Weekend Dish: Aug. 21

See also: Friday’s Daily Dish

What’™s a team to do when it loses its starting middle infield, its rangy center fielder and its power-hitting right fielder in a matter of a month?

The 2006 Tucson Sidewinders are faced with that cold, hard reality of Triple-A baseball. They wouldn’™t be where they are–and they are 78–49, the only Triple-A club which has won more than 60 percent of its games–without the contributions of the departed. Take a look at the players they’™ve lost to the parent Diamondbacks:

• Shortstop Stephen Drew, 23, hit .284/.340/.462 for Tucson, and provided steady defensive play.

• Right fielder Carlos Quentin, 23, hit .289/.424/.487 with 30 doubles.

• Second baseman Alberto Callaspo, 23, hit .336/.403/.470, and the switch-hitter had one of the better walk-to-strikeout ratios you’™ll see: 51-to-23.

• Center fielder Chris Young, 22, who got called up Friday, hit .276/.363/.532 with 21 home runs and 17 steals; he struck out 71 times in 402 at-bats, but on a per at-bat basis, that figure was much lower than last year (18 percent compared with 28 percent).

Since Drew’™s last game with Tucson July 13 signaled the coming wave of promotions, the club has gone 21-16 (.568)–which included the winless week of Aug. 7 when it dropped six straight. But even that stretch can’™t match their record with Drew, 57-33 (.633).

Sure, these Snakes can still hit–they lead the minors in runs scored and left fielder Scott Hairston, first baseman Chris Carter, and shortstop Brian Barden litter the Pacific Coast League leaderboards–but it’™s the pitching staff which has kept the team afloat amidst the turnover.

“We were winning a lot of games by scoring a lot of runs, which made it easier on the pitching,” pitching coach Mike Parrott told the Arizona Daily Star. “Before, we didn’t have to worry. Now it’s a matter of winning 2-1 games, and the bullpen’s a big part of those kind of games.”

The bullpen features six relievers who have pitched in the majors, and the club has gotten steady work from its starters, notably righthanders Dustin Nippert (12-7, 4.95), Edgar Gonzalez (2-8, 4.16) and lefthander Mike Bacsik (an unbelievable 11-0, 2.79). Now Bacsik has left the team to play for USA Baseball’s Olympic qualifying team. It should be noted, too, that key early-season contributors righthander Enrique Gonzalez (4-3, 2.24) and closer Tony Pena (3-1, 1.71 with seven saves) are now members of the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff.

Perhaps the biggest contributor has been 2005 third-round pick Micah Owings, who improved to 8-0 with a win Saturday against Colorado Springs. The 23-year-old righthander pitched six innings and allowed three runs on eight hits. He struck out seven and walked one.

Owings went 1-for-3 at the plate–which actually lowered his average to .364–with a double, his fourth, and a run scored. A two-way standout at Tulane, Owings has a higher slugging percentage (.485) than four Tucson regulars. Owings, who went 6-2, 2.91 for Double-A Tennessee, is pitching in Triple-A in his first full season.

And he’s pitching for Triple-A’s best, albeit shorthanded, team.


No-Hitter Run Continues

Phillies righthander Carlos Carrasco followed up
his no-hitter with another excellent outing on Friday. Carrasco pitched
seven shutout innings for low Class A Lakewood; he allowed three hits
and three walks while striking out eight.

Carrasco has been one of the
South Atlantic League’s top starters all season, but he’s turned it up
a notch in August to become nearly unhittable. Opponents are hitting
.090 against him in 27 August innings, as he’s gone 3-1, 0.99.

was better tonight then his last start,” said Lakewood manager Dave Huppert. “He was
using his fastball early and that allowed him to set up guys
with his other pitches as the game went on.”

Carrasco wasn’t the only Phillies pitcher to dominate on Friday night. Clearwater’s Julio de la Cruz threw
the organization’s second no-hitter in the past week when he
shut down Sarasota in a 5-0 win Friday night. The 25-year-old
righthander walked a batter in the fourth, and another baserunner
reached on an error in the seventh, but the Reds never really
threatened. The no-hitter was only the second in Clearwater history.

There was another no-no Friday night, as Southwest Michigan’s Mike Wlodarczyk and Celso Rondon
combined on a no-hitter in the Devil Rays 12-0 win against Peoria. The Chiefs didn’t arrive from their bus ride until 6 a.m., and
didn’t get checked into their hotel rooms until mid-morning. The
lethargic Chiefs seemed to be helpless against Wlodarczyk, as he walked
three and struck out seven.

“About the fifth or sixth inning I
realized they had no hits,” Rays catcher Christian Lopez told the
Battle Creek Enquirer. “They weren’t taking good swings or
making good contact. (Wlodarczyk) just was awesome today.”

Lopez also
caught a no-hitter for the Devil Rays last year. Wlodarcyzk was
pulled after the eighth because he had reached his pitch limit. Rondon
came in to strike out the Chiefs in order in the ninth.



• Athletics righthander Jason Windsor lost his first start of the season April 6 for Double-A Midland. His first major league decision was a loss July 25 against the Red Sox. He has not lost another game this year in the minors, though he lost one of his two big league starts. Windsor is a perfect 12-0 with Triple-A Sacramento after a complete game, seven-hit win against Fresno Saturday.

• Durham first baseman Kevin Witt tied a pair of recent International League sluggers by hitting his minor league-leading 36th home run Friday. Both Earl Snyder (2004) and Izzy Alcantara (2001) reached that total while playing for Pawtucket. Witt, 30, already has established the Durham Triple-A classification home run standard–breaking Scott McClain’™s mark of 34 (1998)–and has his sights set on surpassing the franchise’™s all-time high of 39, set by Tom Wolfe in 1930.

Witt, drafted in the first round (28th overall) by the Blue Jays in the 1994, is hitting .295/.366/.594 for the season and leads the minors in total bases (276). His slugging percentage ranks fifth, his 99 RBIs fourth and his 66 extra-base hits third. He leads the IL in each of those categories. Witt, MVP of this year’™s Triple-A all-star game, played for the Yokohama BayStars of the Japan Central League in 2005, hitting .172 in 64 at-bats.

Witt’™s last big league service came in 2003, when he hit .263/.301/.407 with 10 home runs in 270 at-bats for the Tigers. He has just 68 other major league at-bats, all with the Blue Jays and Padres.

• Righthander Francisco Cruceta, who was claimed by the Mariners off waivers a year ago and was subsequently not taken in the Rule 5 draft, continued his out-of-nowhere campaign with an eight-strikeout, one-run performance Saturday for Triple-A Tacoma. He went 7 1/3 innings to get the win, allowing four hits and walking two Las Vegas batters. Cruceta, 25, leads all Triple-A hurlers with 166 strikeouts, a total which is second in the minors only to the 172 compiled by Brewers righthander Yovani Gallardo. Cruceta, once considered a top prospect with the Dodgers and also after being traded to the Indians in 2002, is second in Triple-A with 12 wins, but also ranks fifth with 70 walks and leads the level with 18 wild pitches.

• Blue Jays catcher Curtis Thigpen made his Triple-A debut Friday and went 1-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. He joins fellow 2004 draftee Adam Lind at Syracuse. The two were taken one round apart–Thigpen in the second, Lind in the third. As he is wont to do, Lind collected a hit in the game to bump his average to .366 and his hitting streak to nine games. The SkyChiefs were rained out Saturday.

• Cubs second baseman Eric Patterson had an even better Triple-A debut than Thigpen. Corey’™s younger brother went 1-for-4 with a home run Saturday for Iowa. He drove in two runs in the Cubs 12-3 win against Fresno.

• The comeback of Royals righthander Zack Greinke continued Saturday when he pitched seven strong innings for Double-A Wichita, giving up three runs on six hits. The 22-year-old struck out five, walked three and picked up his eighth win of the season, which is just five fewer than the 13 he has compiled in 57 major league starts. Something that bears watching is Greinke’™s continued ground ball bent, as 12 of 16 outs came on the ground Saturday. His 1.19 groundout-flyout ratio this season dwarfs his 0.75 mark from his first stint in the Texas League in 2003, as well as his 0.93 major league mark.

“If he continues to pitch like he’s pitching now,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore told the Kansas City Star, “it’s a reasonable assumption (that Greinke will be called up in September). But let’s see what happens.”

• Greinke may be pitching well, but it never hurts to have Alex Gordon on your side. The Royals third baseman smacked first-inning home runs in consecutive games to bring his season total to 26 for Wichita. Gordon is on fire since July 1, hitting .354 with 16 home runs and 51 RBIs, scoring 51 runs in those 45 games.

• Brewers third baseman Ryan Braun was taken fifth overall in the 2005 draft–three spots after Gordon–but the Miami product out-hit his Nebraska counterpart by going 4-for-9 with a pair of home runs and six RBIs over the weekend. Braun’™s outburst, which included a grand slam Friday, led Double-A Huntsville to a five-game sweep of Carolina. He hit a solo shot Saturday to stake the Stars to an early lead.

“Braun hitting third is giving us some runs early and we’™ve been going out getting a 1-0 lead a lot and that takes something away from (opponents),” manager Don Money told the Huntsville Times.

• Pirates righthander John Van Benschoten picked up the win Saturday in his first start for Triple-A Indianapolis with a six-inning, two-run effort. He struck out five, walked two and allowed just two hits. Prior to this season, Van Benschoten, the eighth overall pick of the 2001 draft, had last appeared in a game Sept. 18, 2004, for the Pirates.

• Van Benschoten wasn’™t the only Pirates top draft choice to excel over the weekend. Outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who went 11th overall in 2005, went 3-for-6 Friday with his first Double-A home run in Altoona’™s 13-1 trouncing of Harrisburg.

• Double-A Binghamton defeated New Hampshire 7-1 behind the efforts of three pitchers making their final appearances of the year. Lefthander Willie Collazo and righthanders Ivan Maldonado and Henry Owens left the team Sunday to begin training for the Olympic qualifying tournament. The trio allowed just five hits, with the lone run coming on a home run surrendered by Collazo. Blue Jays lefthander David Purcey opposed the Mets and didn’™t fare nearly so well, as he gave up six runs on seven hits over 5 2/3 innings, while striking out six and walking three. His record dropped to 3-5 for the Fisher Cats after opening the year 2-7 with Triple-A Syracuse.

• Mets lefthander Oliver Perez has found the strike zone in his last two starts for Triple-A Norfolk. And the inconsistent lefty even flirted with a no-hitter Saturday, taking his bid into the seventh inning, at which point Charlotte shortstop Jorge Velandia led off the inning with a single. Perez threw seven innings, and allowed no runs and just one hit in the Tides’™ 1-0 win. Perhaps more telling, he threw nearly two-thirds of his pitches (59 of his 94) for strikes.

Perez, 25, has struck out 18 and walked three over his last two starts, contrasted with eight strikeouts and nine walks in his two starts before that, which were his first two for Norfolk since coming to the Mets at the trade deadline.

• Lefthander Zach Phillips, a 23rd-round draft-and-follow out of a Sacramento high school in 2004, has put together back-to-back strong starts for the Rangers’ low Class A Clinton affiliate. He threw Zach Ward his third straight loss with the Snappers since being acquired from the Reds. Phillips is still just 5-11, 5.88 ERA even after striking out 18 and giving up two hits in his last 13 1/3 innings over two starts.

• Righthander Tim Norton, the Yankees’ seventh-round pick out of Connecticut, is putting up dominating numbers in the short-season New York-Penn League. Norton, whose fastball sat in the 90-94 mph range in college, struck out eight in six innings Saturday in Staten Island’s 4-2 win against Mahoning Valley, his fourth strong outing of the month. He’s 2-1, 1.64 in August with 27 strikeouts and just three walks in 22 innings. Overall, he’s 2-3, 3.42 with a sterling 64-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 55 innings.

• Red Sox first-round pick Jason Place has been sidelined after being hit in the head with a pitch in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Sox general manager Theo Epstein told the Boston Globe that the organization has a policy that sits lower-level players down for a week after they are hit in the head, then ease them back into the lineup. Place hasn’t played since Aug. 9.

• Another start, another win for Giants righthander Adam Cowart. He moved to 9-0, 0.80 in short-season Salem-Keizer’s 8-4 win at Tri-City. Cowart had his worst pro start, though, giving up four runs in six innings. He’d only given up five runs (two earned) in 61 2/3 innings coming into the start.

Contributing: John Manuel.