Thursday, August 21, 2014

HarbourCats hire Adame as pitching coach

The HarbourCats have announced that they have hired Alec Adame as their pitching coach, exactly one week after introducing Graig Merritt as the team’s new head coach. Adame will look to improve a HarbourCats pitching staff that finished with a 4.50 team ERA, which was 8th best in the 12-team West Coast League.

Alec Adame
Adame has a very impressive baseball resumé, to say the least. On top of a master’s degree in Physical Education, Adame is a Health and Kinesiology Instructor at East LA College (ELAC), a community college with almost 35,000 students in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park. He is the head assistant baseball coach of the ELAC Huskies, a team that plays in the California Community College Athletic Association. Last year the Huskies posted a 15-6 record in conference play and earned a berth in the State playoffs, largely because of their strong pitching. With Adame in charge of ELAC’s pitching staff, the Huskies notched a miserly 2.02 team ERA in conference games.

After spending eight years as a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres, Adame knows a thing or two about evaluating players. Prior to becoming a scout, he was the head baseball coach at Los Angeles City College for three years and he was also an assistant coach at California State University (CSU), Chico in 2000-2001.

There’s a very good reason that HarbourCats head coach Graig Merritt tapped Adame to be his right-hand man on the HarbourCats coaching staff. Adame was a pitcher and a teammate of Merritt’s at CSU Chico. The pair were battery mates on the 1999 team that won the Division II national championship, so I’m guessing that it won’t be difficult for them to be on the same page next summer. In their 1999 championship run, Adame went a perfect 5-0 in 23 relief appearances.

Adame and Merritt are already busy recruiting the next generation of HarbourCats for next summer’s squad. Adame brings a wealth of contacts in college baseball to his new job, so don’t be surprised to see more HarbourCats players from community colleges in California, Oregon and Washington state.

Although he is “just” the new pitching coach, it’s not a stretch to conclude that Adame also has the credentials to be a head coach in the WCL. With an embarrassment of riches in the coaching department, the HarbourCats’ future looks a heckuva lot brighter than it did just a few short weeks ago. It’s safe to say that Victoria’s team ERA should be well south of 4.50 in the summer of 2015.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bells ring up their first WCL championship

Monday night at Joe Martin field in Bellingham, the Bells proved that perhaps the most important key to building a winning franchise is team chemistry. All season long the Bells have proven they have what it takes to win in this league - dominating opponents with clutch hitting, stellar defence, and intimidating pitching. They did so again Monday beating the Corvalis Knights 3-2 in the final game of the three-game set to claim their first WCL title.

Bellingham's Walker Olis hoists the WCL Champion's Trophy
It wasn't an easy victory at all... The Bells got lucky in the third inning, scoring a run on a throwing error by Knights right fielder Tim Rausch, who bounced a ball past third base allowing the run to score and a runner to advance to second. A walk, a balk, a wild pitch to score another run, and a bloop single off Corvalis starter Chris Haddeland gave the Bells their three runs. They would get only two more hits the rest of the game. Corvalis clawed back two runs in the 4th, but the Bellingham relief core shut the door after that and the Knights never threatened again. Over the last 5 innings, Bellingham pitchers gave up only 3 hits, only allowing one runner to second base. Bells reliever Moises Ceja was credited with the win, retiring all 4 batters he faced after replacing a shaky Gabe Cramer who got the final game start for the Bells.

Demolition of the field at Joe Martin can begin in earnest this morning. After a week-long delay while the Bells went through the playoffs, the turf field will be pulled up starting this morning. It's a 90 day task to replace the field with a new 1.7 Million dollar FieldTurf surface, and it should still be able to complete by the November 30th deadline.

And that's a wrap on the 2014 WCL season! Congratulations to the Bellingham Bells.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Building a successful WCL roster

The HarbourCats finished their second year in the WCL with a disappointing 25-29 record, a three-game improvement in the win column over the previous season. While they crept closer to the .500 mark, the ‘Cats did benefit from a fairly easy schedule and they racked up a combined 12-6 record against the weak Kitsap BlueJackets and Cowlitz Black Bears. If you take away those 18 games, the HarbourCats had a record of 13-23 (.361) against the rest of the league -- hardly the mark of a playoff contender.

In the two-year history of the franchise, the ‘Cats sport an unimpressive winning percentage of .435, and they hold the distinction of being the only team out of the three recent expansion franchises that failed to make the playoffs in their inaugural season (Medford and Yakima Valley are the others). There are many reasons why Victoria hasn't had much on-field success so far, but this post will focus on one in particular: the composition of their roster.

In spite of that .435 winning percentage, the HarbourCats have featured plenty of talent in their first couple of seasons. There have been players with flashy skills. Guys who threw hard and had nasty stuff. Guys who had blinding speed. Guys who could rake. “Toolsy” guys who could make scouts drool. We have even seen guys on the team who will play in the big leagues one day. In short, skill hasn't been the problem.

We have also seen rosters full of talent from the top NCAA Division I programs. Players who have played key roles on highly-ranked teams have been sent our way. We have had players who have been mentored by some of the top head coaches in college baseball. Players who have been on teams that made the College World Series have worn the HarbourCats jersey -- one guy even played on the team that won the (Division I) national title. Getting players from the best programs hasn't been the problem.

So what has been the problem with the roster these past two seasons? Our team has quite simply been too young and too inexperienced to compete for a playoff spot in the West Coast League. As a point of reference, let’s compare the 2014 HarbourCats roster to the two teams that made this year’s WCL Championship Series. The graph below shows the percentage of players on each team, broken down by the school year completed just prior to the WCL season.

2014 Roster Breakdown
As you can see, the HarbourCats roster was structured very differently from the Corvallis and Bellingham rosters. Only 36% of the HarbourCats were upperclassmen (sophomores and juniors in the context of summer college leagues), as opposed to 65% of the Knights players and 59% of the Bells. This experience gap between Victoria and the other two clubs was massive, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise that the HarbourCats only took four of the 12 games played against those teams in 2014. By the way, only 29% of Victoria players were upperclassmen in the team's inaugural season.

Victoria also had more incoming freshman (i.e. high school seniors) on their 2014 roster than the Knights and Bells combined. The WCL is a very good college wood-bat league, and it’s not easy for recent high school grads to perform well at this level -- especially for middle infielders and pitchers (the super-human Sean Watkins is the rare exception to the rule). In the future, the HarbourCats would be wise to minimize the risk of rookie meltdowns by taking only one or two incoming freshmen per season, and whenever possible only take an outfielder or a first baseman, who have an easier transition to the college game.

The other roster ingredient that we haven't had enough of, as compared to the playoff teams at least, has been desire. We need more players with a fire in their belly for summer baseball. Guys with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove to their college coaches. A number of HarbourCats have had significant success in the last couple of seasons despite coming from lesser-known programs, and there are plenty of other examples throughout the WCL. Alex Fagalde, Austin Russell, Alex Rogers and Connor Russell are four such examples from the Victoria squad alone.

The surprising Drew Davidoff
Photo by Brian Hayes
The surprising success of the three graduating Victoria Eagles who were signed to 10-day contracts for the last week of this past season is another case in point. Riley Edmonds, Dallas Patterson and Drew Davidoff were high school pitchers who were in tough against experienced WCL competition, but each player was the best HarbourCats pitcher in one of the final (meaningless) games down the stretch. How did they do it? A big factor was desire. These guys were fired up to be given the opportunity and they made the most of it. Their ERAs for the week? Only 0.00 (Davidoff), 3.85 (Edmonds) and 3.85 (Patterson).

