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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Alex Wimmers' First AA Start: He Belongs in New Britain

2008 First Round draft pick
Aaron Hicks,  #31, warming up
before the game
Last week, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with and talk to Twins 2010 first round draft pick Alex Wimmers. He sounded pretty geared up for his first start, which took place last night before an announced crowd of 3,126 in New Britain. New Britain won 6-3 over the Harrisburg Senators, the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Wimmers -- though he pitched only 40 innings in Class A last season -- was not overmatched at all by AA hitters.

In the first inning, Wimmers struck out Eury Perez, the first hitter he faced, looking. He also gave up a double and a single, but was the fortunate recipient of a 9-2 Evan Bigley to Chris Herrmann play at the plate to save a run. In 53 degree weather, Wimmers' fastball was initially registering 86 and 87 on the radar gun, but got up to 89 as he warmed up. His offspeed stuff was just under 70, and definitely fooled some hitters.

2010 First Round draft pick Alex Wimmers
warming up before facing his first AA competition
Wimmers walked a batter to lead off the second, but got out of the inning unscathed. In the third inning, he gave up a first-pitch solo home run to the Harrisburg #9 hitter, Josh Johnson, but then retired the next three hitters. The next inning, third baseman Deibinson Romero committed an error on a hard grounder through his legs, and Wimmers walked the next batter. Thereafter, though, he showed composure, getting the next hitter to pop out weakly to catcher, and striking out the Harrisburg third baseman for the final out.

The fifth inning would be Wimmers' last. After Josh Johnson, who previously homered, led off the inning with a bunt single, the next two batters singled -- one on a grounder to third that was ruled an infield hit. All of the sudden, the bases were loaded with no outs. The #3 hitter for Harrisburg then grounded back to Wimmers, who alertly threw home for the force out. That would be the last hitter Wimmers would face. Delois Guerra came on in relief, and gave up a run-scoring single before retiring the side. That run, of course, was charged to Wimmers. In the end, Wimmers' line for the day was good: 4 and 1/3 innings pitched; 2 earned runs; 6 hits; 3 strikeouts (2 looking); 2 walks. He threw 83 total pitches (I had 50 as strikes) in fairly chilly conditions, and I imagine he was on a pitch count this early in the season, and this early in his professional career. Wimmers was solid in his debut. There was definitely room for improvement, but he looked ready for AA competition, and I look forward to seeing him in action again.

Because this is a fan blog, and I'm a fan of Alex Wimmers, I'll say this, too: he wasn't out of gas in the fifth inning. 2 of the 3 hits he allowed that inning were a bunt single and a slow chopper to third that a better third baseman might have converted for an out (as it was, the runner beat it out by just a half step). Wimmers thereafter gave up a routine line drive single, and then made a nice play on a weakly hit, high-bouncing chopper back to the mound. So in his final inning, only 1 ball was solidly struck. If this was June or July and 85 degrees out, I would have liked to have seen Wimmers stay in there and get out of the jam.

Though he got into a jam in the fifth inning,
Alex Wimmers definitely looked capable of facing
AA competition

If you're looking for the hero of the game, though, look no further than Aaron Hicks. Up until tonight, he was not playing well. I felt justified in questioning whether he was, in fact, ready for AA ball. His first at-bat was frustrating. With a runner in scoring position and two outs, Hicks flailed weakly at two offspeed, well off-the-plate pitches, before grounding out to end the inning. In fact, at one point early this evening, Hicks was batting .077. Everything changed, though, after a tough 9-pitch at-bat in the bottom of the third inning, when Hicks, batting right handed, hit a no-doubt, 3 run homer to right center field. New Britain Stadium has what I would estimate to be a 15 foot tall fence all around the stadium, and Hicks' tater easily cleared the wall. In his next at-bat, Hicks lined a sharp single up the middle to score Evan Bigley. All of the sudden, he had 4 RBIs through only 5 innings. On the night, Hicks ended up 2-for-4, with a homer, 4 RBIs, a strikeout and a groundout, and 2 runs scored. It was a solid night, and had to be both relieving and exhilarating for Hicks.

After a 2-hit, 4 RBI
performance, Hicks was the
clear choice for player
of the game
Other notable performers included Bigley, who recorded two hits, including a well struck double to deep right-center field, and a sacrifice fly, as well as the previously mentioned great throw to home plate to cut down a Harrisburg runner in the first inning. Outfielder Darin Mastroianni had two hits, and, looking alert on the base paths, two stolen bases. Guerra was good out of the bullpen. Although he gave up a hit to score a run (charged to Wimmers), he went 2 and 2/3 innings, gave up only 2 hits, walked none, and struck out 1 batter. He earned the win. Finally, it's worth noting that Deibinson Romero atoned for his error at third base, compiling 3 hits, including a double. Daniel Turpen gave up 1 run in 2 innings to close out the game, and hit 94 on the radar gun, striking out 2 along the way.

It was a beautiful, if chilly, night for outdoor baseball
These Rock Cats are looking good early in the season. They racked up 13 hits tonight, including 3 for extra bases. Bigley already has 7 RBIs this season. How many runs have the Twins -- the entire team -- scored this year? New Britain pitchers gave up only 2 walks, which is good, and were able to get out of jams and hold leads. This will be a fun team to watch!

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