Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunny Saturday loss leaves questions unanswered

A great day for ball at RAP on Saturday. Sunshine was plentiful, temperature was near perfect, and fans were out in good numbers. Victoria is a funny town - it's always either too cold, or too hot. This afternoon, it was well towards the latter, but that didn't seem to bother the almost 1,300 fans who flocked to see if the HarbourCats could win the rubber match against the Medford Rogues.

Gabe Clark demonstrates the "unexpected curve-ball" swing
They could not, losing 4-1 to what became a fabulous pitching outing by Cypress College freshman Nathan Kuchta. Kutcha pitched 8.1 innings Saturday, giving up only 5 hits and the single earned run thanks in part to a nasty curve ball that had Victoria hitters guessing wrong all afternoon. He struck out 8, including at least 1 on all but two 'Cats batters - only Aaron Barnett and Alan Baldwin escaped the Kutcha whiff. Ex-HarbourCat Joe Record recorded the last 2 outs for the save - and ironically got Baldwin to strike out to end the game.

Victoria starter Logan Lombana pitched eight strong innings, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits with 4 strikeouts. Fans got a look at Alex Garcia in relief for the first time (not counting the Langley exhibition), and finished the game with the mysterious return of Quintin Torres-Costa.

Torres-Costa is coming back from Tommy John surgery in May of last year, he hadn't pitched in a week after playing in back-to-back games in Kitsap, including a 46 pitch three-inning outing. We were speculating that outing may have been too much for a guy we are supposed to be gently bringing back.  Lets hope he can return to the relief rotation and provide some stability in the second half.

Similarly, reliever Preston Ryan wasn't seen all weekend after throwing 109 pitches in relief in the 14-inning loss to Yakima last Monday. Ryan's previous high-pitch count for the year was 33.

And speaking of returns to action, there were a few friends and family of Kelly Norris-Jones in attendance today after it was announced he would be returning to the lineup after suffering a hand injury the last week of June. KNJ has been cleared to play for a week or so now, but seems to be in coach Miller's dog house as he was removed in favour of Jake Lesinski.

And let me get fully on my soapbox for a minute here. Just what is going on down there in the HarbourCat dugout these days?

It seems pretty clear that Miller and pitching coach Ben Jackson have their go-to guys, and if you aren't one, you're riding the pine. There are players who don't belong in the daily rotation, while others sit and watch. Can someone explain to me why Div 1 All-American Freshman of the year Danny Collier isn't playing regularly in this offence? Does anyone notice #36 each game... he's the first guy off the bench to greet a pitcher after an important 3rd out, or to congratulate a teammate after a great play. He's got more potential to make an impact than just about anyone on the team, yet he sits, and sits. He's had 14 plate appearances since June 25, a span of 14 games.

Collier didn't leave the bench in the series against the Rogues, yet Wyler Smith (who seems to have inherited the lead-off spot now despite having the tenth best on-base-percentage on the team) gets regular duty in left field. Seriously? Nothing against Wyler at all, and he seems to have turned the corner from a slow start - but that's largely thanks to starting all six games against Kitsap where he went 14 for 23. Is he a .300 hitter? Take away the shooting gallery games against Kitsap and he's hitting .202 with one of the lowest OBP's on the team. I'll take my chances with the All-American Collier any day...

Or Griffin Andreychuk. Hard not to have him in the lineup every day, with his second best .423 OBP... While I realize you can't play 12 guys each game, you can certainly rotate the lineup to even up playing time between contenders.

Lets not forget these kids give up their summer to live in a town thousands of miles away from their own, with no friends and family nearby, all for the hope of playing summer baseball. Many of these young players get homesick, become worn out from the grind of the day-to-day schedule, and then are let down by team politics. Standing around watching the game doesn't help - they could stay home and watch someone else play. Where is the value of being here if you aren't going to be given the opportunity to play on a regular basis? Seems like a wasted summer to me if you aren't in the coaches good books and you don't get the chance.

I hope something is done to level the playing field. There has already been one HarbourCat leave the team due to lack of playing time in Cole Kreuter, let's hope that's not a sign of things to come. Not just for this group of players, but for next year's as well. I certainly hope that colleges don't start ignoring HarbourCats phone calls during recruiting season because players don't want to come to Victoria and run the risk of a lost summer.

This could an interesting week for this team - don't be surprised if the HarbourCats looks quite a bit different in the near future.


  1. This is the second consecutive disappointing season for the HarbourCats. The 2013 version of the team went 22-32 in spite of having more talent than the 2013 Medford Rogues -- a team that was also in their inaugural season but managed to make the playoffs anyway. The buck has to stop at the top -- Miller and Jackson are the only constants between this year and last.

