Daily Dish: June 21


See also: Tuesday’s Daily Dish
See also: Today’s Baseball America Prospect Report

Once Mets’ top prospect Mike Pelfrey’s wingman at Wichita State, lefthander Steve Uhlmansiek had a profile not far from the Shockers’ star Friday night starter.

Until he felt pain in his elbow, Uhlmansiek was considered a top-round talent. But an elbow injury forced a significant draft day slide, as he was taken in the 12th round by the Mariners. Seattle coddled Uhlmansiek after Tommy John surgery, allowing him to throw just 17 innings in 2005.

Fastball inconsistency led to mixed results last season, a problem that the lefthander thinks he has rectified. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride. At first my velocity came back,” Uhlmansiek told the Seattle Times, “and then it went back down. It’s been completely back to stay in the last two months. I throw between 88 to 92 miles per hour.”

His up and down recovery from surgery had emotional implications as well; Uhlmansiek’s confidence ebbed and flowed with his fastball velocity. “The biggest challenge was wondering if I’d ever be the same pitcher I was,” he told the paper. “I finally answered that question and found full confidence in the last two months.”

His 2006 debut was certainly a step in the right direction, as Uhlmansiek allowed just one hit over five innings for short-season Everett. He struck out six batters, walking just one.

“It’s now or never for me,” Uhlmansiek said. “I don’t worry about throwing breaking balls or rearing back when I need to.”

More than anything, Uhlmansiek believes the key to his 2006 season is finding a comfort on the mound he has not had since pitching on Saturdays for Wichita State. “When you don’t play for two years, you lose the feel for pitching, the feel for the off-speed pitch and the strike zone,” he told the Times. “Those are little things that are huge for a pitcher to be successful.”

On Tuesday, Uhlmansiek re-discovered the feel for pitching. Unsurprisingly, he looked like a top-round talent again.

–BRYAN SMITH

The Boss Is Back

Jay Bruce has been affectionately referred to as “The Boss” on this page in reference to Bruce Springsteen, but it is about time to make the nickname official.

The 19-year-old was the youngest player in the Midwest League all-star game, but he did not perform like it as he went 3-for-5 with a home run, a double and two stolen bases to lead the East all-stars to a 7-1 victory against the West. In the process, the Reds prospect was named the game’s MVP.

“This was definitely the type of game that meant a lot. Whenever you come out and play beside and against the best of the best in the league, you want to put your best game out there, too,” Bruce told the Dayton Daily-News. “This is the type of game that can give me a lot of confidence heading into the second half.”

Eleven East pitchers combined on a five-hitter as the fanned 12 and walked only one. Devil Rays lefthander Jacob McGee got the win, striking out two in his only inning of work.

Colby Rasmus was the only West hitter who could get anything going as the Cardinals prospect went 2-for-4 with a double. His Quad Cities teammate, lefthander Jaime Garcia, was tagged for three runs in his only inning of work and took the loss.

—MATT MEYERS

Pitching Dominates SAL Classic

With innumerable pitching changes and substitutions, all-star games typically take a lot longer than your average affair. However, when the pitching is as good as it was in last night’s low Class A South Atlantic League all-star game, those factors become inconsequential.

The North all-stars defeated the South all-stars 4-0 Tuesday in a game that took just two hours and 15 minutes. Marlins lefthander Aaron Thompson got the win for the North as he combined with eight other pitchers on a three-hitter.

The pitching for the South was almost as good, but they were undone by sloppy defense. The Pirates Andrew McCutchen led off the bottom of the first for the North with a single off the Braves Jo-Jo Reyes. He moved to third when second baseman Eric Young Jr. booted a grounder by Eric King before scoring on a ground out by the Brewers Lorezno Cain. It was all the scoring the North needed.

Brewers third baseman Mat Gamel earned MVP honors by going 2-for-4 with a double. Reyes took the loss despite not allowing an earned run and fanning four over two innings.

—MATT MEYERS

Anderson Stars For South

The array of blue chip hitting prospects in the annual Texas League all-star game at Little Rock’s historic Ray Winder Field–names like Brandon Wood, Troy Tulowitzki, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Hunter Pence–was as thick as the Arkansas humidity Tuesday. But this year’s contest was all about pitching, as the South team defeated the North squad in the first 1-0 all-star game in the Texas League history.

Josh Anderson, one of nine Corpus Christi Hooks players on the South team, was named MVP. The Houston outfield prospect drove in the game’s lone run in the top of the third inning, when Midland’s Kevin Melillo scored from third on Anderson’s sharp grounder up the middle which deflected off North pitcher Juan Morillo into the hands of first baseman Joe Koshansky for the putout.

Corpus Christi’s Juan Gutierrez earned the victory with two scoreless innings. Another Hooks pitcher, Jailen Peguero, picked up the save by pitching the ninth for the South. “I’ve got to thank Melillo for that RBI,” said Anderson, “because he got a double and got to third base on a wild pitch. I just happened to put it in play and make something happen.”

Despite the reputation of the Texas League as a hitter’s league, Anderson was most impressed by the quality of pitching in this game.

“There are probably some guys in this league, and even in this all-star game,” said Anderson, “that will be in the big leagues before the season is over.”

Among the pitchers that had impressive outings were Wichita’s Ryan Braun and Frisco’s Thomas Diamond, both of whom struck out the side in their respective innings.

Wichita outfielder Billy Butler came close to tying the game in the bottom of the 7th with a hard hit ball that hit near the top of the right field wall, but he was held to a single and erased later on a double play.

The home run hitting contest also turned into a pitchers duel of sorts when both San Antonio outfielder Wladimir Balentien and Tulsa first baseman Joe Koshansky failed to hit any balls out of the park during the final round. Balentien finally stroked one over the left field fence during an extra round to capture the contest.

–BILL MITCHELL

Shaolin’s Finest

Since joining the short-season New York-Penn League, Brooklyn and Staten Island have been the league’s two biggest rivals. Beyond being affiliated with the Yankees and Mets, they also have New York City bragging rights on the line. If last night’s opener is any indication of what the rivalry will look like this season, the Cyclones are in for a long season.

Staten Island jumped on Brooklyn starter Jorge Reyes for three runs in the first and then tacked on seven more in the second as they demolished their crosstown rivals 18-0. Yankees first baseman Kyle Larsen was the offensive start as he homered twice and drove in five runs. Shortstop Mitch Hilligoss, a sixth-rounder this year out of Purdue, went 4-for-6 while second baseman Wilmer Pino added three hits of his own.

Junior Contreras was the lone bright spot for the Cyclones as he went 2-for-2 with two walks. The hulking Contreras, listed at 6-foot-5, 262-pounds, shares a first name with Junior’s, a Brooklyn insitution famed for its cheesecake. He might not be worthy of a nickname yet, but Cheesecake is what we are lobbying for.

—MATT MEYERS

After Much Deliberation

After plenty of phone calls and deliberations, the California League finally settled on a South Division first-half champ.

The High Desert Mavericks won their ninth straight game on Sunday night to clinch the South Division–or so they thought. But the team held on any full celebration, as a bizarre scheduling quirk meant that the Inland Empire 66ers, the Mavericks competition for the South Division title, didn’t finish their first half until Monday, a day after the Mavericks–when they faced the Mavericks in High Desert’s first game of the second half of the season.

Confused yet? You should be, as even the California League President, Joe Gagliardi, was left scratching his head. According to the Victorville (Calif.) Daily Times, Gagliardi was made aware of the schedule discrepancy four days before the first half ended. Making things more complicated, the league’s first tiebreaker is to use the first game the two teams play each other in the second half to determine the champ–which is hard to decide when one team is playing a second half game, and the other is still in the first half.

The two teams would end up tied for the second tiebreaker–head-to-head record. So Gagliardi planned to use the third tiebreaker–division record–to determine the first half champ. On Monday, the league called the Mavericks and told them that they had won the first half. But two hours later, the league reversed its decision. After a call to the Minor League Baseball office, it was determined that if Inland Empire won the Monday game (their last game of the first half), the two teams would use the Tuesday game as a tiebreaker. Inland Empire won both games to claim the first-half title.

