As the minor league umpires strike heads into its fifth week, the replacement umpires are again generating some unwanted publicity.
The Birmingham Barons ended up leaving the field during the eighth inning of their Saturday game against the Jacksonville Suns when manager Chris Cron decided that to continue playing would likely lead to further fighting.
The Barons were trailing 11-5 at the time, which became the official score after the Barons' decision to not take the field.
According to the Birmingham News, Cron spent a half hour on the phone with Southern League president Don Mincher the morning after the incident explaining the situation. Mincher also talked to Jacksonville manager John Shoemaker and White Sox farm director David Wilder, who also was in attendance at the game.
"I talked to him about it and I think we were on the same page that the situation was too much for these (umpires) to handle," Cron said.
Problems within the game started in the sixth inning, when Jacksonville righthander Spike Lundberg threw a pitch close to Barons' infielder Corey Smith. Smith gestured with his bat toward Lundberg and after a brief exchange, both benches emptied.
Order was restored, but at the end of the inning, Lundberg and Smith went at it again, and the benches again emptied. At one point, an opposing player hit Cron in the face.
According to the paper, Cron and both radio announcers identified Matt Kemp as the player who took a swing at the manager, but Suns manager John Shoemaker said he did not see Kemp punch anyone.
"I'll say that Matt Kemp is a very talented player," Cron said. "He can run, hit for average, hit for power and play center field. I told David Wilder I thought he was the real deal and that if he had the chance, he was a guy we'd like to have.
"All I'll say about what happened is I'm retracting that statement right now. Some things are more important than what you can do on the field."
Another close pitch to Birmingham shortstop Robert Valido in the seventh had tempers flaring again, and in the top of the eighth, Kemp was grazed by the second of two inside pitches by Barons reliever Edwardo Sierra.
And yet again, the benches emptied.
But this time, with Wilder in the stands, Cron decided to pull his team off the field for safety concerns.
"It needed to be stopped and it wasn't," Cron said. "They've missed pitches before or they've missed plays before, but this was a totally different situation that should have been handled properly. It wasn't and it escalated as a result. What we're dealing with here is something that should have been handled normally from the very beginning. And normally is how I've seen (it handled in) professional baseball for 23 odd years. This wasn't normal."
Both Smith and Sierra were ejected, as well as Cron after the final incident. No Jacksonville players were ejected throughout the game.
"That's the tough part about it," Cron said. "Our two teams know more about what happened than anybody else. Or at least my team does. I know they know what exactly went on. And I have no comment on those things. But if you've been around the game long enough, all you know is we need to get this umpire thing fixed. It's gotten to the point where the safety of players and personnel on the field is in jeopardy.
"Look at the whole Delmon Young incident. Something like that could have easily happened if this game continued and I didn't pull my guys off the field. Just purely from a game standpoint, it speeds up on these (umpires) and they have trouble dealing with calls. Now I think you see what happens when things outside of normal calls happen and an in-game situation grows–they can't deal with it.
"You know, it's like telling me I can fly a jet. I've never flown a jet, but people tell me I can because I rode a bike once. It's not even close to the same thing."
Slowey Gets On Fast Track
Twins righthander Matt Garza might be on fire at high Class A Fort Myers with 4-0, 0.86 numbers, Kevin Slowey took his own star turn Friday night for the Miracle against Lakeland.
Slowey, a second-round pick out of Winthrop last year, struck out 10 and allowed one run on three hits in a 3-1 loss to the Tigers.
The 10-spot brings Slowey'™s strikeout-walk ratio to an almost unreal 44-2 in just 35 innings, but consider the source. The 22-year-old righthander is simply giving a repeat performance of last year, when he led NCAA Division I in strikeout-walk ratio (134-13 in 136 innings), and after signing, he improved that ratio in his pro debut last season (84-8 in 72 innings).
"I think it all comes down to letting your defense work and not putting too much pressure on yourself," Slowey said. "When you have a good defense behind you, you trust them and trust yourself. You know you don't have to be perfect with every pitch because you know they'™re going to back you up and make the plays.
"We've had some great defense here, and that keeps you confident in doing your job. It allows you to work a little more freely and helps you when you absolutely need that strikeout with runners on base."
Slowey's velocity was down somewhat last season after pitching all those innings at Winthrop, but he's not ever going to blow anyone away with his upper 80s fastball. Rather, his ability to create deception, change speeds and command his pitches key his success.
Right now Slowey's fastball is in the 88-92 mph range consistently, and he could add a tick or two on the radar gun as he continues to grow into his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame. He worked out non-stop this past offseason and gained 5-to-10 pounds, which should also help him maintain his endurance over the course of his first full season.
"I feel worlds apart from where I was last year after the draft," Slowey said. "I think it's just being fresh and feeling like I can go deeper through the game. By the time I got to (low Class A) Beloit last year, I was hitting a wall in the fifth inning every night. I know it's early, but it hasn't been that way so far here."
His stuff has also improved. Along with the consistent command of his fastball, Slowey says his slider has grown into a more legitimate out pitch, and his changeup is well on its way to being a plus offering.
"I really worked on it during instructs," Slowey said. "And that was because mainly I didn't use it in college. I really didn'™t need to. But looking in my rearview mirror a little bit, I wish I had thrown it a lot more. It's light years ahead of where it was before. And if you can throw your changeup as a weapon, it makes all your pitches that much better."
