Daily Dish: Aug. 10

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

Devil Rays righthander Jeff Niemann is finally beginning to hit his stride.

The 2004 first-rounder out of Rice posted his second straight win Wednesday, and got plenty of run support in Double-A Montgomery’s 15-2 win at Mobile.

First baseman Gaby Martinez hit two homers and drove in seven, while the Biscuits left side of the infield–2005 first-rounder Evan Longoria and shortstop Reid Brignac combined for four hits to give Niemann plenty of breathing room during his six shutout innings of work. He allowed just one hit, walked one and struck out eight.

“That definitely helps,” Niemann said. “It allows you to just go out and pitch. All the guys are really swinging the bat well and that gives us more confidence to just go out and do our jobs on the mound.”

Niemann didn’t join Montgomery until mid-June, spending the first two months of the season in extended spring training after having a minor surgical procedure to shave down the joint between his collarbone and shoulder last October.

“That was a rough deal for a while, but I understood it was part of the process,” Niemann said. “I learned a lot in the six or seven months I was down there, and I knew it would be beneficial in the long run.”

It certainly has been to Niemann’s advantage, considering he went 0-2, 4.50 in June, but improved to 3-2, 2.19 with a 42-11 strikeout-walk ratio since then. The 6-foot-9, 260-pounder has also held opponents to a .181 average since his three June starts.

Over his last four outings, Niemann’s fastball sat in the 90-95 mph range, topping out at 97 several times July 29 against Birmingham. His slider and curveball have grown in their effectiveness during that span, though his changeup still needs work at this point.

“It’s a little bit finding a grip that works and getting my arm speed down to where it’s comfortable,” Niemann said. “It’s really just about getting a feel back again. But right now I really feel like I finally got all my confidence back. And my slider especially has been a big reason why I’ve been able to do what I’ve been doing–it’s starting to get some good break to it–it’s not flat like it was when I got here.”


Can’t Furnish A Win

Short-season State College squandered a four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to Williamsport, but rallied with a run in the top of the 10th to prevail 8-7 in what was one of the wilder games in the short-season New York-Penn League thus far this season.

The ninth inning meltdown tainted an outstanding performance by Brad Furnish, the Cardinals second-round pick this year. The Texas Christian product allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings while striking out nine and walking none.

The lefthander allowed just three runs in his first three starts in the NYPL, but had been uneven since. Furnish lowered his ERA to 3.68 last night and he boasts a solid 40-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 51 innings.

“I have been working a lot lately with (pitching coach Sid Monge) on trying to get down on the mound a little more,” Furnish, 21, told the Centre Daily Times. “I feel like my mechanics were a little off the last few starts, especially the last one. We worked on me getting down on the mound and getting the ball down in the zone. It allowed me to get down in the strike zone. That helps a lot.”

The hitting star for State College was first baseman A.J. Van Slyke, who went 4-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. It his two-out error, however, that opened the floodgates for Williamsport to tie the game in the ninth. Van Slyke had also made an error in the first inning that allowed a run to score. The son of former big leaguer Andy, and a 23-round pick from Kansas in 2005, redeemed himself though by leading off the top of the 10th with a single.

“Whenever I make a mistake like that in the field, I always remember what my college coach told me, ‘The good players look for a chance to redeem themselves,’ ” Van Slyke told the paper. “Whether it’s two at-bats down the line or in the field, you have to make up for it. That’s all I was thinking about at the plate. I wasn’t trying to do too much. I was just trying so we win the game.”

Yonathan Sivira pinch-ran for Van Slyke and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Luke Gorsett. With two outs, Sivira was able to score from second on a wild pitch by Olivo Astacio to give the Spikes the winning run.



• Triple-A Norfolk hitting coach Howard Johnson has been suspended by the Mets organization for leaving the club without permission. According to the New York Daily News, Johnson left the Tides to attend a baseball tournament his son was participating in last week. “You can’t leave the club without the permission of the authorities,” general manager Omar Minaya told the paper. “You just can’t do that.”

• Double-A Altoona righthander Wardell Starling did it all Wednesday, though the Curve wound up losing to Connecticut, 9-8. Starling, a fourth-round pick in 2002, allowed a pair of runs on seven hits over seven innings, but was more impressive at the plate with a 3-for-3, four-RBI performance, including a triple. On the mound this season, Starling is 8-6, 3.13 in 129 innings combined between Altoona and high Class A Lynchburg. Incidentally, at the plate, Starling is raking to the tune of .462 (6-for-13) with a killer 1.231 OPS.

• The Royals have no immediate plans to recall righthander Zack Greinke from Double-A Wichita despite his recent run of successful starts. Instead they want him to get comfortable after missing all of April and May while resolving personal issues. Greinke, just 22, pitched in the Texas League three years ago, but that didn’t prevent things from starting poorly. He posted a 7.62 ERA in his first six starts, but since the beginning of July, he’s 4-1, 3.14 over 51 2/3 innings, with 56 strikeouts and just seven walks. That includes a complete-game two-hitter against Springfield, but also a nine-run shellacking by Tulsa.

Contributing: Matt Eddy.