Yesterday, I suggested that after an unfortunate getaway day loss against the San Francisco Giants where the Reds entered the 9th inning with the lead and an opportunity to sweep and instead gave up three runs and the game, it was a wonderful opportunity to tune in to the Bakersfield Blaze.
Over the course of the last 11 days, Bakersfield has turned a miserable 3-7 record into a league leading 13-7 mark. In winning their tenth game last night they did it with a bit more authority than the previous nine. Instead of winning a tight contest by 3 runs or less as each of the previous games during the streak had been, this night they dominated the Stockton Ports on the strength of another stellar performance by Tony Cingrani and the speedy wheels of Billy Hamilton.
Before we dissect Billy’s performance lets talk about the two starting pitchers, Cingrani and Stockton right hander A.J. Cole. Cingrani collected his second win by throwing 6 innings of one hit baseball. He has now completed 23 innings of work and allowed just a single earned run in a league known for its difficult pitching conditions. You might remember that in 2011 Cingrani earned the designation by Minor League Baseball as the Rookie League pitcher of the year He earned his elevation from Billings past Dayton and into Advanced A ball and if anything is pitching better now than he did last season. His ERA has dropped to a microscopic 0.39. His WHIP is just 0.61 based on the 9 hits and 5 walks he has allowed while striking out 28 in 23 innings of work. He might not want to unpack his bags because it seems to me that Pensacola is calling.
A.J. Cole has not fared as well. Despite being the top pitching prospect in the A’s organization he is now 0-3 and last night gave up 9 hits and two walks while striking out 5 in 4.2 innings. The question I have is this: was A.J. bad or did he allow Billy Hamilton to get the best of him? Let’s recap Billy’s night.
The first inning began with Billy leading off the game. He singled to center and immediately began to weave his magic against Cole. One of the problems opposing pitchers naturally have with Hamilton is the spell he weaves on both the pitcher and his battery mate. They know he plans to take liberties against them and they want to make their name as the battery who can tame the wind. The battery of Cole and Petey Paramore was not up to the task. Andrew Means, the left fielder for the Blaze stepped to the plate and his at bat is a picture of disruption. Hamilton steals 2nd quickly and takes his lead off of second causing Cole to attempt a pickoff throw that ends up in center field allowing Hamilton to move to third before Cole strikes Means out. Devin Lohman steps in and Cole again proves why he is a prized prospect. He strikes out Lohman but Paramore drops the strikeout pitch forces him to complete the out by throwing down to first. Hamilton to advantage of the distraction and decided to break for home, sliding in head first to score the run.
Flash forward to the top of the third inning and Billy comes to the plate after a Tucker Barnhart walk and singles into left field moving Tucker around to third. It is almost unfair to handicap the pitcher with a runner at 3rd and Billy on 1st and as expected he stole second quickly. As in the first, Andrew Means struck out again. I would imagine having Billy running wild on the bases requires a special skill on Means part to be productive. Ken Griffey can fill Billy in on this situation as back in the Big Red Machine days Sparky Anderson would not allow Ken to steal when Joe Morgan was at bat because Joe hated the distraction. Billy on the bases again proved detrimental to Cole’s mental health and he committed a balk allowing Barnhart to score and moving Billy to 3rd. Billy’s lone baserunning mishap happened next on a fly ball off of the bat of Devin Lohman that Hamilton attempted to score on and Josh Whitaker demonstrated his powerful arm by throwing Hamilton out at the plate.
Now we move to the 5th inning and the toll on an opposing pitcher caused by Billy’s speed breaks open the game and ends A.J. Cole’s night. Donald Lutz had contributed a home run to lead off the 4th inning so the score was now 3-0 Blaze and when Billy came to the plate there were already 2 outs in the inning. The situation does not seem to matter with Billy at bat. He promptly legs out an infield single and the contest is on. He steals 2nd with Andrew Means at bat and Cole then walks him on four pitches. Now with Billy at 2nd and Andrew at 1st they execute a double steal. Speed is not a part of Means game as this is his first steal of the season. As I imagine he will discover, when Billy is on base, Means might as well be invisible. In his third opportunity with Hamilton on 3rd base, Devin Lohman finally delivers a line drive double to center field scoring both Hamilton and Means. Donald Lutz followed with an RBI triple and David Vidal an RBI single and suddenly the 3-0 game is 7-0. 4 runs all manufactured with two outs starting with an innocuous infield single by Billy Hamilton.
Hamilton grounded out in the 7th and ended his night in the 9th by driving in Bryson Smith from third (he reached on a triple) with a sacrifice fly. Billy did commit a fielding error in the 6th inning and started a double play to end the 8th inning.
His line score for the game was 3-4 with a sac fly, 2 runs scored and an RBI to go with 4 stolen bases. It is a shame statistics aren’t kept for the number of errors or balks forced as Billy scored one of each on this night. He is 23 games into the season and has 23 steals on 27 at bats. He is being more disciplined at the plate as well drawing 11 walks so far in the short season, a slightly higher percentage of walks per plate appearances than in his past two seasons of work. He has an OPS north of 1.000 (1.053, 3rd in the league) so far this year and his .377 batting average and and .456 OBP are both second in the California League. In addition, he leads the league in Runs scored (21) and stolen bases (23). In fact his SB total is 9 more than any other player in the league.
For those Reds fans who weren’t sure or were unaware of Billy’s speed, they got a taste in the Reds-Futures game. He attempted to steal against a Devin Mesoraco pitchout and had the steal made until he slid over the bag at second and later in the game completed a steal successfully versus Ryan Hanigan. He is more than just fast he is a phenomenon.
As a late addition to this update, Billy singled in his first at bat tonight (4/27/2012) stole second and was thrown out stealing 3rd. His 24th steal and 5th caught stealing of the season. He also committed his 7th error of the season. In the top of the 3rd Billy has walked to lead off the inning, drawn 5 pickoff throws and then goes ahead and steals 2nd anyway for his 25th steal. Billy then took third on a wild pitch. Billy then scored on a Travis Matair sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead. Managers must die a little inside every time their pitchers walk Billy.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz
Topics: A.J. Cole, Andrew Means, Bakersfield Blaze, Billy Hamilton, Bryson Smith, Cincinnati Reds, David Vidal, Devin Lohman, Devin Mesoraco, Donald Lutz, Josh Whitaker, Oakland Athletics, Petey Paramore, Reds Prospects, Ryan Hanigan, Stockton Ports, Tony Cingrani, Tucker Barnhart