This past season, I recall a couple of blog readers, a HarbourCats player and one of the player’s parents using a phrase that strikes me as odd. This puzzling phrase, usually used in defense of a player or group of players for some perceived slight, is that “... the players are giving up their summer…” I’m really surprised that some people consider it a sacrifice to travel to a foreign country, learn about another culture, get a taste of the minor-league experience, improve their skills and further their baseball career. The HarbourCats should be recruiting players who are thrilled to have this opportunity, instead of signing those who see the glass as being half empty. I realize that these players are in the minority, but the effect they have on their teammates cannot be underestimated.

Our new head coach, Graig Merritt, is already hard at work recruiting for next season. He’ll be building us a roster under the direction of GM Jim Swanson, who started in his job last December and largely (but not entirely) inherited the 2014 roster from the former head coach. Fortunately for HarbourCats fans, both Merritt and Swanson seem to have their heads around how to construct a winning WCL team. It’s likely that we’ll see a handful of returning players next summer, but look for a much different type of roster for year three of HarbourCats baseball… and possibly even that pennant race we have been waiting so long for.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

HarbourCats look forward to 2015, sign Graig Merritt as Head Coach

With the 2014 HarbourCat season barely in the books, GM Jim Swanson is wasting no time at all getting ready for 2015.

Hot on the heels of Sunday's departure of coach Bob Miller, the Cats met with media and fans today to announce and introduce 2015's new head coach, Canadian Graig Merritt. 
GM Jim Swanson (L) and Owner John McLean (R) introduce 'Cats new Head Coach Graig Merritt

Merritt is a Canadian from Maple Ridge BC with Div 2 college plying experience. He was twice drafted by the LA Dodgers in 1996 and 1997, and signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2001. Graig made it as far as AA in his playing career before becoming a scout for the Rays.

A catcher by trade, Graig's strengths as a coach comes from his ability to manage a pitching staff and understand the defensive side of the game. He sees himself as a players coach first and foremost, someone the players can relate to, respect, and learn from. He is an energetic guy with loads of baseball experience - one of those guys who doesn't seem to have an off switch.

While not his full-time job (none of the WCL teams have full-time coaching staff), Graig will have more time to dedicate to the Cats than Bob Miller did. Craig's focus will be on the North West area, where he will be doing work for the PBL as well - work that nicely dovetails with his HarbourCat scouting and recruiting.

In addition to Merritt, the search is on for a new pitching coach. Offers are on the table, looking at someone from the Southern California area who can assist with recruiting from that part of the country. Whomever it is, Ben Jackson will not be back.

Merritt will take the reigns immediately, beginning to look at team composition for next season. That work started "about two weeks ago" say GM Jim Swanson, with a priority being to re-sign some of the core group from this year. A tall order, that means working with both player and school to confirm intentions. Confidence is high that we will be in luck - perhaps as many as eight players may return. No names yet, but expect some announcements soon.

Merritt's full career stats can be found here, and the official press release can be found here.




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Walk-offs, errors bring an end to both first round series

Neither of the two WCL first round series will be going to a game three after two walk-off victories Wednesday night by both Bellingham and Corvalis.

The Bells, who won Tuesday's first game on the road in Yakima 4-1, came home to play a near perfect game two. The Bells jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning before giving two back in the third. Yakima tied it in the top of the 8th after error by Bells shortstop Chris baker to lead of the inning came around to score on a sacrifice fly. Yakima gave the game back in the bottom of the ninth with two errors of their own. Closer Kenny Rosenberg threw a ball away at first to start the inning, and second baseman Ryan Yamane made a costly two-out error to prolong the inning. Bells pinch hitter Danny Miller - who's been killing teams all season - did the same to the Pippens, driving a single to left center to win the game for the Bells in walk-off fashion.

With the win, the Bells advance to play the Corvalis Knights. The Knights win on Wednesday makes Bellingham's victory seem boring. Baffled all night by Bend pitchers - starter Kevin Hamann and reliever Louis Cohen - the Knights went to the bottom of the ninth trailing 1-0.With one out, Bend's Brock Carpenter couldn't field a routine ground ball to third, bringing DH Kevin Kline to the plate with a man on. Kline who was 1-3 with 2 K's on the night launched the first pitch he saw over the wall in left center for a two-run home run walk-off shot.

The WCL final should start Saturday in Bellingham but it has not been announced if the Bells will be able to host one more game at home before their field is demolished. Wednesday's game was played at Joe Martin field on special considerations from the city, who had delayed closure of the facility in order for the game to proceed. Most concessions were closed already, but the team was helped out by local food trucks who set up outside the stadium prior to the game.

The Bells and Knights met only three times this season, in a series in Bellingham in mid-July. Corvalis won two of the games, but both teams scored only five total runs in the pitcher's duels. The Knight are of course, defending WCL champions who are looking to repeat, and win their third championship in the last four years. Good luck to both teams!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mercado-Hood named HarbourCats 2014 MVP

We raved about him in March when the HarbourCats announced that he had signed. We regularly described his accomplishments during the season in glowing terms. We named him the HarbourCats’ first-half MVP and then mocked the WCL All-Star selection process that snubbed him. If the season went on any longer, we’d be accused of having a full-on bromance with the guy. So it’s no surprise whatsoever that…

Photo and graphic by Brian Hayes
The scribes at the Victoria HarbourCats Baseball Blog are pleased to announce that they have named Hunter Mercado-Hood as the team MVP for the 2014 season. HMH led the HarbourCats in games played (51), batting average (.385), at-bats (200), hits (77) and RBI (46). He also set new single-season team records in all of these categories with the exception of games played, and he tied that team record, originally set in 2013 by Chris Lewis and Alex DeGoti.

Mercado-Hood came within 9 percentage points of winning the WCL batting title, trailing only Klamath Falls’ Steven Packard (.394), who is about to enter his senior year at the University of Oregon. HMH also finished second in the league in runs batted in, behind only Vince Fernandez of the Yakima Valley Pippins, who knocked in 51 runs. Mercado-Hood’s achievements are even more impressive when you consider that he just completed his freshman season at the University of San Diego and only received 75 at-bats this spring with the Toreros.

In a more informal poll, the bloggers also named Mercado-Hood the player on the HarbourCats' 2014 roster that is most likely to reach the big leagues. The Oakland A's know a thing or two about scouting and player development, so it's no surprise that they drafted him in 2013. Maybe we'll get lucky and Seattle will select Mercado-Hood when he re-enters the draft, giving us the opportunity to watch him climb through the Mariners' system in Everett and Tacoma before reaching the Emerald City. Ah, to dream...

Nathan Lukes finished second in voting on the basis of an outstanding season that saw him hit .343 and tie Gabe Clark for the team lead in runs scored with 35 -- the new single-season team record. He was also the team’s best defensive outfielder, leading the HarbourCats with six outfield assists.

Gabe Clark came third in team MVP voting.  He finished in a tie for second in the WCL in homers with eight, alongside Kevin Kline of the Corvallis Knights. Vince Fernandez of the Pippins set a new league record this summer with 10 round-trippers.

The full voting results are as follows:
  1. Hunter Mercado-Hood - 21 points
  2. Nathan Lukes - 16 points
  3. Gabe Clark - 13 points
  4. Mikey Wright - 9 points
  5. Alex Fagalde - 7 points
  6. Sean Watkins - 6 points
  7. Alex Rogers - 5 points
  8. Griffin Andreychuk - 5 points
  9. Mr. HarbourCat, Alex DeGoti - 2 points
HarbourCatNip
  • It has been a pretty good week for HMH, since he was also named the WCL Player of the Week earlier today.
  • The HarbourCats finished the season with an average attendance of 1,576 fans, the most in the WCL and 159 fans per game more than the second-place Bend Elks. Victoria's attendance was 9.7% higher than in 2013.
  • The first round of the WCL playoffs begin on Tuesday night with Corvallis (35-19) facing Bend (31-23) and Bellingham (37-17) going up against Yakima Valley (35-19). All matchups are a best-of-three series.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's not goodbye, it's see you later...

