The Johnson City Cardinals Report: 06/30/08

Curt Smith: Ready to Hit

Curt Smith and Mike Blazek are our Player and Pitcher of the Week, respectively, for the 8-4 Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League.

The Johnson City Cardinals finished the week (Sunday through Saturday) with a record of four wins and three losses.  They are currently 8-4 and in third place in the five-team Western Division of the Appalachian League, one game behind the Elizabethton Twins and a half game behind the Bristol White Sox. 

 

In the ten-team Appy League, the offense currently ranks second in runs, home runs, and runs batted in but they are sixth in triples and last in strikeouts.  The team ranks between third and fifth in all other offensive categories.  The pitching ranks first in both shutouts (one) and strikeouts while ranking ninth in both walks and WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).   

 

I was able to attend three of the seven games in person and those observations provide the basis for this report.  I attended the Sunday home loss against the Kingsport Mets and the first two games in Elizabethton against the Twins on Thursday and Friday night. 

 

Injuries/Playing Time

 

Thirty-three of the thirty-four players on the roster have now played during the first two weeks. 

 

OF Brian Buck made his 2008 debut with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals on Friday.  When asked about the timing of Buck's possible trip north to join the team, Manager Joe Almaraz said, "I have not heard he is coming from any of the officials.  I have heard from some of our guys (who plan trips) that he is coming Tuesday but I haven't received an official memo yet." 

 

1B Curt Smith:  Game Eight (Tuesday) debut – Per Almaraz, "He's from Curacao and finally, we got his visa processed.  He was chomping at the bit (after watching seven games from the bench).  He's playing really well and we just hope we can keep him."

 

2B Brett Lilley:  Game Nine (Wednesday) – Fouled an inside fastball off his right foot in Greeneville and was wearing a protective boot to aid healing.  Per Manager Joe Almaraz, "(He) has a contusion on the toe of his right foot and can't push off." 

 

SP Kevin Thomas:  Game Nine (Wednesday) scheduled starter – Per pitching coach Tim Leveque, "He's having some shoulder problems.  (Thomas) should be back within a week or so (Game 19 @ Burlington Royals).  It was nothing serious.  We just wanted to be cautious and just take our time with him." 

 

1B Osvaldo Morales:  Per Almaraz, "I want to play him but Curt is going so well that I have to take advantage of it.  We are going to play him.  He has told me he is ready to go and ready to put some numbers up.  I will probably put Curt as a DH and give (Morales) some playing time (next week)."

 

The Week in Review

 

With the help of two-time (Wednesday and Friday) Birdhouse Minor League Player of the Day Curt Smith, the team scored 54 runs on 73 hits in seven games, so offense was the theme this week.  The team put up a collective .286/.345/.459/.804 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage/on base plus slugging percentage) line for the week. 

 

Johnson City was on the road for six of the seven games this week and leads the Appy League in road wins with six.  Johnson City has played a league high seventy-five percent of its games on the road so far.

 

Game Six (Sunday):  Loss 4-13: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/23.

Game Seven (Monday):  Win 13-1: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/24.

Game Eight (Tuesday):  Win 6-0: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/25.

Game Nine (Wednesday):  Win 10-7: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/26.

Game Ten (Thursday):  Loss 6-7: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/27.

Game Eleven (Friday):  Win 14-4: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/28.

Game Twelve (Saturday):  Loss 1-6: The Cardinals Minor League Notebook 06/29.

 

League Leaders (Top Ten)

 

Guillermo Toribio – first in stolen bases (8), eighth in hits (16), and tenth in batting average (.364).

Curt Smith – second in home runs (4).

Niko Vasquez – seventh in runs (10), home runs (2), and runs batted in (11).

Ivan Castro – fifth in doubles (4) and seventh in runs batted in (11).

Alex Castellanos – fifth in triples (2).

Jairo Martinez – seventh in home runs (2).

Matt North – seventh in earned run average (1.80) and eighth in WHIP (1.00).

Mike Blazek – eighth in WHIP (1.00). 

 

Tandem Starter Pitch Counts

 

Game Six (13-4 Loss): 

Brett Zawacki (4 innings pitched)– 64 pitches, 44 strikes, 15 of 19 first-pitch strikes.

Deryk Hooker (2 innings pitched)– 52 pitches, 28 strikes, 9 of 16 first-pitch strikes.

 

Game Ten (7-6 Loss):

Randy Santos (2.2 innings pitched) – 78 pitches, 47 strikes, 6 of 16 first-pitch strikes.

Adam Veres (3 innings pitched) – 40 pitches, 29 strikes, 11 of 12 first-pitch strikes.

 

Game Eleven (14-4 Win):

Deryk Hooker (4 innings pitched)– 71 pitches, 45 strikes, 10 of 18 first-pitch strikes.

Brett Zawacki (2.2 innings pitched)– 53 pitches, 27 strikes, 4 of 11 first-pitch strikes.

 

Game Notes

·         TRIPLE PLAY!  2B Alex Castellanos turned the first one in the Appy League this year.  It happened in the second inning of Game Eleven (Friday).  With runners on first and second, the Twins hit a sharp liner toward Castellanos who was shading the right-handed hitter toward second base.  Castellanos moved a few steps toward second base and caught the ball around his knees.  Both runners thought the ball was a hit up the middle so Castellanos easily tagged second base and then threw to 1B Curt Smith to complete the "TP-4U-3".  The sweet redemption came just one day after Castellanos committed three throwing errors while playing third base. 

