Sunday, August 4, 2013

Another head-scratching decision dooms the ‘Cats

The HarbourCats let yet another one get away tonight, and this time it’s hard to point the finger at a player.

After trailing the Walla Walla Sweets 2-0 for most of the night, Victoria came through with a clutch two-out rally in the top of the 8th to take the lead. The big hits in the inning were an RBI single by David Schuknecht and a base hit by Dylan LaVelle to bring home the elder Schuknecht and Chris Lewis to give the HarbourCats a 3-2 lead.

In the bottom of the eighth, starter Tyler Rowe walked Dominic Miroglio with one out and was removed after having thrown 106 pitches on the night. So far so good. With a slim one-run lead and the team in desperate need of a win, who would be brought in? Ryan Keller (1.74 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since Monday? Connor Russell (3.63 ERA), who has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, but hasn’t exactly been overused of late? Will Ballowe (5.78 ERA), who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday? Scott Kuzminsky (5.26 ERA), who threw six pitches and took the loss the previous night? Nope, pitching coach Ben Jackson chose to bring in the man with the highest ERA (11.73) on the team, Cameron Cuneo. Here’s how Cuneo’s outing went: hit by pitch, walk and another walk to tie the game.

Now that the lead was blown, Jackson brought in Kuzminsky, who promptly struck out John Skrbec and Scott Silva to end the threat and keep Cuneo’s ERA from climbing any higher than 11.73. But by then the damage had been done. The HarbourCats would go on to lose the game in ten innings for the second consecutive night, with Kuzminsky taking both losses.

Fans at Royal Athletic Park
The situation mirrored what happened in a game against Corvallis at Royal Athletic Park on Monday. With the ‘Cats holding a 3-1 lead in the top of the 7th inning and (as usual) being in desperate need of a win, Victoria brought a struggling Joe Record into the game. Record gave up a couple of hits and then couldn’t get out of the inning. With runners on first and second and the score at 3-2 in Victoria’s favour, Jackson brought in Cameron Cuneo, who had a 12.15 ERA at the time. Cuneo quickly issued a walk and a base hit, and suddenly Corvallis held a 4-3 lead. Cuneo was summarily removed from the game and the guy who should have started the 7th inning, Ryan Keller, was brought in. But again, the horses were out of the barn and the HarbourCats would go on to lose that game by a score of 6-5.

We aren’t bringing this up to embarrass Cameron Cuneo. We’re sure that he’ll be a fine professional pitcher someday, but right now he’s struggling. So much so that he should only be used in mop-up duty until he can regain his confidence. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other relievers who have earned the right to come into tight ballgames with a slim Victoria lead.

Some may simply dismiss this blog post as second guessing. However, we think the situation is worth pointing out, because it highlights a pattern that we have seen from the Victoria coaching staff this summer. On many occasions, opportunities have been given to players who are struggling, while those who have performed well are relegated to the bench. We understand the West Coast League is a developmental league, but the paying customers deserve better. Playing time should be at least partially dependent on a player’s performance – in this or any other league.

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