Games 24 And 25: Post-Game Notes

— Well, that took entirely too long. But after over five hours, 15 innings and two games, the Thunder took both ends of their doubleheader against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Tuesday night.

Prior to Game 1, the storyline was set. The story in the papers was going to be about how top prospect Slade Heathcott was struggling. Heathcott, who was hitting just .161 entering the day, gave a short interview before the first game in which he expressed little concern over how his season had started. Thunder manager Tony Franklin, with whom Heathcott met in Franklin’s office before the game, also remained confident in his young star, saying simply “hitters hit.”

But perhaps it was hitting coach Justin Turner who put it best: “When you get in a slump, the ball looks like a popcorn kernel coming in there. When you’re going good, it looks like a beach ball.”

Matt Wright threw Heathcott a beach ball.

After a first pitch flyout in the first inning seemed to indicate that the 22-year-old outfielder was in for a day full of popcorn kernels, he delivered in a big way in the fifth inning, depositing a Wright pitch well over the right field fence for a three-run home run, his first in Double-A. That was the difference in Trenton’s 6-4 win in Game 1.

And although it might not show up in the boxscore, Heathcott may very well have saved Game 2 as well, making an incredible leaping grab at the fence late in the sixth inning to rob a potential home run off the bat of Sean Ochinko to keep the game tied at one run apiece.

“He’s quite the hitter, quite the player,” Franklin said of Heathcott. “It takes you a little time to get going, and he displayed some of his talents tonight. If you stick around the rest of the season, he’ll show you exactly what you’ve been looking for…he’s got pop, there’s no question about it. He’s built like crazy, he’s got a nice swing. When everything is working well and looks good, the ball comes off his bat exceptionally well.”

— Overlooked in all the Heathcott hype was a nice performance by Venezuelan-born infielder Ali Castillo, who became the favorite player of everyone in the press box by sending us all home with a first-pitch, eighth inning single that plated J.R. Murphy as the winning run. Castillo went 3-for-4 in game 2, upping his average to a respectable .217 in the process.

“My last at-bat, I (wanted to put) everything in the middle of the field,” he said. “Good swing, find the fastball. I feel a little bit tired, but you never think about that in the game. Always play hard, no matter what.”

— Catcher Kyle Higashioka, who started game 2, left the contest after just two innings after experiencing what Franklin described as “elbow misery.” Look that one up on WebMD. According to both Franklin and Higashioka, there’s no word on the severity of the injury.

— Infielder Rob Segedin was placed on the disabled list before the game with hip soreness. It is believed he had an MRI prior to the game but, again, there is no word on how severe the issue is.

— The pitching, as a whole, hasn’t been very good this year. Given the history of Thunder pitching under the Yankee regime, that’s a big surprise. It seemed Matt Tracy was in for yet another rough start after he gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Kevin Pillar. In all, he gave up three longballs, but limited the damage enough to walk away with the victory.

“I felt like I made a lot more pitches today than I have in my last couple outings,” he said. “I threw the ball a lot better, threw more strikes. I was able to command my fastball a lot better today, which really helped.”

Tracy, whose ERA still sits at just a tick under 11, managed to stay positive despite the early trouble in this outing.

“You can’t be thinking like that,” Tracy said. “You’ve got to stay one pitch at a time, focus on that, and then move on to the next one and not really let results get to you that much.”

Caleb Cotham, the Game 2 starter, was excellent. He recorded 10 groundouts, was efficient, and worked his way out of a big fourth inning jam. In this, Trenton’s 25th game of the season, he managed to turn in just the third quality start by any Thunder pitcher this year, despite cold temperatures.

“It’s always nice to throw well and give the team a chance to win,” Cotham said. “Shoot, that was a pretty warm start compared to the last two. It’s just one of those things where it is what it is, and everyone’s playing in it, so the more you can put it out of your mind and go about your business, the better off you’ll be.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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