Sunday at RAP we watched the 2014 HarbourCats leave the field for the last time as a group. The way they did it was spectacular - a ninth inning come from behind 7-6 victory, perfectly encapsulating the season. Kelly Norris-Jones led off with a hit - a rocket to third base that raised his season average to an even .300! Kelly has been on fire - remember a few weeks ago he was hitting .053. After that, John Grimsley and Griffin Andreychuck set the table, and Alex Degoti - the freshly dubbed "Mr. Harbourcat" - drove them both in with a double. Hunter Mercado-Hood then played the hero he has been all season long, driving in Alex for the game winning and season ending run. The team poured onto the field to mob Hunter, and every fan in the place stood for the full handshake line applauding their home-town heroes. It doesn't get any better than that at the end does it?
The final handshake of 2014

Many of the appreciative crowd gathered on the field after the game to say goodbye to the young men who have brightened our summer, and have given us something to cheer and jeer. Home town heroes, fan favourites, and new found friends said goodbye to their fans and teammates, starting in style with a heartfelt thank you to all of the host families. 

Alex Rogers helps Danny Collier stay cool on the bench Sunday
To a person, the 2014 Cats speak nothing but positives about the city, the fans, the organization. One gets the impression that they will miss us as much as we will miss them. Many leave tomorrow for their homes to spend a couple weeks with family before school starts. Several more are spending an extra day here to enjoy time with their host families, and another day in the paradise we get to call home every day. 

Sunday put a bow on a season that excelled at bringing a community out to the park. Victoria easily won the attendance race in the WCL this year, getting over 42,000 bodies to the park this year. The organization stepped it up big-time this year, and brought a more professional presentation and welcoming experience to life at RAP, even games that were not great games to watch, were fun to experience. 

There will be the usual dissecting of the season, and GM Jim Swan is already planning for next year - including negotiating with players and placement coaches to get some favourite players back, and working with the city on more park improvements. 

Bob Miller says goodbye to Victoria
After the game, a press conference was held to announce that head coach Bob Miller would not be returning. Reasons cited included his needing to dedicate more time this year to his "job number one" at Cuesta College, due to some staff changes in that program. Coaching a WCL team doesn't start in June on day 1 of the season, but all year long as he works with college placement reps and players to get us on-field talent. The HarbourCats will begin immediately looking for a new head coach, at which time they will likely evaluate the rest of the coaching staff. If I was a betting man, I'd say we will see a whole new staff next year. 

So although the season has officially ended, the fun seems to be starting all over again.  Keep the blog in your favourites - we will have season wrap ups, news on the post-season conferences, coverage of the WCL playoffs, and maybe a couple of surprises in store. Thanks for reading us all season, keep reading through the summer! 

Only 306 days until opening night!

The best of times, the worst of times at RAP tonight

Saturday night at Sports Traders Diamond was both a wonderful fan experience, and a night at the ballpark I hope we don't see again...

First, the good:

Victoria Eagle and 10-day guy Drew Davidoff made a spectacular HarbourCat debut on the mound. Taking over the game in the sixth inning, and spinning a gem of a 2-hit, 2-walk, 4 inning masterpiece. His slightly side-arm delivery had the BlueJacket hitters swinging at balls moving in and out of the strike zone all night long. He started his Cat career in style, getting ahead of Kitsap catcher Natt Matranga 2-0, then let a fastball fly that went *behind* the startled catcher. Matranga launced a single two pitched later and the youngster looked rattled. Out came Aaron Barnett though, who gave him some words of encouragement, a pat of the back, and the ship was righted. Davidoff would never look back after that. The press box gang gave him the player-of-the-game nod, which he was excited to receive, waving to friends and family in the crowd.

Hunter Mercado-Hood continues to prove those all-star voters wrong, going 3-3 on the night, driving in 1. That raises his average to .383. In his last 11 games, HMH has hit safely in each, a combined 27-49, an amazing .551 - raising his average 51 points in the week and a half. Hunter is chasing Klamath Falls' Steven Packard for the overall batting title but Packard is keeping pace going 2-5 in his game Saturday, keeping him at .407. Playing with the possibilities, if Packard goes 0-5 tomorrow, and Hunter goes 4-4, he'll win the title... Lets go Hunter!
HMH and his first hit of the day, he would add two more and end 3-3

Forgotten Cats Ted Boeke and John Grimsley had great games. Boeke was on base all night going 2-3 with 2 walks, and Grimsley was 2-2 with a walk and 2 runs scored.

Not a single throw to second ended up in center field - and catcher Aaron Barnett actually threw a runner out at second!

The crowd! 2,592 strong, a great showing of Victorians out to the game. Many new fans in attendance who had not been out to a game this year. Lots of positive attitudes and friendly fans to take in the game. What's better, is that Victoria brought 1200 more fans in than the next closest rival in the race to win the attendance crown this year. The Bend Elks, who had 4,200 fans out Friday night, had only 1,400 Saturday, giving Victoria a 3,800 person lead with one game left each. It should be noted, last night's 4,200 fans - a complete sellout in Bend - was thanks to a "free gate" night...

More oooh, more ahhh.
Fireworks. Wallace Driving sponsored the big show to end the season, and man it was sweet. Each show seems to be better than the last and tonight's was no exception as 20 minutes of fireworks and many oooohs and ahhhs had fans forgetting they had just watched a losing baseball game. Cats know fireworks - and burgers - the players all headed up to Bin4 for an after-game burger before fireworks and were mingling with fans and Bluejacket Players on the concourse. A nice gesture for the boys for sure.

And now the Bad:

As good as HMH has been, Gabe Clark has been the opposite. Since hitting two home runs against Corvalis on July 26, he's gone ice cold, batting 9-47 over that time, a .191 average. Gabe seems to have lost his mid-season stroke that made him dangerous each time he came to the plate.

More poor umpiring, so it seemed. Replays showed Alex DeGoti safe at first in the 7th on a play that was called out. The Cats got two breaks in the 8th - HMH appeared to also be out getting back to first late on a Gabe Clark lineout, and then also seemed to be tagged out sealing second two pitches later. Kitsap Head Coach Ryan Parker was pissed, but showed enough restraint to stay in the game on the first call, and only waved in disgust at the second.

Andrew Nelson. Come on. I saw this as one of the most important games of the year. New fans in the stands, time to put on a show for the home crowd and set up the season for next year. Kind of like wearing your best clothes to Mom's house for Sunday dinner, it's expected you put on your best. But not on this night. Pitching coach Ben Jackson, from U of Kentucky trots out Andrew Nelson from - you guessed it, the U of Kentucky for the start. Nelson has been horrible in every start he's made for the HarbourCats this season. His 6.00 ERA going in ballooned to 7.16 after being lit up for all 9 runs. If it wasn't for two defensive outs made to end the first inning, it would have been worse.

Pitcher management. Keeping on the same theme, in a game you're trying to win, your starter is getting lit up in the first inning, and not a soul is warming up in the pen? In the 3rd, same guy gives up a 2-run shot. Nothing? In the 4th, 2 more runs, three hits, a walk, and nothing? Down 9-2, finally a pitching change. Maybe a win just wasn't that important to the coaching staff tonight as I thought it was...
"Yeah, I have no idea why I'm still in here either..."

Ah well, what can you do.

One game left folks, Sunday at 1:05. No starter announced, but look for another Eagle to take the mound. Lets hope to end the season on a high note - come on out and see the boys off in style!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Croix de Sports Traders Diamond

Back in the day, the San Francisco Giants would reward all fans who stayed for the duration of an extra-inning night game with the coveted Croix de Candlestick. The pin, which was worn proudly by almost all recipients, was a way of acknowledging the dedication of fans who braved the chilly temperatures at Candlestick Park.