    I’m going to acknowledge the elephant in the room and ask the hard question that needs to be asked: Have Miller and Jackson lost the room? If the answer is yes then changes need to be made. Unfortunately, only 24 games remain in the season and it appears that we are already out of the playoff race. My guess is that the organization looks the other way and makes excuses for two bad seasons in a row. But Victoria is a fickle town that will not support perennial losers (see Cougars, Victoria), so the future financial success of this franchise is not assured. Will they have the intestinal fortitude to act? We’ll see...

  2. Having 7 outfielders is a little excessive in my opinion, and when winning is the name of the game, you have to play your best players. But I agree, Wyler Smith does not deserve to be the everyday left fielder.

  3. All good points, but in minor defence of a couple, Andreychuk was observed with an ice pack on his thumb when he sat in Game 1 of the Rogues series and perhaps aggravated something when he played in Game 2 that forced his sitting in Game 3. Smith, after going 0-7 in that game in Yakima, has had 5 hits in the past 4 games, albeit not all that productive....but at least he is getting on. Norris-Jones was visibly upset Sunday once being told he was out, literally as he was beginning to warm up down in the bullpen, so it will be interesting to see what happens there. Preston Ryan did mention to me prior to game Sunday he was now available to pitch an inning. Agree that Collier needs to be used more, or at least given a regular chance to see what he can do day to day. I will also ask another question...what's up with Andrew Nelson? I thought he was supposed to be our number one guy, but his outings seem worse each time out. Not a good sign.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Annie and Christian.

    Nelson is an interesting case... for some reason he has struggled to find the plate with the HarbourCats. While he only walked 2.4 batters per nine innings for the University of Kentucky this spring, that figure has ballooned to a shocking 6.8 walks per nine innings. Hey, I thought guys from the SEC were supposed to walk on water. ;-)

  5. All also add a concern here that with the loss of Sullivan (probably not coming back), McAdams, Feldman and now Garcia, the bullpen might get spread a bit thin as it did last season near the end of the year. Keller still does not look 100%, as you noted Torres-Costa won't likley be asked to shoulder a heavy load, so it should be interesting to see how Jackson and Miller use whose left, especially since they are giving Ryan a start Tuesday...maybe more reliance on Marinch and Peabody out of Delgado?

  6. Yikes, I didn't realize that Ryan is starting on Tuesday. Perhaps Watkins, Stowell and Delgado will be shouldering the bullpen load. We shouldn't be seeing Peabody in key late-inning situation until he sorts out his control issues (25 BB in 24 IP)... but then again, anything is possible with the HarbourCats. The second half of the season could be bleak -- we only have three games remaining against Kitsap and none against Kelowna. Sigh.

  7. I concur with all your thoughts. I, for one, hope to see a shake up on the bench ASAP. There is so much talent in the dugout and these amazing D1 players are not only riding the pine, they are also getting absolutely no coaching and no practice. Why on earth would any coach send a player up yo Victoria for that??? The coaches at home will have a harder job when these excellent players return to school having wasted their summer away. Shameful.

  8. I'm curious about your comment that Wyler Smith "seems to have inherited the lead-off spot..." Over the last 10 games Smith has been lead-off batter only 4 times while Andreychuk has been lead-off 6 times. Of those 4 starts as lead-off, only two have been while Andreychuk is also in the lineup. Seems to me that Andreychuk is the go to guy as lead-off, and rightfully so with his OBP. That said, Smith also leads the team with 12 stolen bases, so why wouldn't you want to utilize a player like that as lead-off?

  9. Thanks for commenting, Anonymous. I'll let Bubba respond to your initial query, but I'd like to respond to your comment that Smith should be lead off because he leads the team in stolen bases. The only job requirement for a leadoff hitter is that he needs to get on base -- using any means necessary. Back in the 1980's, we use to think that the leadoff hitter needed to be speedy, but that belief was debunked by sabremetrics decades ago. Smith is a singles hitter with speed and a low OBP. Where should he bat when he is in the starting lineup (in a DH league)? Ninth -- exactly where he batted last night.

  10. Thanks Gus. To clarify, I'm not advocating that Smith should be lead-off, but rather I can see the rationale for utilizing him as such on occasion. I respect the power of numbers, but I think they have shortcomings. I fully agree that on-base percentage is key to an effective lead-off hitter, but there are ways you can get on base as a speedy and smart base runner without statistically being “on base" (ie. fielder’s choice or errors resulting from the pressure a fast player puts on the infield by running well). A fast lead-off hitter can wreak havoc on their opponent which can also add to their effectiveness. A base-stealing threat, for example, can cause pitchers to rush, or make catchers a little jumpy, or force middle infielders to rely on their peripheral vision—all of which can lead to mistakes. Different philosophies I suppose and maybe we will just have to agree to disagree on this one :)

  11. Thanks very much for your follow-up comments, Anonymous. Those are very well thought out points. I agree that speed can help you in ways that are not always measurable (or at least easily measured) with statistics. We don't mean to pick on Wyler because we think he's a very good player. We're lucky to have so many great offensive players -- otherwise we wouldn't even be having this discussion!