The Hillcats are struggling recently…
They have lost four in a row and are below .500 in the second half for the first time. This, after not falling below .500 at any point in the entire first half. They managed that feat despite an eight-game losing streak from May29 – June 5. To go along with being under .500, the ‘Cats find themselves in a tie for third place. They haven’t been outside first place all season long, with the exception of sitting at 0-0 after a rain out, while the Potomac Nationals started 1-0 in the second half.
Recently, the pitching has been there. The Hillcat hurlers have allowed just 13 earned runs over 43 innings in their last five games. That’s good enough for an ERA of 2.72. However, the offense is hitting just .236 in that same stretch. What’s worse, is they’ve only scored nine runs (1.8 per game). The defense isn’t helping the cause either with seven errors leading to six unearned runs. The only game in the last five in which the ‘Cats have not committed an error was in their 3-2 win last Monday. Their only win in their last six games.
The Hillcats already wrapped up a playoff spot by winning the first half (by 8.0 games for what it’s worth). For those who think they were just going to go through the motions post All-Star Break, think again. They started the latter half 3-0 (and 4-1). Recent struggles are clearly a combination of slow bats and untimely mistakes.
The only recent call-up to Double-A from Lynchburg was RHP Andrew Wilson at the end of the first half. The rotation and lineup has remained in tact with the exception of OF Matt Lipka hitting the DL this week. Expect the Hillcats to turn things around real soon. Remember, after their eight-game slide in the first half, they went 14-3 over their next 17 games.
NEW FACE, FAMILIAR PLACE: UTL Bobby Stevens was release by the Orioles last Saturday. The Braves signed him Monday and he joined Lynchburg on Tuesday. Stevens has spent time in the Carolina League in each of the past four seasons, playing in over 300 games as a Frederick Key. He has also played three games at Triple-A and 12 games at Double-A in his career. The 25 year-old, Chicago native, brings more experience and certainly more flexibility to the Hillcats lineup. He has played over 30 games in the outfield this season to go with 20 at second base. In his career his has played double-digit games at six different positions (2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF) and he has even pitched three innings (5H, 2ER, 2HBP, 2BB, 4K).
NO-NO NORTHCRAFT: RHP Aaron Northcraft threw the first individual no-hitter in Hillcats history Friday, June 22. It was the second game of a doubleheader. He threw seven innings, walked two, and hit one. The no-no was his first ever (amateur or professional). It came in his 55th start of his career. He now has two complete games in his career, both were seven innings and both were thrown in June 2012.
PACKING A PUNCH: UTL Matt Weaver is hitting .273 through seven second half games with a double, two home runs, four RBI, and four runs scored. On the year, he’s batting .248 (32-for-129), with 15 of his 32 hits going for extra bases. He’s listed at just 6’0″ 175lbs, but he has found a consistent power stroke this year. He is tied for the active team lead in home runs with eight (25% of his hits). That’s with just 129 at-bats, as opposed to 3B Edward Salcedo (8 HR, 272 AB) and Braeden Schlehuber (8 HR, 163 AB).
The Hillcats wrap-up a road series with the Wilmington Blue Rocks tonight at 6:05pm before returning to the ‘Hill City’ for six games at home. Highlighting the homestand will be Wednesday’s July 4th celebration! The most popular night of the season to enjoy America’s pastime and of course post-game fireworks!
Opening Day at Lynchburg City Stadium was this past Friday. It was an electric atmosphere as the fans welcomed back baseball to the “Hill City” for the summer. A capacity crowd of 4,660 fans filed through the gates. The first thousand were rewarded with a commemorative 2012 Opening Day Pennant, but all were treated to a highlight-filled 9-3 Opening Day Hillcats win.
The ‘Cats led the visiting Potomac Nationals from the start with a run in the bottom of the first, bringing the Hillcats faithful some early excitement. Two innings later the crowd erupted for catcher Braeden Schlehuber’s towering homer over the left field wall. It was the first of four Hillcats home runs in their opening weekend series.
RHP Gus Schlosser cruised through eight innings in his first professional start, allowing just two runs on six hits, while striking out four, and earning the win.