After enduring the frigid temperatures of a 4 hour and 7 minute night game at Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park (phew, that was a mouthful) last night, I'd like to suggest that the HarbourCats institute a similar mechanism for rewarding their die-hard fans. Although last night's attendance was a healthy 2,301, there couldn't have been more than 301 rugged fans in the ballpark when the game (mercifully) ended. These brave souls deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty, and a Croix de Sports Traders Diamond would be the perfect gesture.


Friday, August 8, 2014

HarbourCats defeat guarantees second consecutive losing season

Military Night meets Christmas in August!
I remember in school learning that the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales converge at -40 degrees. That is, -40°C is the same temperature as -40°F. While I have experienced -40°C temperatures in the middle of winter in Central Canada, I never thought that I'd have to endure those conditions in Victoria. In August. But that's exactly what happened on Friday night when the HarbourCats decided to combine Military Night with Christmas in August. The promotion was so thoroughly executed that the team even imported frigid temperatures for full effect. Thanks, HarbourCats!

Luckily Friday night's game, won 13-12 by Kitsap, was played in a brisk 4 hours and 7 minutes. That's right folks, a nine inning game took 4 hours and 7 minutes to play. Given the frigid conditions, it's no surprise that the players had trouble gripping the ball, leading to a total of 25 runs, 27 hits, 23 walks (!!) and 4 errors on the night.

The only Victoria pitchers who were even close to being effective were Dallas Patterson and Carson Schneider. Patterson, a Victoria native who was making his HarbourCats debut, held the BlueJackets to only one run on three hits and no walks in 2 1/3 innings and was headed for the win when he left the game. The soft-tossing junkballer threw an array of Frisbee tosses that baffled a number of Kitsap hitters, reminding more than one oldtimer in the crowd of Mark Eichorn in his prime. He was also the only Victoria pitcher who didn't issue a walk on the night (Lombana walked 4 in 2 2/3 IP, Peabody walked 4 in 2 IP, Ryan walked 3 in 1 1/3 IP and Schneider walked one in 2/3 IP). 

Preston Ryan was handed his sixth loss of the season in an outing that can charitably categorized as unfortunate. We don't need to go into the details, because Ryan has given us his all this summer and he deserves to be cut a little slack. Let's hope he has a short memory with respect to this particular outing. In case you are wondering, Ryan does not lead the league in losses -- that distinction belongs to Klamath Fall's Jordan Kron who has lost a staggering 8 of the Gems' 52 games. Carson Schneider came in and mopped up in the ninth with an effective 2/3 of an inning, but it was too little, too late.

Hunter Mercado-Hood
On the positive side, Hunter Mercado-Hood went four-for-six with three RBI to close in on the all-time WCL record for most RBI in a season. He now has 43 on the year, but he still trails Kevin Kline (45 RBI) and Vince Fernandez (44 RBI) with two games left to play. Mercado-Hood now has an astounding 15 RBI in his six games against Kitsap this season. HMH's four hits also pushed his batting up to the .373 mark, good for second place in the batting race. He trails Klamath Fall's Steven Packard by 34 percentage points, but given how HMH is hitting he still might have a shot at the batting title as well.

Gabe Clark went 0-for-6 on the night and he remains in a three-way tie with Kevin Kline and Andrew Mendenhall for the league lead in home runs with eight. The all-time WCL home run record is nine for one season.

Home plate umpire Dan Rogers had a rough game calling balls and strikes. His inconsistent strike zone angered many hitters and just about every bench jockey in the Kitsap dugout. Rogers ejected Kitsap head coach Ryan Parker in the top of the 5th inning and then tossed Kitsap coaches Kevin Frady and Bryan Kepner in the bottom of 8th inning. Both Frady and Kepner will be given automatic suspensions. In his usual post-game press release, HarbourCats GM Jim Swanson reported that Kitsap's bus driver Steve Cook took over the coaching duties in the bottom of the eighth. Yes, that's right: The BlueJackets' bus driver helped coach his team to a come-from-behind victory in the 9th inning.

Dan Rogers' movable strike zone even aggravated the mild-mannered Gabe Clark, although Clark's protestations we so polite that he might end up being granted Canadian citizenship automatically when he leaves the country on Monday. I think I even heard Clark use the words "sorry" and "please" while he "tore a strip" off the umpire.

The Kitsap bench was vocal for most of the evening, although the volume did increase with each ejection. The BlueJackets did seem pretty fired up for a relatively meaningless game, but that shouldn't be surprising given that Victoria has handed them their asses on a plate in their previous six meetings and were outscored by a margin of 63-13.

Andreychuk's 1st triple may have been lost in a snow drift
The night was full of odd occurrences, such as Griffin Andreychuk hitting a triple in two consecutive at-bats, Danny Collier diving for two balls that landed (what seemed like) 10 feet from his outstretched glove and Jake Lesinski throwing the ball into centre field on at least three stolen base attempts without being charged with a single throwing error. Some joker in the crowd quipped that Lesinski was trying to perfect the 2-8-5 putout on the runner at first base, but none of the basestealers would oblige by trying to advance to third.

The defeat guarantees that the HarbourCats will finish the summer with a losing season. With a mark of 24-28 this summer, the franchise now has an all-time record of 46-60 (.434). Let's hope that the organization is willing to make the changes necessary to turn things around in time for Opening Day next June. We certainly have our opinions on what those changes should be, so stay tuned to the blog in the upcoming weeks for more of our thoughts.

In the meantime, enjoy the last couple of games and the fireworks on Saturday night. The cold weather that rolled in at 7:30 PM on Friday will be gone by noon on Saturday, so conditions should be perfect for the rest of the weekend.

Kitsap series preview

Saturday is fireworks night at RAP!!
The final weekend of a baseball season can be a magical time. If the year has been a success -- like it has been in Corvallis, Yakima Valley and Bellingham -- fans are excited for the upcoming playoffs and eagerly watching their team prepare for the first round. If the outcome of the season has not yet been determined -- as is the case for the AppleSox and the Elks -- fans are on the edge of their seats, fervently cheering for their team to come through in the clutch and squeak into the post-season. For the rest of us, the final weekend of the regular season is simply one last chance to get out to the ballpark and enjoy the game that we love.

This weekend sees the HarbourCats and Kitsap BlueJackets closing out the 2014 WCL season at Royal Athletic Park with a three-game series, and there are a couple of very interesting plotlines to follow while you nibble on that Bin 4 burger and sip that tasty Kolsch. Gabe Clark comes into the Kitsap series with eight home runs on the year, one short of the all-time WCL record. Unfortunately, Clark hasn't gone yard in his last nine games (36 at-bats), which has allowed Kevin Kline of Corvallis and Walla Walla’s Andrew Mendenhall to pull into a three-way tie with him.

It’s a bit of a long shot, but Hunter Mercado-Hood is technically within striking distance of the all-time WCL record for RBI in a season (48). Although he is eight shy of tying the RBI record, Mercado-Hood has lit up the BlueJackets’ pitching staff this summer, knocking in 12 runs (!!) in only five games / 18 at-bats. Just as with the home run record, scoreboard watching will be mandatory if our guys tie or break a record, since HMH now trails both Kevin Kline (45 RBI) and Vince Fernandez (43 RBI) of the Yakima Valley Pippins.

The RAP clock may still be broken, but time is running out on the 2014 season
The ‘Cats and BlueJackets know each other all too well after having already met on six occasions this summer. Victoria has completely had their way with Kitsap, sweeping all six games and outscoring them by a stunning margin of 63-13. That’s right, the HarbourCats are AVERAGING over 10 runs per game against the woeful Kitsap pitching staff this season. The ‘Cats would be wise to not take their opponents too lightly, however, as the BlueJackets have been playing close to .500 baseball (12-13) since the two teams last met on July 6th.

