself by trying to throw sidearm, and when he looked at where his arm slot actually was, he’d returned to his original three-quarter release.

“The strikeouts went up and the walks went down. The numbers were a lot better,” Marshall said.

“It was probably a couple starts (to transition back to normal). I just fixed it in-between starts, and it got back and I was kind of back and forth in the game. After a couple games, it was back to normal. It felt better. The velo went back up, and I threw a lot more strikes.”

For most fans, changing your arm slot may seem pretty simple. Just drop down or bring it up, and everything stays the same. The transition, Marshall says, was much bigger than he anticipated.

“It makes a huge difference,” he said.

“First of all, my velo went down. It’s like learning how to throw again, it’s totally different. You’ve got to learn how to throw strikes, you’ve got to learn how to throw all your offspeed pitches, and it’s definitely hard. It hurts your arm, too. You’ve been throwing one way your whole life, and to come in and change it, it’s tough. It’s a big time mental game when you change your arm slot, it’s tough.”

Marshall ended up putting together a fine season in the Florida State League — A 9-7 record with a 3.78 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 140 innings — and had many people wondering if his much anticipated Double-A debut might happen before the 2011 season ended.

Including Marshall himself.

“I was (surprised I didn’t come up here last year), but I understand why they kept me down,” he said.

“We had a lot of transactions and people getting hurt down there. Last year, all I wanted to do is stay healthy. It didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to have a healthy season. I put up pretty good numbers, I was pleased with last year, especially the end of it.”

Instead, the first Double-A pitch of his career will leave his right hand around 1:07 PM this afternoon. For the friendly fireballer, rated the Yankees 11th-best prospect by Baseball America, it can’t come soon enough.

“I’m excited,” he said.

“I’ve been looking forward to this since the last game last year, so I’m just ready to get back on the mound and get the season started and go from there. Hopefully, this will be a good year.”

And for those who’ve seen the hype around him, it probably can’t come soon enough for them, either.

“People are starting to talk quite a bit about Brett, which is great,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.

“He’s a young pitcher with some pretty good stuff, but the thing you want to see is, ‘What does he got?’ You’re only going to see what he’s got once the game begins. If he does what everyone expects him to do, he should be pretty good out there. You just hope that he’s going to put a pretty good season together. There’s always that anticipation of ‘This guy’s got it.’ Hopefully, we’ll be able to say that (today).”

While many feel he was talented enough to be the team’s Opening Day starter, it may be turn out to be a blessing in disguise that he wasn’t. He spent the past two nights charting the games, and feels that may give him another advantage before even throwing a single pitch at Waterfront Park.

“Most of the guys, I’d faced coming up. I faced them all last year when we played Dunedin, and the year before,” he said. “You kind of learn what the hitters like and what they don’t like, and I think it’s a big plus I got to see them for two games before I get out there.”

As evidenced by the goals he sets, Marshall is motivated, not only to make up for lost time caused by that Tommy John surgery, but to continue climbing the organizational ladder to fulfill his dreams. More focused on what’s ahead of him instead of who’s ahead of him en route to getting there, he continues to draw off of his positive experience at his first big league camp to make that fantasy a reality.

“It was amazing, I had a lot of fun,” he said.

“Pitchers-wise, I tried to look at the starters, like CC and Phil Hughes and those guys. That’s hopefully what I will be one day, a Yankees starter. Just kind of see what they do and see how they go about things, and just talk to them a lot. I got to watch those guys up there and learn from them, and ask a lot of questions. It makes you not want to leave. It makes you want to work harder to get back there one day.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT // Twitter: Mashmore98

Photo courtesy Dave Schofield, Trenton Thunder

Game 2: Post-Game Notes

April 7, 2012

Graham Stoneburner threw four wild pitches in 91.1 IP last season, but issued three in just four innings of scoreless work tonight

— It goes without saying that this isn’t the start that either Trenton Thunder as a whole or key members of the team were looking for.

The Thunder fell to 0-2 after a 3-1 loss to Fisher Cats on another cold night at Waterfront Park. They’ve scored just four runs in their first two games, and their starting pitchers have lasted a combined eight innings, compared to 11 for New Hampshire.

