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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Anatomy of a Rock Cats Win & Postgame Conversation with James Beresford

Rock Cats starter B.J. Hermsen waits to deliver a pitch
It was a picture perfect night for baseball in Connecticut. No, our winter didn't extend into late April, as it did in Minnesota, but this was one of  the first days where it actually would have made sense to wear t-shirts and shorts around town. 4,615 were in attendance this evening as the Rock Cats took on the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

Native Iowan, and righty, B.J. Hermsen was on the bump for the Rock Cats. This was only his second start of the year coming off the disabled list. Hermsen, who was last years' Twins minor league pitcher of the year, should be working for a promotion to AAA Rochester, so these early season starts are important for him. Hermsen survived the first inning, but didn't look very comfortable. He allowed a clean single to start off the game, threw a wild pitch, but then settled down. Hermsen was able to get a key strikeout and use his off-speed pitches to throw hitters off their timing. Hermsen didn't get tons of help from his defense early in the game. A strange weakly hit infield single to third base, a sinking liner that was almost caught in center, and a wild pitch that perhaps could have been stopped added to his workload.

Second baseman James Beresford got the Cats on the board in the second frame with a well placed, hard hit double down the left field line, scoring Danny Santana, who had singled to center and stolen second base. Beresford later singled to center on a sharp line drive, after taking 4 straight pitches to get in an advantageous 3-1 count. Although the season is young, Beresford has been very consistent. If he keeps that average around .300, with a .400 on-base percentage, there's no reason he should remain in New Britain as spring turns to summer.

The Rock Cats had a productive third inning. After singles from Antoan Richardson and Danny Santana (and a Mark Sobolewski pop-up that failed to drive in a run), Josmil Pinto unloaded on a 2-0 offering from Richmond starter Craig Westcott and that landed just under the New Britain scoreboard beyond left field for a home run. That was Pinto's 5th homer on the early season -- he's tied for second in the entire Eastern League. Pinto has demonstrated better hitting, and better discipline, in 2013, than he did in his brief stint in New Britain at the end of 2012.

B.J. Hermsen was . . . what Twins fans essentially expect, but clearly rusty. He issued only 1 walk, but had trouble locating some of his off-speed stuff. He did manage to limit damage. He wasn't missing many bats, and allowed 9 hits, but seemed to eek his way out of trouble, whether with a clutch strikeout, a groundball double play, or a couple pop-ups in situations where there was a runner on third. In all, Hermsen threw 92 pitches (53 for strikes) in 4 and 2/3 innings. There were several 3-2 counts, and of course Hermsen doesn't have a strikeout pitch. I was a bit surprised the Rock Cats let him come out for that 5th inning -- I figured he might be on a pitch count in only his second start.

After 4 and 2/3 innings, Hermsen was pulled in favor of lefty Jose Gonzalez, who promptly ended a Flying Squirrels threat with a strikeout. Gonzalez was effective in the 6th, as well, stranding a runner. He got in some trouble in the 7th, allowing a leadoff double and a walk, before getting a big called third strike against Richmond's cleanup hitter, a groundout, and a routine fly ball to left field to strand 2. Gonzalez really kept the Cats in the game, allowing only 1 hit in 2 and 1/3 innings, striking out 2 and walking 1. Edgar Ibarra came on to pitch the 8th, and got in a little trouble after allowing a double and a single. There was only one out, and the tying run was at the plate. Luckily, James Beresford made a nice play, fielding a grounder on a short-hop and flipping to SS Danny Santana to start a 4-6-3 double play and end Richmond's threat.

Ibarra got in trouble in the 9th, walking the leadoff batter (cardinal sin), and giving up a single. Suddenly, the tying run was at bat with no outs. Ibarra made matters much worse for himself after making a bad throw to second base (which ended up in center field) on a grounder, instead of simply throwing to first to get the easy out. Ibarra was charged with a throwing error, and Richmond scored its second run. That was it for Ibarra.

Michael Tonkin was summoned with the game on the line: runners on second and third with no outs in the 9th inning, and his team up by only 2 runs. Tonkin walked the first batter he faced on 5 pitches before getting big strikeouts for the first and second outs. A weakly hit grounder resulted in a 6-4 putout for the final out, and the Rock Cats won what ended up being a close and tense game.

Player of the game: Josmil Pinto; runner up James Beresford. Pitcher of the game: Jose Gonzalez; runner up Michael Tonkin.

I spoke to Beresford after the game about his hot start (.317 average; .403 on-base percentage). Most important, he stated, was "swinging at good pitches," getting in advantageous counts (like he did tonight on the 3-1 single to center), and "keeping [his swing] short, not trying to get too big." James is listed at 6'1'', 170 pounds on the Rock Cats website, and this seems to be one of the rare situations where the team doesn't lie in the media guide. Keeping weight and muscle on has been an issue for James. He gained "about 20 pounds" this off-season, and although Beresford will never be a power hitting middle infielder, the extra weight is certainly useful. He still has a goal to gain a little more weight (and not lose the weight as the grind of the minor league season drags on), so that's something to watch for. Finally, I asked Mr. Beresford about Chad Allen, the Rock Cats' new hitting coach. Beresford stated that Allen "keeps it simple," has been great to work with, and "gets everyone in a positive mind frame."

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