Diamond Diaries: Diego walks it off

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Call it a contest of dramatic contrasts. Book-ended between a defensive miscue to open the scoring and Diego Goris‘s 11th inning walk-off home run, the main story behind the Storm’s series finale against the Lancaster JetHawks this past Sunday was one of great starting pitching and highlight reel defense. 

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to catch Carlos Correa – the Houston Astros’s unanimous top prospect – on getaway day, but even though he had an off-day it’s not as if the visiting team fielded a throwaway lineup. Top prospects Teoscar Hernandez (CF) and Rio Ruiz (3B) started and, even though they mustered to get on base a combined four times, they failed to produce runs. A large part of this was due to something the Padres so desperately need.

That Pitching…

Joe Ross took the hill first for the Storm and, much like his brother Tyson has in San Diego, he appears to finally be piecing it all together. After an efficient first inning in which he managed to work around a single for a 13-pitch/11-strike frame, Ross really didn’t hit his stride until the third inning.

Call it confidence or – as I’d like to imagine – an innate sense of brotherly competition, but after finding the snap to his slider and a bite to the change, Ross recorded his first swing-and-miss…on his 39th pitch of the game.

Third baseman Rio Ruiz led off with a lazy fly ball into left field, but swirling winds and a brutal afternoon sky allowed the ball to clang off the glove of Luis Domoromo – who had an exceptionally rough day, tacking on an 0-for-4 with 2 K’s at the plate –  for what the official scorer would generously list as a hit. In what would be an early trend, Ross was unable to put away shortstop Carlos Perdomo after going ahead 1-2. After surrendering three consecutive foul balls, Perdomo poked one into right field and…

Despite getting a couple strikeouts looking his first time through the order, Ross was mostly without the help of what had been a pretty flat slider. That changed shortly thereafter.

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What followed was slightly more encouraging – four strikeouts over the next six batters, with three swinging. His last strikeout came on what was perhaps also his best changeup of the day (you can see footage of the entire at-bat here):

Ross_Change

All told, Ross finished his day with a pretty impressive line…

…adding to what’s thus far been a pretty impressive season.

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It’s here that we segue to the outfield. Namely, Hunter Renfroe.

While it’s no secret than Hunter has a howitzer grafted to his body where a meat tube of arm should be, I don’t think the casual observer quite grasps the sort of defensive weapon he is in right field until seeing it in person. When Perdomo poked the ball into right field? Well, Renfroe was off with the crack of the bat and, racing a good 40-50 feet at full-tilt towards the line, and speared the sinking liner on the fly. Without hesitating, he make a quick pivot to plant and unleashed a strike to third – freezing the runner at second before they even had a chance to move, in effect, killing the inning.

It’s not just the arm, either. While Renfroe isn’t the fastest player in the outfield, he has good instincts and takes a fairly good route to the ball. Ignoring the plus-throw, the overall defensive package played to a point where I actually had to start a separate tally on my score sheet, just to keep track of plays he positively impacted with his arm and athleticism. Aside from the aforementioned play:

  • 6th inning: a lead-off single ricochets high off the right field wall and, still running back towards the ball, leaps to snatch the ball barehanded. A quick release to the infield held the runner to a single.
  • 6th inning: with one out and the bases loaded, right fielder Danry Vasquez hooks a ball just inside the line at the base of the wall. In a cloud of dust, Renfroe manages to corral the ball and rifles it back to the infield, just as the trailing runner has rounded third. Storm first baseman, Duanel Jones, turns to see the surprised runner off the bag and guns it over where the tag is applied for a big second out.
  •  7th inning: one out and nobody on, lead-off hitter Anthony Kemp shoots a ball deep into the right-centerfield gap and off the wall. Hunter again grabs it barehanded and whips it into second on the fly. Kemp scoots in just ahead of the throw, but…
  • 7th inning: …when the very next batter lifts a towering drive into medium-deep depth, Kemp doesn’t even bother bluffing the tag. It proves fortuitous for the JetHawks, because Renfroe unleashes a perfect strike to the bag while the crowd, not fully recognizing this herculean feat of strength, can only muster a polite applause.

