Indy visits Durham
This is one of my favorite ball parks and the Durham Bulls always have a good team which makes for exciting games.
Hit the bull and you win a steak, hit the grass and you win a salad. It only applies to the home team and when they hit a home run the bull’s eyes turn red and smoke comes out of his snout. Before I talk about the new faces on the team, Pat Lackey (WHYGAVS) was at last night’s game and has his own recap along with some great pictures and video.
The new faces on the team include 1B Jeff Clement, RHP Jose Ascanio, and OF Jose Tabata. Clement was the 3rd overall selection in the 2005 by the Seattle Mariners. He has proved in his career that he can hit minor league pitching and the Pirates are hoping that he adjusts to a new position and proves he can hit Major League pitching. Clement was a catcher coming up through the Seattle system until some knee issues moved him to first base. The knees are getting better and he expressed the desire to be a full-time catcher in the big leagues. For now Clement will be the Indians 1B and it doesn’t appear catching is in his immediate future. He is not allowed to even catch a bullpen session and from what I understand he shouldn’t unpack his catching gear any time soon. The good news is he can unpack his bats and what a debut he made on Friday night.
Clement homered in each of his first two at-bats. I wish we could find out how many, if anyone in the 100+ year of Indians baseball has ever hit a home run in his first two at-bats. It was an awesome debut and opened the eyes of his new teammates.
RHP Jose Ascanio joins the Indians after Thursday’s trade between the Pirates and Chicago Cubs. Ascanio (pronounced eh-SCANN-eee-oh) made his debut last night pitching 6.2 innings giving up two runs and striking out 9 Durham Bulls. Here is what a few people had to say about Ascanio’s debut…
Bulls OF Jon Weber: “I don’t know what the Cubs are thinking giving up on an arm like that. He is one of the top 3 pitchers we have faced this season.”
Indians hitting coach Jeff Branson: “I don’t know if we’ve seen a guy in this league with that kind of fastball and change-up. I’d agree he is one of the top 3 guys in this league.”
C Erik Kratz: “You saw it and he was good as he looked. The separation in his fastball and change-up were a huge key tonight. His fastball is different from Snell’s and (Charlie) Morton’s because it sinks so much. The other two throw harder with some extra run on the fastball, but Jose’s heater is 94 with sink.”
My initial reaction was Ascanio has the best fastball I’ve seen from an Indians pitcher this season. I felt that way because his pitch moves so much and Kratz told me there were times when he expected it to sink and it would stay straight blowing guys away. After talking with Kratz and pitching coach Ray Searage I have to change my opinion. RHP Charlie Morton has the best fastball and Ian Snell has the ability to throw harder more consistently than we saw from Ascanio tonight. Ascanio worked at 93-94 miles per hour and touched 96 one time. His change-up was off the charts and was a good 10 miles per hour different from the fastball and he throws it from the same arm angle. It was a debut I’ll remember and the feeling around the clubhouse is Ascanio will be with the Pirates sooner than later.
OF Jose Tabata collected three hits last night in his Triple-A debut. Not bad for someone who will turn 21 on August 12! Tabata hit over 300 in Double-A and showed a good eye last night mixing in a couple of walks. What I noticed about him was the ability to lay off borderline pitches and when he did get a strike he put a solid compact swing on the ball. It’s only one game, but he looks like he is the real deal and it’s hard to believe he is only 20 years old. He is very soft spoken and is excited to be at Triple-A. He was all smiles last night after going 3-3 in his debut. Tabata will play centerfield and rightfield for the Indians. Tribe trainer Jose Ministral is like a father figure to Tabata. The two of them became very close during spring training. Tabata is young, he needs direction, and someone he can trust…Ministral is that guy.
Give it up for SS/2B/CF Brian Bixler for his month of July. The 26 year old hit .343 and set career bests for a single month with 6 home runs and 20 runs batted in. Bix has been working really hard with Branson and the Indians hitting coach is thrilled with the numbers. It’s very unusual when you have a career month in July. The dog days have arrived and Bixler did all the hitting while playing in CF for the first time in his career. In July he played 5 games at 2B, 14 games at SS, 10 in CF, and only committed three errors. Brian would never say anything, but his teammates expressed disappointment when both of Pittsburgh’s middle infielders were traded and Bix never got a phone call. Brian Bixler left no doubt he was the Indians hitter of the month for July.
How about Andrew McCutchen’s historic Saturday night? Two things from his THREE HOME RUN night. The first is, I love his reaction after the second home run when he give a slow-mo low five to Luis Cruz. I have seen that face so many times…it’s ‘Cutch’s way of staying humble, but he knows he just punished the baseball. The second is just before the curtain call its 1B Steve Pearce who pushes ‘Cutch out of the dugout. So many of us in Indy are rooting for McCutchen and he is fast becoming the most popular player on the Pirates. Remember all the negative reactions when the Pirates traded Nate McLouth? Well, McCutchen has helped them move on and he is now the face of the franchise…at the age of 22.