–J.J. COOPER

QUICK HITS

• Brewers shortstop Chris Barnwell, 27, made his major league debut last night by going 0-for-2 against the Tigers. The 2001 25th round pick, who was hitting .326/.392/.443 for Triple-A Nashville, was called up to fill in for the injured J.J. Hardy . . . The Indians dipped into their minor league system to recall lefthander Jeremy Sowers and righthander Edward Mujica. With Buffalo, Sowers had been one of the IL’s best pitchers, going 9-1, 1.39 in 97 innings, allowing just one home run. He starts Sunday against the Reds. To accommodate the duo, Cleveland sent down righthander Jeremy Guthrie and designated righthander Jason Johnson for assignment . . . White Sox righthander Sean Tracey sent a message in his first start since being sent down to Triple-A Charlotte. Tracey was demoted after he was berated by Sox manager Ozzie Guillen for not plunking Rangers’ third baseman Hank Blalock in a game last week. Tracey struggled in his first relief appearance in Chattanooga, but he dealt Tuesday at Durham. The 25-year-old righthander tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just six hits and whiffing eight over nine innings. Tracey threw 109 pitches, 73 for strikes. While there is speculation that Tracey will never pitch for the White Sox again, Guillen denied that thinking yesterday in the Chicago Sun-Times. “If something happens the next couple of days and Tracey is the guy who is going to come up, it’s going to be him,” Guillen told the paper. “A lot of people ask me if Tracey is done with the White Sox. No, this kid is our prospect. I won’t throw this kid away because the incident happened. We need that kid. It’s up to him about what kind of mentality he’s going to come back to the big leagues with.” . . . In other Sox news, third baseman Josh Fields is raking at Triple-A Charlotte, but with Joe Crede at third, the organization might opt for a position change–possibly to the outfield. Fields is hitting .318/.400/.556 with 11 homers in 239 at-bats . . . There was a bench-clearing brawl at high Class A Lancaster Tuesday, which led to three ejections in the eventual 10-9 Modesto victory. In the fight, Nuts shortstop Jonathan Herrera punched JetHawks catcher Josh Ford. In the top of the fifth, Herrera hit a long shot that hooked just foul down the right field line. The umpires initially signaled that it was a homer, but following an argument with Lancaster manager Brett Butler and a small conference, the umpires switched their call to foul. When Herrera got back to bat, he hit a true home run. As he rounded the bases, he gestured at the umpires and JetHawks. Herrera and Ford got into a heated argument at home plate, and the benches cleared. Although the umpires got between the two players, Herrera got around one umpire and managed to punch Ford in the face. Players and coaches moved out again, and Modesto manager Glenallen Hill grabbed Ford. Ford, Hill and Herrera were all ejected . . . The Angels have a history of staying conservative with their top prep talents, so it was no surprise when 2005 first rounder Trevor Bell did not appear on a full season roster. On Tuesday, Bell finally appeared in a box score, throwing five scoreless innings for Rookie-level Orem. “This is the first real, real game that I have played in as a professional,” Bell told the Deseret Morning News. “I definitely had some nerves going when I was out there, but after the first inning I calmed down and did my thing.” . . . The short-season pitching line of the day belonged to Erik Cordier, the Royals second round selection in 2004. An abnormal bone formation in his knee had taken Cordier’s 2005 season after shortening his campaign the year before. But Cordier made up for lost time on Tuesday, allowing just two infield hits over six innings while striking out 11 for Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League. “He was outstanding,” P.J. Carey told the Jackson Hole Star Tribune. The righthander, considered the top talent in Wisconsin two seasons ago, can throw his fastball in the mid 90s and offers a plus change and blossoming curveball . . . Chattanooga’s David Shafer was placed on the disabled list with a sore right bicep. Shafer, who leads the Southern League in saves, is 0-0, 1.11 with 22 saves. The Lookouts also have welcomed Homer Bailey, the Reds’ top prospect, to the rotation. Jerry Narron, the Reds’ manager joked to the team’s beat writers that when he gets the team’s minor league report, Bailey’s stats are always whited out to keep him from getting ideas. Bailey was 3-5, 3.31 with high Class A Sarasota.

Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Chris Kline, Kristin Pratt.

Minors | #2006 #Daily Dish

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