While making short-term predictions on sports is hazardous at the best of times, we’re going to stick our necks out and predict that the HarbourCats will continue their dominance over the BlueJackets and sweep the series. If our prognostication comes true, Victoria will have won their last five games of the season and finished at the .500 mark with 27 wins and 27 losses. After an inconsistent summer that has had its share of turmoil, wouldn't that be an uplifting way to end the 2014 season?

Regardless of how this weekend plays out on the field, look for large and boisterous crowds to come out to the old ballyard and cheer on the hometown team. Because we all know that this is our last chance to witness Nathan Lukes throw out a baserunner with a frozen rope, or see Mercado-Hood swat yet another line drive for a base hit, or marvel as Clark launches one last moon shot into the screen over the left-field wall. The sun is quickly setting on the season and the cold, driving rains are on their way, so be sure you come on out for one last hurrah.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What's in a name

Mr. Rogers (sans cardigan)
Alex "Put Your Cardigan On Mr." Rogers headed to the hill tonight searching for the series win against the Walla Walla Sweets in a very exciting game that came down to the final out, with the 'Cats finally prevailing 4-3 in a true nail-biter.

After allowing the first two batters of the game to score, Mr. Rogers settled down and lulled the Sweets into the Land of Make Believe for a solid six innings, allowing no more runs and a total of five hits. He was replaced by a fired-up Preston "To Action" Ryan who stormed in to strike out the side in the seventh, before loading them up in the eighth with nobody out. The ball was then handed to Carson "The Garage" Schneider who induced a double play, but let the tying run cross the plate before striking out the next batter, setting up a dramatic finish to this series finale.

After not really being able to muster anything in the first three innings offensively, the 'Cats jumped ahead in the fourth when they kicked it off with back to back doubles from Alex "Don't Shave Off" DeGoti and Nathan "Use the Force" Lukes. Ted "Do the Hokey" Boeke sacrificed in Aaron "Carol" Barnett to round out the early scoring and give the 'Cats a temporary 3-2 lead.

After the Sweets tied it up in the eighth, Hunter Mercado-"Little Red Riding"- Hood came into the game as a pinch hitter in the ninth for Noah "and the Ark" Cummins and in true HMH style, worked the walk. John "Call Me Ed" Grimsley then came in as a pinch runner and promptly stole second and after Danny Collier "Mother and Tell Her You'll Be Late for Dinner" struck out, he was advanced to third on a sacrifice from Griffin "dor Takes the House Cup" Andreychuk.  To complete this amazing "team-manufactured" run, Gabe "Welcome Back Kotter" Clark stepped in to calmly drive in the winning run.

Schneider finished it off in the ninth to preserve the 'Cats win, after making it a little interesting by letting the lead-off man get aboard before finally shutting the door.

While not involved in the ninth inning theatrics, Alan "Don't Call Me Alec" Baldwin also had a good night at the plate going three for four which raised his average to a season high .300.

DeGoti was named as the "Thirsty" batter of the game, meaning that if he struck out, the Walla Walla fans could cash in for a half price beer. While DeGoti did not comply (he actually went two for four before leaving the game in the eighth with an injury), that is still one awesome promotion. It takes the "K" batter of the game to a whole new level. A beer level. And I like being on that level.

Coaches Bob "We Are The" Miller(s) and Ben "Action" Jackson must be relieved to be heading home for the final three games of the 2014 season, especially given they are hosting the Kitsap BlueJackets. It has been a long year and this will hopefully send off the 'Cats on a high note. A series sweep will actually put Victoria right at the .500 mark so get out there to cheer the lads on. It will be the last local baseball until next June and that is one long, lonely, rainy, dark winter away.

Well...I did my best, but would Chris Berman be proud? Probably not...but I tried!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Skeleton crew sours the Sweets

Alex Fagalde mowed 'em down tonight
Alex Fagalde extended his scoreless innings streak to nineteen and a third before giving up one in the third inning tonight, as the HarbourCats beat up on the Walla Walla Sweets 9-1, all but eliminating the Sweets from their quest for a wildcard spot this year. Fagalde pitched seven solid innings scattering six hits and striking out nine while walking only two. In Fagalde's three starts this year - all wins - he has given up only one earned run in twenty and two thirds innings of work while striking out twenty two and walking seven. His WHIP over this stretch is a very good 1.06 - not too shabby for a late season starter.

More importantly, just like newcomer Riley Edmonds did last night, Fagalde pitched deep into the game consuming important innings and giving respite to the depleted pitching staff. I find it disconcerting that all of a sudden so many Victoria players are having to leave the team due to "academic" items they must take care of or "injuries" that dictate that they leave the team. Were all these issues really a surprise to them and could they not have somehow been managed remotely? Would the same thing be happening if the 'Cats were in a playoff hunt? I think not. Players would figure it out and play through some of these injuries and the 'Cats would still be fielding close to a full squad.

I'm sure it is disappointing for the team - management included - to have to deal with this issue. They are still coming to the ballpark every day and honouring their commitment to the team. This makes tonight's win over a pretty decent team even more impressive, given that morale must not exactly be soaring.

I'm sure some of the reasons are certainly valid and understandable, but I don't remember such a mass exodus last year. And it seems more than coincidental that since Victoria was essentially eliminated from the playoff race they have had seven players jump ship for various reasons. Hats off to players like Gabe Clark, Nathan Lukes, Hunter Mercodo-Hood et al who all have nothing to prove by playing more innings up here in Canada. For all the players who are sticking around to see out the season, I tip my hat to you fine young men and the integrity that you bring to the yard every day. All other things being equal in life, these are the character traits that will set you apart from others in whatever you choose to do.

And a big THANK YOU to the Eagles players for helping out their hometown squad. These guys will be hungry and fired up to show what they can do, so here's to hoping they all see some action - especially at home in the series finale against Kitsap in front of their friends and family.

That aside, Hunter Mercado-Hood had another (ho hum) three hit night with an RBI to lead the HarbourCat attack, putting his consistency on display yet again. Games that matter, games that don't matter, HMH is there for you like your mother after your first break-up. Ted Boeke had a nice night as well, collecting a trifecta of hits himself. Only the number nine hitter, John Grimsley, was left out of the Victoria hit parade as the other eight lads smashed out fifteen hits on the night, beating up four different not-so-Sweet pitchers.

The Series finale goes tomorrow with Alex "Put On Your Cardigan Mr." Rogers dueling his Walla Walla foe Spencer "Hob Nob" Hobson.


HarbourCatNip
  • Alex Fagalde threw 106 pitches on Wednesday night, marking the tenth time that a HarbourCats pitcher has thrown over 100 pitches in a game. The ten outings of over 100 pitches this season are:
    • August 6 - Alex Fagalde, 106 pitches
    • August 1 - Logan Lombana, 109 pitches
    • July 30 - Alex Fagalde, 126 pitches
    • July 14 - Mikey Wright, 106 pitches
    • July 9 - Tim Peabody, 112 pitches
    • July 7 - Mikey Wright, 104 pitches
    • July 7 - Preston Ryan, 109 pitches (relief)
    • June 24 - Logan Lombana, 104 pitches
    • June 17 - Andrew Nelson, 104 pitches
    • June 13 - Alex Garcia, 102 pitches

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Playing for pride

Riley Edmonds
With the pitching staff already depleted due to the four hurlers who returned home a week ago, Sunday’s season-ending injury to Ryan Keller created yet another opening for 10-day contract players. On Monday the team signed four local pitchers -- all graduating or former Victoria Eagles -- to help down the stretch. The four are Eric Hegadoren, Riley Edmonds, Drew Davidoff and Dallas Patterson, with all but Hegadoren joining the HarbourCats for the Walla Walla series.

Hegadoren was previously signed by the HarbourCats to a 10-day contract, but he did not appear in any regular-season games and was released on June 13th. He did pitch an inning in the exhibition game against the combined Eagles/Mariners squad on June 5th, but he gave up two hits, two walks and two earned runs to put himself firmly in pitching coach Ben Jackson’s doghouse. Hegadoren was hampered by injuries this spring with the College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita, CA) and pitched 1 ⅓ scoreless innings in only two appearances.

All three of the graduating Eagles signed on Monday pitched an inning in the exhibition game against the HarbourCats without giving up an earned run. Edmonds was the most impressive of the trio, as he put down Cole Kreuter, Nathan Lukes and Ted Boeke in order. Davidoff retired John Grimsley, Boeke and Darren Honeysett in his inning on the hill after giving up a single to Cole Kreuter.

Although we declared HMCS HarbourCat dead in the water back on July 14th, the team was officially eliminated from the wildcard race on Sunday, which means that the last six games of the season are being played for pride. The first of those six games was played tonight in Walla Walla, with the HarbourCats coming out on the short end of a 9-7 score.

Greager-bomb!!!
Mikey Wright had his second disastrous start in a row, giving up six runs (but only three earned) on four hits and three walks in 1 ⅔ innings pitched. He now has a 2.96 ERA for the season, but that figure is somewhat deceiving -- he has a 0.00 ERA in 19 innings pitched against two of the weaker teams (Cowlitz and Kitsap), but a 4.54 ERA against the rest of the league. To put Wright’s recent slump in perspective, he has now given up 9 walks and has only struck out two batters in his last three starts, lasting a mere 8 ⅔ innings.

Dylan Stowell relieved Wright and he went on to have his fourth consecutive bad outing, walking four and giving up one hit in one inning on the mound. In his last four outings totalling 9 ⅔ innings, Stowell has walked a stunning 21 batters. Yowzer.

Stowell was relieved by Victoria native Riley Edmonds, a recent Lambrick Park High School graduate. Edmonds entered the game with a 7-0 deficit, but the plucky Canadian sidearmer easily turned in the best performance by a HarbourCats pitcher on this night. Edmonds only gave up two hits and one walk in 5 1/3 outstanding innings of relief. Not only was he effective in keeping his team in the game, but he greatly helped out the entire pitching staff by soaking up 5 1/3 valuable frames after his two predecessors only lasted 2 2/3 innings. Let's hope that Edmonds is rewarded with a start in front of the hometown fans on the last weekend of the season. The HarbourCats certainly could use a feel-good ending to their disappointing year.

A Bryce Greager grand slam (known affectionately in these parts as a Greager-bomb!) and a RBI walk by Nathan Lukes in the eighth inning made the score 9-7 for the Sweets, but that's as close as the HarbourCats would get. When all was said and done, it was clear that the HarbourCats -- especially Riley Edmonds -- do indeed have plenty of pride.

Baseball rules you won't see at RAP next weekend

While sitting around waiting for tonight's game to be streamed enjoying an evening in a seat not made of wood or plastic, I thought you might enjoy a bit of baseball lore that seems hard to believe, given what we see on the field today. Reprinted here for your enjoyment from an article found on line - all credit to original author Mental Floss's Hanna Keyser...

11 Little Quirks in Baseball's Early Rules

Baseball has been around in various forms since the mid-1700s. Even though it's a classic game, it's still showing signs of evolution. For instance, some of the rules of yore seem particularly quirky compared to the modern game.

Underhand pitching? Balls can bounce before you catch them? Nine balls? Sign me up!


  1. In the earliest version of base ball—two words back then—games were not nine innings long. Instead, teams played until one side scored 21 runs, which, at the time, were called “aces.”
  2. Before 1872, pitchers had to throw underhand. This was largely because their purpose wasn’t to get outs but to serve up pitches to be put in play. Batters would even request where they wanted a ball to be pitched for a better chance of making contact. Eventually, pitchers realized they could give their teams a competitive advantage if they made things a little less easy on the batter, and the rules caved to accommodate overhand motions.
  3. Originally, a hitter wasn't just out if the ball was caught in the air; he was also out if it was caught on the first bounce. If it sounds like this makes the game too easy for the outfielders, consider that using gloves didn't become the norm until the 1890s. This practice was so entrenched that after the Knickerboxers suggested changing it, it took several years of heated debate to get the rule changed. And even after it was changed for balls in play, it persisted for several decades when dealing with pop ups in foul territory.
  4. Before there was a whole crew of umpires monitoring games, the home plate umpire was allowed to confer with spectators, who may have had a better view, before issuing a ruling.
  5. At first, there was no such thing as a called strike. There were only swinging strikes. When the called strike idea was introduced, it came with some caveats—the first pitch couldn't be a called strike and the umpire had to warn a batter that a certain pitch is liable to be called a strike before beginning to do so.
  6. Similarly, only every third “unfair” pitch was called a ball. So while the rules dictated the batter take a base after three balls, in practice the pitcher got nine pitches out of the strike zone before surrendering a walk.
  7. In the early days, outfielders could put out base runners not just by tagging but also by throwing the ball at them before they reached the base. The practice, known as “soaking,” “patching,” or “plugging,” was thought to be necessary to the manliness of the game.
  8. What we now think of as the “umpire” was originally called the referee, who proceeded over the game along with two “umpires,” one from each team who made appeals on their players’ behalves.
  9. In the mid-1800s, home plate was a circular base, 12 inches in diameter. At first it was made of iron painted white and later marble or stone.
  10. For a time in the late 1800s, hitters were allowed to use bats that were flat on one side, like a paddle. This made swatting at balls easier but they had a tendency to splinter dangerously.
  11. In the early 20th century, you couldn't get credit for a walk-off home run if the go-ahead run was already on base. That is to say, the game ended as soon as the lead run scored for the home team in the ninth. So if your home team was down by one with men on second and third and you hit the ball over the fence, the game ended as soon as the runner on second scored and you would be credited with a double. Babe Ruth hit plenty of homers in his day, but the Sultan of Swat would tell you, he would have credit for even more if not for this rule.


HarbourCatNip

  • An update on the playoff plight of the Bellingham Bells... As reported on the weekend, the Bells home park had been taken away from them to start renovations, meaning they would play all remaining games on the road - including any playoff games. The city of Bellingham has since done what they can to give them a home date for their first round series. The field will remain open with limited concessions available so they can get at least one game in. It looks like that will be it for them however, renovations will continue after that regardless of if they progress.
  • The renovations are intended to support the WCL All-Star game next year! Now that's intriguing, only a ferry ride and short drive away. I smell a mid season blogger-style road-trip!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

HarbourCats drop final game to Bells 8-0

Four strong innings from Schneider on Sunday
In a surprise move, Bob Miller handed the ball and the Sunday start to freshman reliever Carson Schneider. Schneider has had a busy week, pitching an inning on Tuesday, another inning Wednesday, and two innings Friday night - all of them scoreless, giving up only 1 hit.

He matched that Sunday, going four scoreless innings giving up only 3 hits and walking none. Problem is, he trotted back out for a fifth inning. It didn't end as well as it started for Schneider, as he gave up a lead-off home run, two singles, and a double in the next two-thirds of an inning, and left trailing 3-0. Ryan Keller got the final out of the 5th, then imploded in the sixth giving up 3 hits - including 2 home runs and walked two while only recording a single out. Tim Peabody allowed a run to score, and by the time the dust cleared, it was 8-0 Bellingham. The score would hold the rest of the way as both teams failed to mount any further offence. Peabody had a serviceable rest of the game, giving up no more runs on only 2 hits - but keeping it interesting by walking 4 more. Bellingham starter Seth Martinez was lights-out all day, giving up only 3 hits in six innings. He moves to 5-0 on the season, lowering his ERA to 2.35 in the process.

However it's not as much about Sunday's game as it was about the entire weekend. Taking two of three from the Bells is no small feat - this is only the third time this season that Bellingham has lost a series, and they have never been swept, so a win Sunday was a long shot to begin with.