Long Time Coming
It took two days to complete and the two teams tied a Pacific Coast League record for the longest game, but Triple-A New Orleans finally defeated Nashville Orleans, 5-4 in 24 innings.
The game was suspended after 18 innings on Friday night, as the game went well after midnight and had to be finished Saturday based on minor league baseball guidelines.
Only a few of Nashville's announced season-high crowd of 9,124 remained when the final out was recorded Friday–on Sounds first baseman Brad Nelson's franchise-record sixth strikeout of the night–at 1:25 a.m., for a game time of 6 hours, 23 minutes.
Nelson, who was hitting .188/.281/.284 through 85 at-bats, easily had the toughest night at the plate for either team.
Zephyrs rightfielder Mike Vento had the best, going 5-for-7–all Vento's hits were singles.
But that was just Friday. When the game resumed the following day, they played another six innings before New Orleans catcher Wiki Gonzalez finally drove in Chris Schroder in the top of the 24th for a one-run lead.
Zephyrs righthander Santiago Ramirez, who pitched the final three innings of relief, earned the win by striking out two in the bottom half of the inning.
The 24-inning game was dominated by arms, as teams combined for 33 hits, compared to 48 strikeouts and used a total of 17 pitchers.
And for the record, Nelson finished 1-for-10 with seven strikeouts, while Vento went 6-for -10.
Better Call Geico
Triple-A Albuquerque catcher Paul Hoover hit a grand slam in Friday's 7-5 win against Oklahoma, but the biggest winner in the game was Isotopes fan Larry Trujillo.
Nine months ago, Trujillo won a white Nissan XTerra when Albuquerque third baseman Jason Wood hit a grand slam in the third inning of a game, triggering a free-car drawing sponsored by a local casino.
The drawing happened again last night after Hoover's blast, and against all odds, Trujillo was again the winner–this time taking home a red Ford Escape.
Trujillo's name was chosen out of about 60 entries.
"I'm still in shock," Trujillo told the Alburquerue Tribune. "I'm shaking."
The 45-year-old is not an Isotopes season ticket holder, but said he goes to 23 games a year and proclaims himself to be the team's biggest fan–and likely the one with the highest car insurance bill every month.
Of course, the back-to-back SUV victories were the talk of the clubhouse.
"I just can'™t believe a guy is that lucky," Wood told the paper. "I don't know how that even works."
Double-A San Antonio catcher Jeff Clement, the Mariners' first-round pick (third overall) last year, had surgeries to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and to remove bone chips from his left elbow. The Mariners said Clement could miss up to two months. Clement, batting .288-2-10 for the Missions, injured the knee this season in a home-plate collision but has been troubled by the bone chips since his college days at Southern California . . . The Pirates promoted versatile Triple-A Indianapolis infielder Jose Bautista, and Bautista responded with a pair of hits and a walk Sunday against the Nationals. Bautista played both right and center field in the game . . . The Braves activated outfielder Jon Mark Owings and assigned him to low Class A Rome. Owings had spent the beginning of the season in extended spring training due to a jaw injury. The 17th-round pick in 2004 was 1-for-7 in his first two games. To make room for Owings on the Rome roster, the Braves sent outfielder Jamie Romak to extended. Romak, a fourth-rounder in 2003 out of Canada, was hitting .136/.280/.318 in 66 at-bats . . . Phillies righthander Scott Mathieson only had one career hit–a single–coming into Friday'™s game at Altoona, but he broke out the stick in a big way. Mathieson bombed the curve with a two-run shot in the sixth off Pirates'™ righthander Matt Peterson. On the mound, Mathieson allowed three runs on six hits and whiffed six over six innings in Double-A Reading'™s 7-5 win . . . After struggling over his last two starts, in which he allowed 13 runs in eight innings, Rangers lefthander John Danks turned in a solid performance against one of the Double-A Texas League'™s most prolific offenses Friday as Frisco shut down Tulsa 2-1. Danks allowed one run on four hits and struck out 10 . . . Following up Danks in the Frisco rotation, righthander Nick Masset also posted 10 strikeouts against Tulsa on Saturday in the Rough Riders'™ 4-3 win . . . The Blue Jays called up righthander Francisco Rosario to the big leagues on Friday. Rosario was 0-2, 4.43 with 29 strikeouts in 22 innings at Triple-A Syracuse this season . . . Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester finally got in the win column at Triple-A Pawtucket–in part because his pitch count has been extended slightly from where it was over his first five starts. The 22-year-old allowed four hits over five innings to help the PawSox shut out Rochester 2-0 on Saturday. He threw 69 pitches–45 for strikes–and threw 14 first-pitch strikes to the 20 batters he faced. Lester is now 1-4, 4.57 in 22 innings . . . Mets righthander Alay Soler made his debut at Double-A Binghamton on Saturday. The Cuban defector who signed for $2.8 million in 2004 allowed a run on seven hits and whiffed six over 6 2/3 innings in the B-Mets 3-2 win over New Hampshire. Soler went 2-0, 0.64 with 32 strikeouts in 28 innings at high Class A St. Lucie before being called up . . . Brewers righthander Yovani Gallardo keeps racking up the strikeouts at high Class A Brevard County. The 20-year-old second-rounder in 2004 lit up Tampa for 10 strikeouts on Saturday, upping his total to 48 in 33 innings.