Meanwhile, the offense continued to pile up insurance runs. Outfielder Robby Hefflinger went deep in the fifth inning driving in two, extending the Hillcats’ lead to 4-1 at that point. Heff and Schle finished the first game 5-for-7 with two home runs, two doubles, five RBI, and four runs scored as a duo.
Day two of the season was more of the same for the Green and Gold. Starter Ronan Pacheco held the Nationals scoreless through four innings but didn’t factor into the decision since he didn’t pitch the fifth. Hefflinger homered again, an opposite field shot to right-center field. The Hillcats were up 4-0 after two frames and went on to win 7-2.
Sunday’s game was a close one at Calvin Falwell Field. The ‘Cats scored in the first inning for the third straight game and took an early 2-0 lead. Second baseman Tommy La Stella hit a mammoth shot that needed no help from the wind gusting out to right field, but it certainly helped make the blast look that much more impressive. Potomac answered quickly in game three. They erased the Hillcats lead for the first time all weekend by scoring two runs in the second inning. The game remained tied until the fifth inning when La Stella drove in yet another run, his league leading seventh of the young season, with a sacrifice fly to center field scoring Hefflinger. The Hillcats hung on to win 3-2 as the bullpen combined for four scoreless frames, following starter J.R. Graham’s five-inning Hillcats debut.
TOP STORIES FROM THE WEEKEND
Hillcats Sweep!: The ‘Cats longest win streak in 2011 was four games. A four game sweep of back-to-back double headers against the Nationals in Potamac last May. The team only won three in a row six times through out the season and never swept a three-game series the entire year. It was the first time the Hillcats had swept Potomac in a three-game series at home since April 14, 1997, when Potomac went by the Cannons moniker.
Last year the Hillcats went on a 10-game losing streak after winning their season opener. It took the team 12 games to capture a second win. This year they’ve won their first three in impressive fashion, leading the league in hitting at .337 and ranking second in ERA at 2.33.
Nationals Top Pick Sidelined: The sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft, Anthony Rendon, went down with an injury Saturday night in Lynchburg. Rendon signed a $7.2 million contract just before the deadline last August and was number two prospect in the Nationals organization behind Bryce Harper this year. He fell to the ground rounding third, trying to score on a single to center field. He did not attempt to get back to third base as he lay on the field writhing in pain. A pair of trainers eventually helped him to the clubhouse. Early reports have said that x-rays were negative and that it is just a bad sprain. No timetable has been set for his return to action.
Rendon’s injury certainly overshadowed the losses in the standings for the Nationals organization and Potomac. Rendon was playing in just his second professional game when he went down. He went 2-for-4 with a double, triple, and a run scored before getting hurt. After Nationals prospects like third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, RHP Stephen Strassburg, and OF Bryce Harper all skipped the Advanced-A Potomac club over the last few years, there was added excitement for Potomac and the Carolina League as a whole to see the talented Rendon this season. After talking to him briefly this weekend (prior to the injury), it’s clear he’s a great guy with a sense of humility about him that can be rare in a young man with so much talent (and now the money to go with it). Hopefully he’ll be back in the game soon.
Hefflinger’s New Look: OF Robby Hefflinger says he lost 20 pounds over the offseason. He looks like a brand new ball player from a year ago. The hard work is already is paying dividends on the field. He’s 4-for-10 with two home runs and a pair of doubles, three RBI, and four runs scored through three games.
La Stella Stellar Start: 2B Tommy La Stella, eighth round 2011 selection, leads the Carolina League through the first three days with seven RBI. The 2011 Big South Player of the Year out of Coastal Carolina University is picking up right where he left off last season. He turned in a .328 batting average, nine home runs, and 40 RBI with Low-A Rome in 63 games in his rookie season.
The Hilcats have hit the ground running this season. At 3-0, they are in first place in the Carolina League Northern Division. Next on the docket is a 460 series against the Salem Red Sox Tuesday-Thursday at Lynchburg City Stadium. Game times are 6:05pm, gates will open at 5pm. Mike Viso and I will have the call for each game on 105.5 KD Country and online at lynchburg-hillcats.com starting with the Hillcats On-Deck Show powered by Honda/Suzuki of Lynchburg at 5:40pm each night.
