Hermon Brothers Field this past Sunday featured a matinee match-up between the visiting Peninsula Oilers and the home-team Mat-Su Miners. The two teams have been rivals over the past few years, battling for first place in 2010 and 2011. This season, the Oilers have proven to be worthy of the title “team to beat” while engaged in a back-and-forth battle to hold on to first place; the Miners have struggled in the opening weeks and are trying to get on a roll that will put them back into the race. To bolster their spirits, the Oilers brought up a charter bus filled with boosters who occupied the third-base bleachers; the competing sets of fans built a spirited atmosphere for this afternoon affair.
The starting pitcher for the Miners was Jake Watts, who struggled through four innings. He surrendered a homer in each of the first two — to Alex Staehely in the first and Jimmie Koch in the second — but hung tough and worked through both innings without further damage. But when the Oilers pushed another run across in the third and two more in the fourth, running Watts’ pitch count up to 76, that spelled the end of the night for the freshman rightie. Meanwhile, Oilers starter Brandon Warner was dominant through the first two frames before running into trouble in the third. Ian Miller advance to third and then took home on a passed ball, and Chris Taladay doubled in Bobby Boyd to put a two-spot up. The Miners threatened again in the fourth, and although Warner had only thrown 36 pitches, the ball was given to Mark Garcia.
Garcia killed any hopes of a Miners comeback, throwing 2 2/3 innings of shutout, one-hit baseball while striking out five. Chris Kono logged an inning and a third of work, surrendering an Erik Harbutz home run before being lifted in favor of John Straka. Straka finished the game out and picked up the save. The Oilers offense had put the game out of reach by this point, putting another run on the board against Peter Kaplan to make it 6-3. Andrew McGee closed the game out in stellar fashion for the Miners by picking up the last 4 1/3 innings, surrendering three hits, no walks and serving 6 strikeouts, but the damage had been done and the Miners were unable to rally back.
For the Oilers, Jake Alvarez and Jordon Hein each had three hits while Alex Staehely and Jimmie Koch each had two; Staehely also drove in a pair of runs. Ian Miller and Tino Lipson both had a pair of hits for the Miners.
The marginally-related-to-baseball moment of the evening was when they played Rock Lobster during Mark Garcia’s warm-up pitches. I love that song, although I’m a little mad that now that since writing the previous sentence about ten minutes go, I’ve had the song stuck in my head and now I have to find it on my phone and listen to it. I should probably make it my ringtone now.
The Oilers’ starting pitcher, Brandon Warner, looked solid through the first two innings. After that he kind of lost his edge, not hitting his spots so sharply and seemingly more hittable for the Miners. He’s a fairly big kid, throwing downhill with what appeared to be a hard two-seamer with late sink. Mark Garcia had an effective outing. In 2.2 innings of work he gave up no hits and struck out 5. I didn’t see how fast his heater is but he is definitely a fastball pitcher. He has a curve that doesn’t look bad but he relies on the fastball to get strikes and goes to the breaking ball only after the batter has seen his heater a few times. Few, if any, opposing batters in this game got a handle on it even though they knew it was coming. John Straka came on to finish the game up for the Oilers. He used his curveball effectively for a strikeout pitch. He kept his streak alive, racking up 12 total innings so far (league and non-league) without surrendering a run.
Nate Ring didn’t do anything offensively in this game but it was good to see his swing. I think he has a really nice, short cut. He’s leading the league in RBI right now, but with an average of .203. I don’t read too much into his average at this point because when you’ve only had 64 at-bats, the difference between being a .300 hitter and a .203 hitter is just six hits that dropped in the field rather than a fielder’s glove. At this level, and at this point in the season, the tools are a better indicator than the stats.
Alex Staehely displayed a power swing in this game. I got video on him and watched one at-bat; he drops his back shoulder noticeably, puts hands down into the slot and swings on the plane of the ball. It’s no surprise that he hit a no-doubt pull homer in the first inning with a stroke like that.
Jake Alvarez has a short, line-drive swing. Fairly good speed — a “5″ or better, from what I gather in this game. He looks good on the bases, good runner’s instincts.
Jimmie Koch showed his power swing for his third homer of the season. He also robbed Freeman of a hit in right field when he made an excellent running stab to keep the line drive from banging off the wall.
Jordon Hein definitely looks like he has wheels. I need to get watch on him still but it certainly looked like his speed helped him in this game. He seemingly dug it out every time he made contact and that helped him get aboard, or stretch a single into a double, when a slower guy wouldn’t have. So far he has shown that he can hit for a high average and pick up the extra-base hit.
Jake Watts opened the game on the bump for the Miners. He looked like he was dealing a pretty solid fastball/change-up/curveball repertoire but he was having trouble missing high and low. He only issued one walk but I think he got behind in the count enough that he had to serve up a good pitch for a strike, and the Oilers just sat back and waited for it. If he could pound the zone and get more first-pitch strikes I think he’d be successful. Andrew McGee had the best outing overall on the afternoon. He threw 4.1 shutout innings, surrendering three hits and no walks while striking out 3. I mentioned before that he looked “Madduxesque” for the way he approached his pitches; I revise that statement somewhat. He definitely went after hitters with the fastball this time and did so successfully. But all the same, his fastball was effective because he mixed in his off-speed well and threw strikes about 65% of the time. He used his other pitches to set the batter up, then blew the heater by them for the strikeout. His first couple games in Alaska were rough but he’s come on strong as of late.
Chris Taladay appeared to have above-average running speed, maybe a 5.5 on the 2-8 scale, by pro standards. He showed good arm strength throwing across the diamond from third to first.
Bill Cullen had the night off but pinch-hit for the Miners. He hit a Straka curveball right at Yamaguchi; it might have been an out but it ate the first baseman up on a hop and Cullen hustled to first to get in safely.
I really like Branden Berry‘s work around the bag at first. One thing he does well is make the big stretch. The first baseman is often overlooked as part of the double play combo but that might have made the difference when the Miners doubled off Hein and Josh Miller. He’s not a small guy, but he’s not tremendous either. I like the way he plays up with his physical style.
Clint Freeman turned on a Straka pitch to pull it down the right field line, but was robbed by Koch. I noticed when I rolled back some video on him from the first Miners game I went to this season that he’s got a really short swing, which I really like and seems to be working well for him. He doesn’t walk and he doesn’t strike out excessively (less often than every 6 AB so far); he just puts the ball in play. He looked aggressive on the bases; he had Garcia playing catch with Yamaguchi at first trying to keep him close but he eventually stole second anyway. On a side note he has one of the gnarliest mohawks I have seen; I need to start taking pictures of the summer ball hawks and create a wall of fame/shame or something.
Erik Harbutz showed some pull power for his first homer of the season. He worked the count nicely to get a pitch he could handle and crushed it. I think of him more as a high-average contact hitter but he showed that he’s got the strength to drive it long and when he gets ahold of the right pitch he can muscle it out.
Ian Miller looked really aggressive in this game, offensively. He jumped all over a first pitch which he fought off into right field for a double down the line. Once aboard he took third standing up and then proceeded to score when he drew a bad throw that passed third and on into the outfield.
So, with notes out of the way, let’s move on to photos. My Picasa gallery from this game has 107 photos of Oilers and Miners (plus some cute kid pics thrown in for fun). Below are a few of my favorites: