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Chihuahuas 7, River Cats 3: A Night at Raley Field

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My first night in a press box was a good one.

The Sacramento River Cats were nice enough to grant me a press pass for a few games of the homestnd against the El Paso Chihuahuas. I got to the park early to settle in and and decided to do a running blog as the evening went along. I don’t want to brag, but my office was a pretty cool place to be tonight.

My view from the press box at Raley Field

As I got to the park, the teams were stretching on the field. It’s been even hotter than usual here in Sacramento, and today was no exception as the temperature was something like 105 degres as they warmed up. I saw our kids getting ready to take batting practice, so I made my way down to the field. Just as he was in the bigs, Chase d'Arnaud was clearly the most chatty of the group. I heard him quip, "Where are all the scouts at?" While I’m sure he enjoyed his time with the Padres this season, he’s eager to get back to The Show, whether it’s with the Padres or not.

The Chihuahuas take batting practice at Raley Field

Rod Barajas was peppering grounders and lofting the occasional fly ball while whistling positioning instruction. Ryan Schimpf took as many balls as he could at third base until his group came up. He wasn’t the most polished third baseman with the Padres this year, so maybe that’s a point of improvement for him. Christian Villanueva has had a very nice season in AAA as their third baseman to start the year, but he’s shifted over to first base to make room for Schimpf. Jose Rondon was stationed at shortstop until d’Arnaud came out, at which time he slid over to second base. In the batter’s box, Chase d’Arnaud hit lasers all over the field and looked like the best hitter of the bunch until Franchy Cordero and Ryan Schimpf’s group came up. It was like they were using aluminum bats while the rest was using wood.

Your El Paso Chihuahuas lineup
Sacramento River Cats lineup

Andrew Suarez as the starting pitcher for the River Cats. He’s a lefty who came into the game with a 3-2 record and a 4.20 ERA. Chase d’Arnaud lined a double into the leftfield corner in the first, but was stranded as Ryan Schimpf popped out to the shrotstop.

The starter for the El Paso Chihuahuas was Bryan Rodriguez. He’s a lanky 6’5” righty who’s been in the Padres organization since 2010 but has never really put it together. He’s not a power pitcher, and he’s not a command/finesse pitcher, so there’s good reason that he’s 2-7 with a 5.63 ERA this year. I suppose that’s what you call “organizational filler.” Just think, in a couple of years every level of the Padres minor league system should have no room for “organizational filler.” Won’t that be nice? Rodriguez struck out the first two River Cats hitters before Mac Williamson ripped a single up the middle.

Rafael Ortega led off the second inning with his sixth triple of the season, a ball the right-handed batter smoked the other way to the right-centerfield gap. Colin Cowgill hit a grounder to shortstop Orlando Calixte, who came home as Ortega attempted to score on the play. Ortega was caught in a pickle-ickle-ickle, which permitted Cowgill to get to second base. Cowgill made it to third on a Dusty Coleman groundout. Catcher Rocky Gale received an intentional walk to bring pitcher Bryan Rodriguez. FYI, pitchers hit in the Pacific Coast League when both teams are National League affiliates. Bryan Rodriguez swings a bat just like you’d expect a 6’5” pitcher to: awkwardly. He flailed away at a few pitches and stranded the two baserunners.

Catcher Tim Federowicz led off the second for the River Cats with a grounder to shortstop Chase d’Arnaud. With a slow runner, d’Arnaud had plenty of time to get the ball to first but he put it in the dirt and Christian Villanueva couldn’t handle the tough pick. Ryan Lollis hit a grounder to Villanueva who stepped on the bag and threw to d’Arnaud, who tagged the runner heading to second for an unusual double play. A simple 6-3 grounder brought the inning to an end.

Franchy Cordero led off the third with a hard-hit grounder that bounced off the glove of first baseman Ryan Lollis. Franchy was on his horse right out of the box and he legged it out for a triple. He fast. Chase d’Arnaud lifted a fly to centerfield and Cordero scored easily on the sacrifice. Christian Villanueva and Ryan Schimpf struck out to close the inning. Whatever magic Schimpf had for roughly a season seems to be history. Here’s hoping he finds it again somehow.

Rodriguez walked leadoff hitter Ali Castillo to open the bottom of the third. Pitcher Andrew Suarez struck out trying to bunt, and I’ll never understand why anyone tries to bunt with two strikes. Orlando Calixte flew out to rightfield with a squibber off the end of his bat, and Castillo was nearly doubled up at first base. Carlos Moncrief ripped a grounder under the glove of first baseman Christian Villanueva, putting runners at the corners for slugger Mac Williamson. Moncrief stole second as catcher Rocky Gale made a strong throw that bounced to d’Arnaud, who couldn’t get the tag down in time. With two runners in scoring position, Williamson hit a sharp grounder to the 5.5 hole that was corralled by d’Arnaud, who made a strong throw that pulled Villanueva off first, but he was able to tag Williamson for the third out.