“Voice of the Hillcats”
The Lynchburg Hillcats are proud to announce their Opening Day roster has been set. Players and coaches have arrived in the “Hill City” and are gearing up for the season opener in just three days at home against the Potomac Nationals.
This year’s Opening Day roster will boast eight top-30 prospects from the Braves organization and nine players who spent at least a portion of the 2011 season with the Hillcats. Three players also played at the Double-A level in Mississippi a year ago.
Edward Salcedo, sixth rated prospect for the Braves, ranks highest on the prospect list among his teammates. He was a hot commodity on the foreign free agent market in 2007 but could not sign for two years while Major League Baseball investigated his identity and birth date. He eventually signed with the Atlanta Braves in February 2010 for $1.6 million, a franchise record for a foreign amateur. He spent last season with Single-A Rome where he played a team-high 132 games, led his team in runs (83), and was second in RBIs (68) and doubles (27). He will play third base for the Hillcats this season. Baseball America projects he will be Atlanta’s third baseman by 2015.
Joining Salcedo on the infield will be fellow prospects SS Nick Ahmed (15th) and 2B Tommy La Stella (28th). Ahmed, second round pick in 2011, is a strong defender with an arm that has hit 94 mph on the radar gun. He stole 18 bases last year with Rookie-level Danville and shows good range on defense. La Stella, eighth round pick in 2011, hit .328 in 63 games with Rome last season. The Coastal Carolina University standout was named the Big South Player of the Year before signing in 2011. Jakob Dalfonso, Chris Garcia, and Emerson Landoni make up the rest of the infield. Dalfonso and Garcia spent 2011 in Rome, while Landoni played for the Advance-A Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League.
A supplemental first round pick from the 2010 draft, Matt Lipka, will roam center field this season for Lynchburg. Currently rated 14th in the Braves system, he was drafted as a shortstop but will make the transition to the outfield where he’ll be able to make better use of his plus speed. He led Rome with 28 steals in 2011. David Rohm, Kyle Rose, and Robby Hefflinger complete the outfield unit. All three spent last season in Rome. Hefflinger began last season in Lynchburg, but went to Rome after 12 games for the remainder of the season.
Returners Braeden Schlehuber and Ryan Query are will be back behind the plate for the Hillcats, along with 27th rated Braves prospect Evan Gattis. Gattis won the South Atlantic League batting title last year with Rome, recording a .322 clip. The 25-year-old is the oldest of the three backstops. He committed to play ball at Texas A&M out of high school but never made it there. He wound up at Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma but hurt his knee and spent the next three years away from baseball. He returned to the game at the University of Texas, Permian Basin. Drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft, Gattis has emerged as a surprise prospect.
The Hillcats will begin the season with 14 pitchers on their roster, 12 of which are currently active. J.R. Graham, 13th rated prospect, and Cody Martin, 19th rated, headline the young group of talent. Graham, fourth round, and Martin, seventh round, were both drafted in 2011. Graham went to Danville where he was able to get some experience starting at the professional level. He went 5-2 with a 1.72 ERA and will skip over Rome for Lynchburg this season. Martin made a quick stop in Danville before moving up to Rome last season. His low-90s fastball and mid-80s slider get him plenty of misses at the plate, as he posted a 13.2 strikeout per nine innings pitched ratio last year.
Six pitchers on the roster spent at least part of 2011 in the “Hill City.” However, two of those six returners will start the year on the disabled list, Dimasther Delgado, 18th rated prospect, and Chad Rodgers.
The most notable returner will be RHP Andrew Wilson, who is also a former Liberty Flame. Wilson saved five games for the Hillcats last season and posted a 2.70 ERA out of the bullpen before earning a promotion to Double-A Mississippi where he put up similarly impressive numbers, 2.13 ERA in six appearances. The rest of the pitching staff is as follows: Caleb Brewer, Matt Chaffee, Juan Jamie, Aaron Northcraft, Ronan Pacheco, Gus Schlosser, Chasen Shreve, Blaine Sims, and Ryan Weber.
The Hillcats kick-off the 2012 season at home Friday, April 6 at 6:05pm. The Potomac Nationals will be in town. Opening weekend at City Stadium is packed with giveaways and a fireworks show Friday night presented by Liberty University. Call 434-528-1144 or visit lynchburg-hillcats.com for tickets.
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