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Baseball America's Daily Dish
Complete Daily Dish Archive

Compiled by Kevin Goldstein, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
June 24, 2005

As far as circumstances, this is about as good as it gets in minor league baseball.

Saturday at low Class A Hagerstown, the Suns and Lexington will face off in a one-game playoff to decide the first-half champion in the South Atlantic League's Northern Division.

As if that weren't dramatic enough, the scheduled starters are Troy Patton for Lexington (Astros) and Gaby Hernandez for Hagerstown (Mets), arguably the two best pitching prospects in the SAL right now.

After defeating the Suns in the first two games of a four game series last week, the Legends appeared to have a stranglehold on the division, as they led by three games with six to play. The Suns fought back though and defeated the Legends in the next two games, including an 8-2 victory to earn the split in which Hernandez got the win while his offense shelled Patton for five runs over 4 1/3 innings, ending his 31-inning scoreless streak in the process. However, Patton's stat line might be a little deceiving.

"I don’t think we knocked him around; we had a lot of things go our way," said Suns pitching coach Shawn Barton. "We had some balls that weren't hit well that fell in and they made a few mistakes behind him. This kid has led the league since day one in pitching and it is not by accident--he has got good stuff."

On the first half's final day with the teams tied, both Patton and Hernandez took it upon themselves to ensure a playoff would be in order. Patton, a lefthander, rebounded from his poor start to throw six scoreless innings while fanning five to earn the win over Lake County. Hernandez, a righthander, was even more impressive as he assured his team a victory by throwing a complete game no-hitter in a 1-0 win over West Virginia.

"Gaby threw the ball real well in a must-win game for us. He pitched very aggressively, he had all three pitches working for strikes," Barton said. "Talking with Gaby, I know he was getting nervous around the eighth inning when he realized what was going on. He stepped up--you couldn't tell he was nervous. For a 19-year-old kid that was really impressive."

Sally League rules stipulate that if two teams are tied after the first half is completed, the first game between those two teams in the second half will serve as a tiebreaker.

The Legends appear to have a slight edge in the pitching matchup as Hernandez, coming off of a 115-pitch effort in the no-hitter, will be limited to about 85 pitches. Patton should have a little more in him after only going six innings Sunday.

"If we can get six innings out of (Gaby), I'd be really satisfied," Barton said. "Patton is going to be tough to beat and I'd like to think that Lexington thinks Gaby is going to be tough to beat so it might come down to bullpens."

On the season, Patton is 5-1, 1.45 with 89 strikeouts and 19 walks in 75 innings. The lefty's fastball sits in the low 90s, and he complements it with a plus curveball and change that he’s able to throw for strikes.

"Troy is a great pitcher," Hernandez said. "What can you say? I'm sure he is up to a good challenge and so am I, so we'll see what happens.

“The first time we played Lexington, I had a hard time and second time I did pretty well. I kind of went back to that first game and realized what I did wrong. I'm just going to try and keep pitching the way I have been pitching. I am going to keep on giving the best I got and that’s all I can give."

Hernandez is 5-1, 2.32 with an 81-27 strikeout-walk ratio in 78 innings. He features an advanced sinker in the low 90s as well as a sharp curveball and a developing change.

Mets brass rave about his poise, which was certainly evident last Sunday and will again be a factor tomorrow.

For those in the area, the game is scheduled for 7:05 PM at Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium.

--MATT MEYERS

DISH PIECES

• The Marlins called up Double-A Carolina lefthander Scott Olsen and Triple-A Albuquerque catcher Josh Willingham to the big league club yesterday. Olsen, a sixth-round pick in 2002 out of Crystal Lake (Ill.) South High, was 6-4, 3.92 with 94 strikeouts in 80 innings this season. He is scheduled to start Saturday against the Devil Rays in Tampa Bay. Willingham, who was named the starting catcher for the U.S. team in the Futures Game earlier this week, was hitting .337-19-54 in 199 at-bats.

• Rockies lefthander Franklin Morales has been opening eyes at low Class A Asheville this season, primarily working out of the pen. The 19-year-old Venezuelan is 2-1, 2.96 in 27 innings for the Tourists this season. His fastball is consistently in the 93-94 mph range, touching 97. His curveball is already a plus pitch and he shows a good feel for a changeup. "I had Oliver Perez when he first came with San Diego," Asheville pitching coach Greg Booker told the Rocky Mountain News, referring to the lefty now fronting the Pirates' rotation. "I see similarities with him and Oliver. The first year, Oliver felt like he had to strike everybody out and get everybody out himself. I see that a lot in Morales, but not in a bad way.

"He knows he has good stuff, and he's a very aggressive type of pitcher. Once he learns to conserve pitches, get people out earlier in the count, use his defense a little bit--his strikeouts will still be there--he can last longer in games."

• What else does Blue Jays righthander Lee Gronkiewicz have to do to earn a promotion to Triple-A? Sure, he's 26 and in the Eastern League for a second straight season, but Gronkiewicz has been one of the most automatic closers in the minors this year at New Hampshire--in fact, the local Fisher Cat media refers to him as "Game Over Gronk." He's reeled off 21 straight saves this year--32 if you count last year's totals with Akron--and his secondary numbers couldn't be much better. In 31 innings, he's carrying a 0.86 ERA to go along with a 36-8 strikeout-walk ratio. Gronkiewicz came over to the Jays from the Indians in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft last year, and had a stellar winter pitching in both Venezuela and Puerto Rico. If it weren't for 28-year-old closer Edwin Almonte in Erie, Gronkiewicz would be leading the EL in saves. Not bad for a nondrafted free agent out of South Carolina.

• One of the newest players for Triple-A Colorado Springs, 24-year-old outfielder Jud Thigpen, doubled and drove in the only Sky Sox run in his 2-for-3 effort last night in an 11-1 loss to Salt Lake. Thigpen’s hitting .278 with six extra-base hits among his 36 at-bats since getting promoted from high Class A Modesto to fill an injury-ravaged roster. Making his rapid ascent more remarkable, Thigpen was signed as a nondrafted free agent last year as a fifth-year senior out of Division II Delta (Miss.) State. “He centers the ball every time he swings,” assistant general manager Bill Geivett said. “It's amazing how he finds the barrel every time. To me, he's one of those guys who's risen to every challenge that's been presented to him. He's done nothing but impress everyone around him.”

• While hitting for the cycle is a novelty that gets remembered, what Ronny Cedeno did last night was better than a cycle. The Iowa Cubs shortstop went 4-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and home run in helping the I-Cubs defeat Oklahoma 14-2. The two doubles were sandwiched between a first inning homer and a seventh inning triple.

• A 2003 11th-round pick, corner infielder Vasili Spanos has always hit, be it at the Indiana, the Cape Cod League, or as a pro, as the 2004 Greek Olympian hit .311/.419/.505 in his first full season at Kane County last year. That trend has continued in 2005, as Spanos hit a home run in his Double-A debut last night as Midland topped Tulsa 5-2 in the Texas League. Spanos began the year at high Class A Stockton, where he hit .315/.431/.534 in 251 at-bats.

• Padres righthander Jared Wells fired seven shutout innings in high Class A Lake Elsinore’s 5-1 win over Inland Empire last night, improving to 9-2, 3.39 on the season. Wells is 7-0 in his last nine starts.

• Angels shortstop Brandon Wood homered in his third straight game, as the high Class A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes topped Stockton 5-4. The 2003 first-round pick now leads the minor leagues with 25 home runs to go along with averages of .306/.356/.660 in 297 at-bats.

• It was almost an ideal Appy League debut for Tyler Herron, but Rookie-level Kingsport's Nick Evans got in the way. Herron, a supplemental first-rounder by the Cardinals this year, allowed two runs over three innings while fanning six for Johnson City, but almost got out unscathed. However, Evans, a Mets’ fifth-rounder in 2004, hit his first of two home runs off the righthander with two outs in the third in helping lead Kingsport to an 11-7 win.

• Rookie-level Idaho Falls catcher Jeff Howell made his professional debut a memorable one last night. A 10th-round pick this year by the Royals out of Florida Southern College, Howell went 4-for-5 with a home run, triple, two RBIs and a stolen base.

• Not everyone comes back successfully from Tommy John surgery. Cubs lefthander Luke Hagerty, a supplemental first-round pick in 2002 out of Ball State, continues to struggle in his comeback effort after his 2003 surgery. Hagerty, pitching for short-season Boise (his third stint with the team), gave up five runs and got just five outs in a loss to Everett. Worse still, Hagerty, 24, walked seven and gave up four hits while recording no strikeouts. Mariners righthander Eric Carter, a 10th-round pick in 2004 out of Delaware State, struck out 10 in five shutout innings to record the win.

• The third of three first round picks by the Marlins earlier this month, righthander Jacob Marceaux was impressive in his pro debut last night, allowing two hits and an unearned run over five innings in short-season Jamestown’s 4-1 win over Mahoning Valley. The 30th overall pick out of McNesse State, Marceaux received a $1 million bonus.

Contributing: John Manuel, Alan Matthews and Matthew Stucko.

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