Rafael Ortega hit a swinging bunt that found no-man’s land between the pitcher and first base. Colin Cowgill flew out to right and Dusty Coleman struck out. Ortega stole second on a close play that looked like he got away with one to this homer. Rocky Gale hit a liner into centerfield that brought Ortega home, with Gale taking second on the throw. Bryan Rodriguez, the lanky dude who can’t swing a bat, drew an unlikely walk, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Franchy Cordero brought Gale home with a double to left-center while Bryan Rodriguez ambled like an awkward giraffe to third base. Chase d’Arnaud struck out looking on a pitch that looked low from my perch up on high, ending the comedy of watching Bryan Rodriguez try to run the bases. After the dust settled, the Chihuahuas were up 3-0.

After a 1-2-3 inning for Rodriguez, Christian Villanueva worked a walk after fouling off a slew of pitches to start off the fifth. Ryan Schimpf moved him to third with a single into left-center. Rafael Ortega grounded into a fielder’s choice with a force out at second, bringing Villaneva home. This would be the final batter for starter Andrew Suarez, as reliever Collin Balester would come in to face righty Colin Cowgill. Cowgill ripped a double into the leftfield corner, scoring Ortega from first and closing the book on Suarez at 5-0. A wild pitch allowed Cowgill to take third base. Rocky Gale ripped a single up the middle, scoring Cowgill. Bryan Rodriguez struck out with no apparent interest in swinging a bat to end the inning with the Chihuahuas up 6-0.

The River Cats managed one baserunner in the fifth and failed to score, but the highlight of the inning was a fly ball to left-center that was run down by centerfielder Franchy Cordero. He got a great jump and covered a lot of ground to get to that ball. The lefty-hiting Cordero could supplant Travis Jankowski as Manuel Margot’s platoon option. The bottom of the sixth went quickly and symmetrically, as all three batters flew out to left field.

As Bryan Rodriguez faced his first bater in the sixth, I looked up and realized that he’s been effective and efficient so far tonight, as he started the inning with 58 pitches thrown. Rodriguez induced a groundout to third baseman Ryan Schimpf, who made a grat play to get the runner by an eyelash. Mac Williamson weakly popped out by the first base dugout, and Chris Shaw grounded out to first base, as Villanueva flipped to Rodriguez who covered first base. The lanky “organizational filler” starter was cruising through this start. Meanwhile, River Cats reliever Collin Balester retired seven straight Chihuahuas and eight of ten after entering the game.

Remember when I was talking about Bryan Rodriguez cruising through this outing? That changed dramatically in the seventh. Tim Federowicz opened by drilling a fly ball to the right side of the hitter’s eye, which was impressively tracked down by Franchy Cordero, who caught it as he slammed into the fence. Then Wynton Bernard singled on a sharp line drive to left. Then Juniel Querecuto hit his first home run of the season the other way to bring two runs home. Then Ali Castillo drilled a double into the leftfield corner. Then Rodriguez walked Juan Ciriaco. Ugh, this was getting ugly. A blistered ball was caught by a diving Chase d’Arnaud to record the second out. Note that every ball hit this inning was hit HARD. Carlos Moncrief ripped a single up the middle to score Castillo, which was the final straw for manager Rod Barajas.

Carter Capps came in to relieve starter Bryan Rodriguez with runners on first and second. He spun around to gun down the runner who was caught off the base, but fired over second baseman Diego Goris (who entered the game in a double switch), allowing Ciriaco to get to third base. A pitch up and in caught hitter Mac Williamson in the wrist/forearm area as he tried to hold up on a swing, so a strike was registered as he knelt down in pain. Williamson stayed in the game after trainers took a long look at him. Carter got him swinging on a slider to end the ugly inning. Gratefully only two runs scored, so the Chihuahuas still led 6-3.

The Chihuahuas were retired in order, and Capps came back out for the eighth. He faced left-handed hitter Chris Shaw to open the frame, who lifted several fly balls down the leftfield line. Ryan Schimpf had a bead on one but backed off as it landed in play, apparently spooked by the tarp or a fan or something. It was odd. Capps got Shaw out swinging at a slider, which he used tonight quite often. His fastballs were registering in the low 90’s, and at no time did he flash anything approaching triple digits like he did what he was so dominant in 2015. He retired the side in order in the eighth, two by K, the third on a comebacker that Capps fielded and flipped to first.

The top of the ninth was another wacky inning. Chase d’Arnaud led off with a grounder to shortstop which would have been a close play had Orlando Calixte not thrown it in the dirt, and as Juan Ciriaco swatted at it, the ball went into the stands, allowing d’Arnad to take second. On ethe following play, Carlos Villanueva hit a single to centerfielder Wynton Bernard (not Wynton Marsalis), who bobbled the ball which allowed d’Arnaud to score from second. Rafael Ortega singled up the middle, but pinch-hitter Nick Buss grounded out to end the inning. The Chihuahuas entered the bottom of the ninth leading 7-3.

Jose Valdez, who was optioned today to make room for Kirby Yates (paternity leave) on the big league roster, came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth in a non-save situation. First Juniel Querecuto flew out to leftfield. Then Ali Castillo flew out to rightfield. Finally Juan Ciriaco went down swinging as the Chihuahuas took this game, 7-4.

This is the scorecard of a man who is a couple of decades out of practice.

I’ll be back here tomorrow night to log another marathon one-man game thread for you all. I might get brave and try to ask some questions before the game, so if you have any requests, let me know in the comments. In the meantime, have a good night!