This weekend proved that the HarbourCats are not far away from being a contending team in this league. Friday and Saturday's games were perfect examples of what the right lineup can do behind some solid pitching. For maybe the first time this year, the Cats got the clutch hit each time they needed one, and made the outs when they mattered most. Injuries gave way to a solid lineup that - from top to bottom - was good enough to be a constant threat. Sunday showed the opposite. Shaky pitching - or more precisely pitching stretched beyond it's means - is the downfall of this year's HarbourCats team. When Schneider completed four strong, there wasn't a group of 1-2 inning guys capable of getting the game past the mid innings. They all left last week - Angel Delgado instagram'ed a beautiful picture of the pool at the Riu Santa Fe in Cabo San Lucas this morning, he could have given a couple solid innings. Torrres-Costa, Watkins? They could have helped if they were still around...

But you can't get too down on what you saw this weekend. A textbook 4-2 win Friday, a last-bat walk off win Saturday, and a tired pitching staff outgunned by a solid Bells starter on Sunday. You couldn't ask for much more.

Except for maybe a deeper bullpen.

Six precious games left in the HarbourCat season. Three at home starting next Friday night - be there!

HarbourCatNip

  • Cats owner John McLean shared an interesting tidbit about the Bells... The team's home stadium is no longer available to them this year. They will finish the year on the road, and come playoff time, will have to play all games in the opposing park. This is due to a major renovation going on to their home park, Joe Martin field. The park is known for it's lack of drainage and poor field condition, and is getting a complete overhaul that includes an artificial surface. Timing isn't great, but I suspect they need all the time they can get at the end of summer before it starts to rain to do the field prep. The Bells will certainly have to be road warriors to take the WCL crown this year.
  • There was an expectation that Mikey Wright would be on the mound today. The starter had a setback in Wenatchee back on July 29 and hasn't been seen since. Injury or doghouse is anyone's guess.
  • It's clear that Preston Ryan needs another start. He has had three solid appearances in a row and his six innings of work Saturday show he's got some stamina. How about having him start, and moving Andrew Nelson to the pen? Nelson has shown he's good for 2 innings - once through the order - before he sets himself on fire. Seems like a logical swap to me.
  • In 32.2 innings of work this year, Peabody has allowed 70 batters to reach base, 38 by the walk.
  • If you follow us on instagram (and if not, why don't you!), you saw the comment about Aaron Barnett. He's the consummate great teammate - at the end of every inning, where he's usually hustled down the line to first to back up the throw, he walks back onto the field to his pitcher and gives him a glove-bump, an 'ata-boy, and walks back to the dugout beside his hurler. I don't care who you are on the mound, that has to pump you up knowing that guy is in your corner. Catchers everywhere could learn a thing or two from Mr. Barnett.
  • And not to "pump up his tires" too much - has Barnett thrown a runner out stealing second all year? Don't they have "arms day" at Pepperdine?


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Walk-off walk

Preston Ryan saves the day
We're not sure what exactly happened on the trip back from Wenatchee on Friday morning, but the HarbourCats must have reclaimed their mojo somewhere between the City of Apples and the City of Gardens. The 'Cats persevered on Saturday night in a hard-fought 6-5 victory over the Bells in 11 innings to upset Bellingham for the second consecutive night. The game was won with a combination of clutch hitting and superb relief pitching, two aspects of their game that have been elusive for most of the summer.

Jake Lesinski came up with a key double with two outs in the first inning that knocked in three runs and staked the HarbourCats to an early 3-0 lead. Starting pitcher Andrew Nelson got off to a great start once again, setting down the first six Bells in order. But just like in his previous start, the trouble started in the third inning. This time it was Bellingham's right-fielder Jack Klein who led off the top of the third with a towering home run that cleared the scoreboard with ease. Nelson would go on to give up two in the third, two in the fourth and a single run in the fifth before being pulled in a 5-5 game.

But just when things were looking dicey for the hometown team, the HarbourCats got a huge boost from a resurgent relief pitcher. Preston Ryan, who has struggled at times this season, registered one of the most impressive relief outings in recent years at Royal Athletic Park to pick up the win. Ryan threw six scoreless innings, giving up four hits and four walks in a gutsy 83-pitch appearance. 

The turning point in the game was the top of the 9th inning when the Bells put runners on second and third with none out in a tie game. Ryan got a huge strikeout of Dallas Carroll and then he induced Chris Baker into grounding out to Alex DeGoti. For some reason, the runner at third (Scott Heath) chose not to break for the plate even though DeGoti clearly had no shot at throwing him out after leaving his feet to make the play on the Baker grounder. Ryan then finished off his escape by getting Jack Klein to pop out to Gabe Clark to end the threat.

Clark studies David Bigelow in the 11th
The game would eventually be won in the bottom of the 11th when the HarbourCats loaded the bases for the aforementioned Mr. Clark. The Bells brought in righty David Bigelow, perhaps the best closer in the WCL, to face Clark in the hopes of prolonging the game. Bigelow came into the match with 12 saves, a 1.16 ERA and a nasty sidearm delivery. While Bigelow took his warm-up tosses, Clark stood in the on-deck circle and studied his opponent carefully. Even though Clark has been sitting on the verge of a new all-time WCL record for home runs, the consummate team player took four consecutive balls to force home the winning run and set off a mild celebration.

Clark seemed to be in the middle of the action all night. With one out in the top of the third, Gabe caught a popup for out number two and then rolled the ball towards the mound on his way off the field. Oops. Clearly, Clark thought that he had caught the third out of the inning. Luckily there were no baserunners at the time, so the gaffe didn't cost the HarbourCats. Gabe just shook his head and laughed as he took some good-natured ribbing from his teammates.

A shout-out is also in order for the fans in attendance at RAP on Saturday night. The crowd of 1,336 was modest in size, but they were loud and boisterous in their support of the HarbourCats. They were especially supportive when Ryan ran into trouble in the ninth and they gave him a rousing ovation as he came off the mound more than once in his impressive six innings of shutout baseball. One can only imagine what the old ballyard would be like in an actual pennant race. Maybe 2015 will be our year...

Friday, August 1, 2014

'Cats ring up the Bells

Gabe Clark smashes his two run double down the lline
The Victoria HarbourCats beat a very good ball club tonight by taking down the Bellingham Bells 4-2. The team showed what it can do when they've got it all going - hitting throughout the lineup (only two starters were hitless), some clutch hitting along the way (exhibit A - Gabe Clark...more on him later), good defense, solid starting pitching and lights out relief. It all came together tonight and Victoria showed just what they are capable of on any given night. The biggest difference in my opinion is the timing of the hits. Victoria can hit, we know that by where they sit in the league, but they do struggle to get the timely hit. Well, not tonight.

The Bells got on the board first by doubling in a run in the second but the 'Cats answered when all-round nice guy Aaron Barnett smashed his first collegiate round tripper to even the score in the fourth. I mean seriously, this guy really looks like he enjoys what he's doing...always smiling, always encouraging the next batter from the on deck circle, running out to greet the pitcher after the final out of every inning. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Well done AB.

Now enter Gabe Clark. This guy is going places. No, he didn't hit his record-tying homer - no thanks to the clueless announcer who called it out it during the game...which was like announcing to the crowd that a goalie has a shut out entering the third period. But I digress. All Gabe did was slam a two run double in the fifth to give the 'Cats a little breathing room while going two for four on the night. Both balls were hit hard and had no chance of being played. Defensively he was scooping balls out of the dirt all night and handled a hot grounder with ease. So with eight games to go, Clark is hitting .320 (and climbing), leads the 'Cats in slugging (.576) and OPS (.979), and is leading the league in home runs. And all this as a sophomore, where he had a starting role and hit .280 for the top ten ranked Oregon State Beavers. As Timbuk 3 would have said, The Future's so Bright (Gabe's Gotta Wear Shades).