“We didn’t score enough, I know that,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin. “We were in the game, we just haven’t put any hits together in these two games that are going to sustain us for runs. That’s what we’re going to have to do. We haven’t been out of either of the two games. I’m looking for an outburst of some runs, maybe five or six runs, and we can come out with a W. We haven’t done it so far, though.”

One night after Shaeffer Hall needed 72 pitches to get through his Opening Day outing, Stoneburner required 66 (42 strikes) for his initial effort tonight.

“I thought he did OK,” Franklin said.

“It’s early in the season, and he doesn’t have a great allotment of pitches, but he got close to his 70-75 pitches. It was time to make a change. I thought he could be a little more pitch efficient. As the season progresses, he’ll be good. He doesn’t give you a whole lot to hit.”

Speaking of not a lot of hitting, Trenton’s 3-4 hitter duo of David Adams and Zoilo Almonte (left) have combined to go 0-for-13 in the first two games, something that will have to improve as the season progresses if the team hopes to get on the right side of the win column. Franklin, as he shouldn’t be given that it’s just two games, certainly isn’t panicking.

“I think it’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m not panicking, it’s two games. It’s not a whole lot, it’s hard to see what they’re going to do, but we hope they get things turned around. We all would like to have everybody up there and go 3-for-3 or 4-for-4, but it doesn’t happen that way sometimes. It takes a little while to get going. 0-for-13 in those two slots? Yeah, we’d like to see some more production, but I think it’ll come. No big deal.”

— Another blunder cost the Thunder. It may rhyme, but I’m sure there aren’t too many people laughing. Down 2-1 in the fifth inning after Ryan Pope got knocked around to the tune of three hits and two walks, Walter Ibarra reached on a fielding error by first baseman Mike McDade, who drove in both fifth inning Fisher Cats runs. But Ibarra was promptly picked off of first by catcher A.J. Jimenez. That wouldn’t have looked quite as bad had Abraham Almonte not doubled one batter later, which would have at the very least put runners on second and third with two outs. With offense seemingly at a premium for this team in the early stages, plays like that can make or break a game.

Abraham Almonte already has two doubles and a home run in his first two games

— There haven’t been a ton of bright spots through the first 18 innings of the season, but Abraham Almonte’s play would certainly qualify as a big one. He led off yesterday’s game with a double, and went 2-for-4 tonight with a double and a home run to right field.

— Chase Whitley’s first outing of the year was a success as well. He looked dominant, striking out four New Hampshire batters in two innings of flawless work.

“I just kind of went out there and tried to keep it close,” he said.

“There were some balls I left over the middle that they just missed, but overall I was pleased. It’s always good to have a good outing, but to start a season especially and get some momentum going forward, it’s nice. But now that one’s behind me, and I have to look forward to the next one.”

— Jose Gil came into the season expecting to be the everyday catcher for the Thunder. But he sat in favor of Gustavo Molina tonight, which may become a common theme at some point this season if the roster remains the same. So far, both players have said all the right things.

“To me, I’m prepared to play any time they put me in to play,” Gil said.

“It’s going to be a hard time, but at the same time, I don’t think much about it. I’m going to play my game whenever they want me to play and do my best.”

Gil and Molina played in Winter Ball together, and Gil actually seems to be looking forward to picking the brain of his catching counterpart, who is older and more experienced.

“I know him, and I’m going to try to learn as much as I can,” he said. “He already played in the big leagues and he’s got more experience than me, and of course I try to learn as much as I can. He knows how to catch.”

— While the beginning of this year seems to feel like an extension of the end of last year for Trenton, I can’t help but think back to the 2006 Thunder. They started out 0-10 and scored a whopping 20 runs during that timeframe. But, as long-time staffer and “proof of performance” enthusiast Eric Lipsman pointed out, that team also ended up going 82-60 and won the division. Do I see that happening with this year’s squad? Absolutely not. But it sure would be entertaining if Franklin, like his fiery predecessor Bill Masse did, guaranteed his team would make the playoffs.

For right now, however, he’s just going to try to win a game.

— Here’s some video from tonight as well. Nothing too exciting…

— Real quick, not to be a self-serving jackass, but tonight’s contest was the 1000th game I’ve covered in my career. A little more than a quarter of those have come at Waterfront Park, and I can’t say enough about my experience there over the past nine years. It’s been a great place to work, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to do so with so many amazing people there.

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT