[This post was submitted by loyal Redleg Nation member John Rohrig, aka WVRedlegs. Thanks John! Doug Gray is traveling today, after spending a few days in Pensicola. His usual Tuesday column will appear this week on Saturday. — spm]
On Friday August 1, I traveled to Sevierville, Tennessee to watch the Reds AA affiliate, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos take on the Chicago Cubs AA team, the Tennessee Smokies. Sevierville is 22 miles east of Knoxvilleon I-40, at the same exit for Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Dollywood. A monumental makeover and reconstruction effort of exit #407 was underway and made traffic in the area tough to navigate.
Nevertheless, it was two days of great weather with low humidity and two good baseball games to take in with a chance to see some of the Reds and the Cubs top prospects including the Cubs new super-prospect SS Addison Russell. Fortunately for the Pensacola pitchers, and unfortunate for me as a fan, two of the Cubs top prospects, 3B Kris Bryant and OF Jorge Soler, had already been promoted to AAA.
I attended the Friday and Saturday evening games that were #2 and #3 of the five-game series. Thursday night’s game was won by Pensacola, with pitcher Ben Lively taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning. That set the stage for good pitching from both teams in Friday’s and Saturday’s games. Both games ended in 2-1 scores, with Tennessee winning Friday night in 10 innings with a walk-off single. Pensacola won Saturday’s game with a go-ahead solo HR in the seventh from RF Juan Duran. There wasn’t much offense to witness in either game. Pitching, defense and a solo home-run blast figured prominently in both games. Both teams were not shy about flashing some serious leather out on the field, either. Ironically, it was a defensive miscue that contributed to both teams’ losses. And, both teams got solid performances out of their starting pitchers in both games.
Before I get into a recap, I want to talk a bit about both teams’ starting pitching and the Blue Wahoo’s bullpen. The conventional wisdom is that the Reds system is loaded with pitching. At the AA level that is very true. The Blue Wahoos have 7-8 pitchers that have the potential to make it to the majors. All five starting pitchers and 2-3 in the bullpen have that chance. The starting rotation of Stepehenson, Lorenzen, Lively, Jon Moscot, and Daniel Corcino is a good one. We all know mostly about Stephenson, Lorenzen, and Lively because they garner a fair share of the publicity.
Corcino and Moscot are a bit of a lesser known commodity. I know that I knew little about either one of them before last weekend. Corcino pitched Friday night and Moscot pitched Saturday night. After a little disappointment set in about not getting to see Stephenson, Lorenzen or Lively pitch, I became increasingly glad to see the two starters that I knew the least about. They each had a rough first inning where they gave up their only run, but settled in nicely to pitch scoreless innings for the rest of their respective outings. The bullpen was perfect Saturday night. But, Friday night it had its ups and downs. However, the next Sam LeCure may have emerged and presented himself Friday night. More on that in the game summary.
The reputation is that the Cubs starting pitching in the minors is that non-existent. True, the Cubs have loaded up on talented position player prospects like Bryant, Soler, Baez, and Tennessee SS Addison Russell. A little surprisingly, though, Tennessee sports three good starting pitching prospects in their own right at AA. They have 22-year old Corey Black, 22-year old CJ Edwards, and 23-year old Pierce Johnson, all right handers with sub-3.00 ERA’s. Edwards and Johnson are considered to be in the Cubs top-10 prospects. Black pitched Friday and Edwards opened up on Saturday night. Both pitched very well. So, the Cubs do have some pitching in the minors, at least at the AA level.
Friday night it was Daniel Corcino for Pensacola vs. Corey Black and Tennessee. Tennessee opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning when the Smokies’ SS and new Cub’s super-prospect Addison Russell absolutely crushed a Corcino pitch onto the second party deck out in left field. It was an impressive shot. Most of the crowd stood and said “Ooooo” in unison as it left the bat. It was a no-doubter. (Note: I understand that Russell hit a first inning two-run HR against Robert Stephenson on Sunday. Keep these two shots in mind when you read about Russell’s first at-bat Saturday vs. Moscot ahead.)
Corcino settled down and pitched shut-out ball after that until he came out after 6 innings of work. Corcino’s fastball was usually in the 88-90 mph range with a few up to 92. Carlos Gonzalez came into the game in relief of Corcino to start the seventh in a tied 1-1 game and immediately set the inning on fire. He promptly hit the first batter he saw and walked the second batter. The next batter tried a sacrifice bunt, but popped out to the catcher on a nice defensive play by Rossmel Perez. Gonzalez struck out the next batter and appeared to be on his way out of the inning. But the flames flared up again as he walked the next batter to load the bases with two outs.
Manager Delino DeShields summoned RH reliever Ben Klimesh from the bullpen. Klimesh quickly extinguished the flames with a high-leverage, pressure-packed strikeout. Two outs, bases loaded and the home town crowd cheering on their Smokies didn’t faze Klimesh. Klimesh pitched a shut-out eighth inning and finished with 3 K’s in the 4 outs he pitched. He reminded me of Sam LeCure coming in with the bases loaded to put out a fire. He was impressive this night.
In the bottom of the tenth inning Pensacola’s luck ran out. Reliever Jamie Walczak was the hard luck loser. A hard hit ball to the left of 3B Seth Mejias-Brean hit off the glove of the diving Brean and ricocheted over to the SS for a single. Judging by Brean’s reaction, he thought he should have had it. After an out, a walk gave the Smokies runners at first and second base. Then Smokies 3B Christian Villanueva hit a hard single straight at the right fielder, Bryson Smith. Smith let the ball hit off his glove and bounce about 6 feet away before he gathered it up and threw it home. But it was way too late as the winning run crossed the plate for a walk-off Smokies win.
The offense for Pensacola was not much to speak about. They got a couple of doubles but couldn’t score the runners. Catcher Ross Perez had the only RBI with one of his hits. That was it. Perez is a bit of an enigma. He is 24 years old and spent 6 seasons in Arizona’s organization before signing as a minor league free agent last winter. He is hitting .343/.403/.479 in 236 PA’s. He has never hit above .287 (2011) in any of his 6 previous seasons. How can this be? What is the catch? Why isn’t he at AAA? As the game went on, the answers to those questions became a little clearer when several balls ended up bouncing off the back-stop. From the angle we were at, it was hard to tell if it was the result of passed balls or wild pitches. He certainly doesn’t block pitches in the dirt the way Tucker Barnhart does it.
Saturday’s game had RH pitcher Jon Moscot going for Pensacola and CJ Edwards for Tennessee. Edwards was on a 50-pitch pitch count for some reason and left after 3 1/3 innings. Moscot’s first inning was as bad as it was good. He hit the leadoff batter and then gave up a double for runners at second and third with no outs. Now, SS Addison Russell comes up for his first at-bat of the game. Russell, and most everyone in the stands, was waiting for a fastball for the first pitch. Russell was sitting on the fastball. Moscot throws a curveball that makes Russell buckle his knees. Strike one. Russell again must have been looking for a fastball. Moscot throws another curveball that again buckles the knees of Russell. Strike two. For Moscot’s third pitch, he throws one just up and out of the strike zone to let Russell get a look at the fastball. Moscot’s fourth pitch, and Russell had to be looking fastball all the way, was another curveball that left Russell standing and looking at strike three. Have a seat. It was a thing of beauty.
Then, Moscot falls apart for the next two batters as he walks one to load the bases, and then walks the next batter to force in the only run he gives up. He gets out of the first inning and then pitches 5 scoreless innings. Moscot mirror’s Corcino’s effort of the night before by giving up one run in 6 innings pitched. Moscot’s fastball was mostly in the 90-92 mph range and hit 93 a few times.
Pensacola’s offense came in the fourth inning and the seventh inning. The fourth inning run came on a weird play that probably shouldn’t have happened. Tennessee’s CJ Edwards opened the inning and got the first batter out. He then gave up only his second hit, a double, to catcher Chris Berset. Edwards then struck out the last batter that he would face. Tennessee brought in a LH reliever to face 3B Seth Mejias-Brean. With two outs, Brean hit a hard line drive to right field. The RF was running to his right and was looking like he was going to make the catch for the third out. But all of a sudden, you see the RF lunge back over his left shoulder for the ball. The RF over-ran the ball and the ball rolls to the wall. Brean gets a gift triple and an RBI to tie the game at 1-1. The sun was setting and was directly in the RF’s eyes at that particular moment. A gift from the baseball gods.
In the seventh inning, Pensacola’s RF, Juan Duran, hit a smash up onto the second party deck in LF for his fifteenth HR of the season. It wasn’t as impressive as Addison Russell’s HR Friday night, but it counted the same. It hit only about 10 feet shorter. But, it gave Pensacola the lead and it stood up. LH reliever Fabian Washington came in to pitch two perfect innings and closer Shane Dyer pitched a perfect ninth inning for his fourteenth save.
It was two nice days to watch the Reds AA team go up against a division rival’s AA team and learn about some of the upcoming prospects. It was a good learning experience that was only a half-day’s drive away. The Smokies put on one great Friday Night Fireworks show. Two thumbs up on that. They have a very nice stadium that opened in 2000 and seats about 6,500 fans. The surrounding area of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg provide an abundance of things to see and do in and around the beautiful Smoky Mountains.
My only regret was not making the trip a longer one to enjoy the amenities of two large lakes, Dollywood, water parks, zip-line parks, numerous antique malls and flea markets, numerous themed dinner theaters and the peace and quiet of the mountains. Right after the trade deadline and the Reds inaction, it was good to get away, flush away the toxic anti-Walt Jocketty venom that was building up inside. No Reds on the TV, no Reds on the radio, no Reds highlights on Sports Center with just the scores on the ticker, and some good AA baseball was all that was needed to re-soothe the baseball part of the soul.
Next year, though, I’ll have to make time for a couple of days of boat rentals on one of the lakes. If we can’t have a minor-league Redleg Nation gathering on the white-sand beaches of Pensacola, then the Smoky Mountains and its low humidity in August make a nice alternative for a RLN gathering someday.