·         Jarred Bogany had an outfield assist this week that particularly impressed roving catching instructor Dann Bilardello.  Bogany cut-off a hard liner in the right field corner and quickly pivoted 180 degrees to unleash a one hop throw and nail a runner at second base.  Bilardello was heard saying, "That was a really nice play."  Bogany added a nice diving catch in left field on a shallow sinking liner in another game.

·         Despite throwing troubles from third base to first base, Alex Castellanos has turned in some excellent fielding plays at both third and second base.  His throws to second base on force-outs and double plays have been both accurate and strong.  Per Almaraz, "He's done a good job.  (The throws) are affecting him between the ears and we may give him a day off." 

 

Pitch Velocities

 

Brett Zawacki and left-handed reliever Samuel Freeman were both 89 to 91 miles per hour (touching 92) on Sunday in the loss to Kingsport on the stadium display.  The speed guns directly behind the plate were reportedly clocking about 2 MPH faster than the stadium display.  Zawacki also threw a low 80's change-up and a low to mid 70's curve ball.  Freeman recorded two strikeouts on fastballs and one strikeout on a curve ball. 

 

Deryk Hooker was consistently 86 to 89 MPH and never touched 90 on the display on Sunday.  Hooker also had a curve in the upper 60's and lower 70's.  Elizabethton's display was not working.  In fact, their entire centerfield scoreboard was out on Friday night after a pre-game rainstorm. 

 

Players of the Week

 

Each week, I will select one position player and one pitcher as the Johnson City players of the week.  This week, the position player is Curt Smith and the pitcher is Mike Blazek. 

 

Both competitions were tough again this week, especially at the top.  Five of the ten piggyback starters had WHIPs of 1.33 or less and four of the five had a 0.00 earned run average (Matt North, Jose Mateo, Adam Veres, and Jon Bravo).  But 19-year old Blazek led all the starters in innings pitched (8), strikeouts (9), walks (zero), and WHIP (0.75).  I have not yet been able to see Blazek pitch but when I asked him what pitches he threw before the season started, he said his best pitch was his curve ball and that he also featured a change-up, slider, and 2-seam fastball. 

 

Pitching coach Tim Leveque has been impressed with Blazek's maturity on the mound.  "He is just a very mature pitcher.  He has an idea on how to pitch.  He can locate his fastball.  He has a pretty good slider.  He's a real heady kid.  He'll pitch at 90 to 93 miles per hour.  He's a pretty polished kid for his age.  He'll pitch inside."  His two hit batters this week now lead the team.  "He's come a long way in the last year or so and hopefully he will keep it up", said Leveque. 

 

Of the seven players with twenty or more at-bats, Curt Smith led the team in home runs (4), total bases (22), batting average (.429), on base percentage (.455), slugging percentage (1.048), and OPS (1.502).  Guillermo Toribio led the team in hits (12) and stolen bases (3).  Niko Vasquez led the team in runs (8) and runs batted in (10) despite also leading the team in strikeouts (10).  Alex Castellanos led the team in both triples (2) and errors (4). 

 

Guillermo Toribio (right) was a bit unlucky this week in the competition since he had a .400-week (12-for-30) and his first extra base hit (a double).  Ivan Castro, Niko Vasquez, and Alex Castellanos also posted .300 or better weekly batting averages.  In limited at bats due to his injury, Brett Lilley was having a great week in Greeneville.  Lilley posted a .462/.563/.462/1.024 line in thirteen at-bats and particularly impressed the Greeneville Astros internet radio lead broadcaster.   

 

Quotes

 

·         Manager Joe Almaraz on possible player reassignments:  "Right now we are jam packed with seven outfielders (including Buck) and when you look up and down the whole organization, we have a lot of outfielders.  I really think it is going to be a stand still for the outfielders for the rest of the year.  It is going to be tough to make out a lineup." 

·         Manager Joe Almaraz on Jairo Martinez, who had five walks and only one strikeout this week as a designated hitter and who posted a 0.444/0.643/0.778/1.421 line in limited at-bats:  "He has a quad injury and he is moving better.  We will probably put him (in the outfield) this week for half a ball game if the weather is dry.  We can't chance an injury if it is wet.  He's hitting and offensively, he's contributing so we just have to go one step at a time."

·         Pitching Coach Tim Leveque on Jorge Rondon's unusual back-and-forth (weight shift) rocking motion on the rubber prior to his delivery:  "That is something we like.  (It) was to try to free his body up a little bit and try to get him to be a little more athletic on the mound.  Every pitcher has his own little idiosyncrasies and it works for him.  I am not going to touch that.  He's been doing it, including extended (spring training) for about a month and a half." 

 

Week Three Schedule

 

Game 13 (Sunday):  Jon Bravo followed by Matt North – vs. Danville Braves

Game 14 (Monday):  Reynier Gonzalez followed by Jose Mateo – vs. Danville Braves

Game 15 (Tuesday):  Adam Veres followed by Randy Santos – vs. Danville Braves

Game 16 (Wednesday):  Brett Zawacki followed by Deryk Hooker – @ Kingsport Mets

Game 17 (Thursday):  Carlos Gonzalez followed by Michael Blazek vs. Kingsport Mets

Game 18 (Friday):  Matt North followed by Jon Bravo – @ Burlington Royals

Game 19 (Saturday):  Reynier Gonzalez followed by Kevin Thomas – @ Burlington Royals

 

 

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