Back to the game, Nathan Lukes also had a pretty good night in the lead-off spot - where he belongs - going two for five to nudge his average even higher in the .300's. On the mound, Logan Lombana got the job done again by pitching seven yeoman's innings and giving up two runs on seven hits while striking out three. Carson Schneider continued his recent dominance out of the 'pen with two perfect innings of relief.

In non-game related events, the Benn brothers and Adam Kreek (who also sang the Canadian anthem...again!) were there and the sun even broke through for a nice "warm" evening. The mound proved to be a bit troublesome when in the first inning, Bells starting pitcher Gabe Cramer knocked out a few large chunks of earth and tossed them away in frustration, prompting the grounds crew to go to work a couple of different times. By the time the night was over, the mound had more work done to it than Joan Rivers.

I think both batteries were frustrated by the "tight" strike zone as Big Blue seemed to try and make the game as long as possible for no apparent reason with some head-scratching calls both ways. Even more frustrating to me, and this is really starting to grind my gears, can someone please explain why we cannot have ANY indication of the visitor's lineup on the scoreboard?? Why is that so hard? We can do replays, but we never know who is at bat or where we are in the order. It can't be that hard to get some static information up there, can it? Heck, I volunteer to run a flash drive to the scoreboard between innings if that's what it takes. Sorry...just sayin'...

Anyway, too much negativity there. I don't want to take away from what a great game it was to watch, and how satisfying it is to see the 'Cats hit their stride. Sure they may not make the playoffs, but it is good baseball. Come on out tomorrow and Sunday to see for yourself.

Who's having fun here? Aaron is!


Bellingham Bells series preview

Dinger Bobbled this year too!
Just like Sunday afternoon at the lake, we are down to our last six-pack. Yes, six home games left in the HarbourCats season, nine in total counting the road games. Interestingly the way the schedule worked out, you get three against the league powerhouse in Bellingham, then three against a middle-road team in Walla Walla, then three against league doormat Kitsap. From the top to the bottom in a week.

The next three against the Bells will be interesting from a few standpoints. Bellingham locked up the West Division title weeks ago, and sits 11.5 games ahead of second place Cowlitz. At 32-12, they also hold the best winning percentage and lead the entire league, giving them home-field throughout the playoffs. They are 2.5 games ahead of a surging Corvalis Knights team in the overall race. Still lots to play for at this point in the season, Bellingham won't be interested in slowing down and letting the Knights catch them.

Season to date, Bellingham holds a 5-1 record against Victoria, outscoring the HarbourCats 33-12. Victoria's only win so far was in their last meeting - a 5-3 victory at B'Ham on July 16th.

No starters have been announced, but if the current 5-man rotation stays intact, look for starts by Logan Lombana (2-3), Andrew Nelson (0-3), and Mikey Wright (4-4). Similarly for Bellingham, they are 8-2 in their last 10, and have used 8 different starters over that stretch. We should be lucky enough to miss staff aces Aaron Sandefur (1.84 ERA) and Eder Erives (2.09 ER) though. Look for outstanding lefty Zach Johnson to get a start, with his 1.94 ERA, and 32 strikeouts in 37 innings so far this year.

At the plate, the Bells are led, as they have been all season, by al-star outfielder Danny Miller. Miller is at the top in almost all offensive categories for the Bells, including leading in batting average (.333) and HR's (5). The Bells also have a Sean Watkin's-like pitcher/outfielder named Scott Heath who can hurt you on both sides - sporting a 1.80 ERA, while leading the team in RBI with 30.

The best news about Victoria's 1-2 road trip this week, was that Gabe Clark is still looking for his record-tying 9th home run this year. The friendly and supportive confines of RAP should encourage a couple of big flies this series. Gabe is actually tied at this point with Walla Walla's Andrew Mendenhall for the league lead at 8, after Mendenhall hit 3 this past week.

In other league-leading news, Hunter Mercado-Hood is falling back in the RBI race, currently sitting in third place with 39 behind Yakima's Vince Fernandez at 42. Nathan Lukes is really turning it on since returning from his hand injury and now sits third in the batting race at .356. Nobody is going to catch Kalmath's Steven Packard though, who has "slumped" down to .407 from the .458 he was hitting two weeks ago when he was here.

As a team, Victoria has continued to rise up the offensive stat list, currently sitting in second with an overall team batting average of .276 and 444 runs scored, trailing only Wenatchee at .288 and 460 runs scored. It's the pitching that is hurting Victoria, with a team ERA of 4.30 (compared to Bellingham's league-leading 2.74). In an oddly mismatched stat, Victoria pitchers lead the WCL with 5 shutouts on the season. The Bells only have 2.

With the Bells having used their top pitchers already this week, Victoria should be able to stay close with their starters. Given what we have seen lately, I suspect all games will be close. Cats should win one for sure, may get two - but the Bells are still looking for a first-place finish so won't be giving anything away.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

AppleSox thump 'Cats

Lesinski hit his first collegiate home run
The Red Sox may have thrown in the towel on the 2014 season, but the same certainly can't be said for the AppleSox. Wenatchee pulled to within two games of the Bend Elks in the WCL wildcard race with a convincing 9-2 win over the HarbourCats on Thursday evening. Alex Rogers had his worst outing of the season, but he didn’t exactly get much help from his defense, as the HarbourCats infield committed three errors in the game.

Rogers surrendered 12 hits and four walks in six innings on the mound, but only four of the nine runs that crossed the plate were earned. His ERA took a hit on the night, jumping from 2.89 to 3.25 on the season.

Jake Lesinksi hit the first home run of his college career, a solo blast in the seventh inning. The only other Victoria run scored on a Bryce Greager RBI groundout in the top of the first. Hunter Mercado-Hood and Griffin Andreychuk had two hits apiece, and they were the only HarbourCats to reach base safely more than once in the series finale.

The night was one to forget for third baseman Noah Cummings. The freshman from Oral Roberts University committed two fielding errors in the first four innings and was pinch-hit for by Ted Boeke in the top of the 5th. Of the HarbourCats infielders, Cummings now has the second-lowest fielding percentage (.928), ahead of only Boeke (.866).

The HarbourCats head home early tomorrow morning to get ready for a three-game weekend set against the playoff-bound Bellingham Bells. The weather should be perfect, so come on out to Royal Athletic Park to cheer on the ‘Cats.

HarbourCatNip
  • With the win, the AppleSox took two of three games from Victoria in the series. The HarbourCats now have a 3-9 record against Wenatchee in their history. 
  • On Wednesday night, Alex Fagalde threw a stunning 126 pitches over eight scoreless innings. That outing was the eighth time this season that a HarbourCat pitcher has thrown over 100 pitches in a game. Remarkably, Fagalde’s marathon start didn’t set the franchise record for most pitches in a game by a hurler. In 2013, three 'Cats threw more than 126 pitches in a game: Ty Provencher (135, August 2nd), Connor Russell (129, June 16th) and Scott Kuzminsky (128, July 9th in relief). It’s hard to fathom, but in the HarbourCats’ inaugural season a grand total of 26 pitchers threw more than 100 pitches in a game -- absolutely mind boggling since the WCL season is only 54 games long!
  • The eight outings of over 100 pitches by Victoria pitchers this season are:
    • July 30 - Alex Fagalde, 126 pitches
    • July 14 - Mikey Wright, 106 pitches
    • July 9 - Tim Peabody, 112 pitches
    • July 7 - Mikey Wright, 104 pitches
    • July 7 - Preston Ryan, 109 pitches (relief)
    • June 24 - Logan Lombana, 104 pitches
    • June 17 - Andrew Nelson, 104 pitches
    • June 13 - Alex Garcia, 102 pitches