Hunter did express interest in dealing Web Gems for a tip of the cap and his pitcher’s approval, and the Storm hurlers were certainly appreciative of the outfielder’s hustle.

Likewise, Storm centerfielder Alberth Martinez made a couple good plays in the outfield. The first occurred during the fourth inning where he beat Renfroe on a ball to the gap, made a quick transfer off a fortuitous hop, and pretty much caught the runner in the act of sliding.

The second came during the top of the 11th at a time where the Storm could least afford a miscue, as he raced into medium-depth right center and laid out to keep the potential game-winning run off the bases. The Storm, and Martinez, were soon rewarded when Goris walked it off two batters later. A combination of speed and athleticism between Corey Adamson, Domoromo, and Renfroe should continue to reap benefits as it will allow the young staff to confidently work in a full arsenal of pitches to all parts of the zone.

But what of the offense?

I’d be remiss to point out the strengths during the Storm’s Sunday contest without talking a little about the offense.

Hunter Renfroe (0-for-2, 3 BB): As discussed in my Spring Training piece, Renfroe spent a good deal of time trying to be “selectively aggressive.” While the results didn’t show on the stat sheet (0-for-2, with two pop outs to the second baseman), Renfroe saw 24 pitches in five plate appearances – walking three times and looking for the outside pitch to drive the other way. Having watched his batting practice during FanFest a couple weeks back, it was clear that Hunter’s power played well to the gap in right-center and he shrugged off a couple close pitches until he count find the ones he wanted.

While Renfroe struggled to get good wood on the ball, he didn’t fly open on several good breaking pitches or deviate from his strategy. As a highlight, three walks and two infield pop outs might come off as boring (but, hey, feel free to watch it anyway), but it does show a maturing hitter learning to strategically attack the ball.

Corey Adamson (2-for-4, R): Adamson has set a milestone of 50 steals for the season, and while he didn’t get closer to that on this day, he did use speed to his advantage on a couple occasions. Leading off the third in his first at-bat, Adamson shoved a push bunt just to the backside and into no man’s land between left-handed starter, Josh Hader, and the shortstop Perdomo. As Hader has a wicked corkscrew action to his delivery, he finishes with a lot of torque and isn’t in the best fielding position. Adamson took advantage and used speed to his advantage.

And after popping a ball into shallow center, Adamson hustled around the bases and found himself at second after the ball eluded five indecisive fielders. While the approach still appears to be in need of a bit of polish, his hustle did lead to scoring the tying run, showing that speed does – in fact – kill.

Alberth Martinez (2-for-5, R): While Martinez had what was arguably the defensive play of the night, he also was the table-setter at the top of the lineup. Martinez showed the most success swinging early in the count, almost as if he were intent on preventing the pitcher from getting deep into their arsenal, although he did manage to put good wood on two singles that he sprayed to either side of the diamond.

Overall, Martinez reminded me a little of Renfroe – not in that he could develop into some middle-of-the-lineup behemoth, but that he doesn’t seem to have any glaring flaws and appears to be above-average in every facet of the game. As he finished last year strong and is already off to a hot start (.362/.385/.617 with 3 HR through Sunday), it will be interesting to see if he can keep this momentum going and become yet another big name in what’s shaping up to be a pretty solid outfield.

~

While the game was more or less crisp and provided a fair share of drama, one cannot stress the excitement of seeing some of these young, talented players working to hone their skills. Ross, who looked fantastic against a good Lancaster lineup, still has some kinks to work out, and you can see Renfroe try to rein in his aggressiveness to become an even greater offensive weapon. Each pitch, each play is a work in progress and it’s great to see the progression even on an inning-to-inning basis.

Manager Jamie Quirk noted that wins, while important, don’t matter as much at this level – it’s about the development. While some might disagree given the outcome, it’s a friendly reminder that fans should head north up I-15 to see some of these bright young players click before they’ve outgrown the level. For some, that might not be too long.

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