June 10, 2011; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Braves hitting coach Larry Parrish watches batting practice before a game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

West Michigan Whitecaps Win Opener, 7-6

Jake Stewart capped a 3-for-3 night with a frozen rope into the right field gap, driving home the winning run in the bottom of the 10th, and the Whitecaps claimed an Opening night victory over the tenacious Dayton Dragons. Stewart’s shot touched off the fireworks show for the few thousand faithful who stayed – in typical April fashion, game-time temperature was 51, but a brisk wind and setting sun drove the temperature down, and stocking hats and blankets were necessary to chase the chill.

The ‘Caps bats were chilled early on by the blazing fastball of Dragons starter Robert Stephenson, who touched 99 on the gun at one point and was consistently 95. It was impressive to see the second time through the order that the hitters adjusted to Stephenson’s speed – shortening swings, going the opposite way and creating enough solid contact to push across 3 runs in the 3rd.

Stephenson is the #3 prospect in the Reds organization, and he struck out 6 in his 5  innings of work. Displaying a sharp breaking ball to accentuate his heat, Stephenson was in command throughout. The 3-run 3rd inning featured a couple of broken-bat hits, and he only walked 1. Stephenson will be an interesting prospect to follow in the Midwest League this year.

Whitecaps starter Endrys Briceno did a nice job of going toe-to-toe with Dayton’s top gun – his fastball was around 93 all night, and he mixed in a tight slider that induced a couple of swing-and-miss third strikes. Briceno ran out of gas in the 4th, however; leaving it up to Larry Parrish to stream hard-throwing righthanders from the bullpen. That is likely why soft-tossing lefty Josh Turley tied up the Dragons in his two inning-stint, earning the victory. Turley had an outstanding short-season at Connecticut last year, going 4-0 with a 1.06 ERA and .193 batting-average against; it will be interesting to see if can maintain that momentum at West Michigan.

Other early observations on the 2013 squad:

  • Austin Schotts made a couple of loud outs, one resulting in a sacrifice fly, and also made a tremendous diving catch for the final out of the 8th to save the go-ahead run.
  •  Mario Martinez flashed some nice leather at the hot corner – a nifty diving stop to his left and a strong throw for an out; then climbing the ladder, using all of his 6’3″ to snare a liner ticketed for the left-field corner.
  • The “Baby Bull” , Lance Durham, ripped a pair of doubles. The son of Toledo Mudhens batting coach Leon “Bull” Durham, Lance was released by the Toronto Blue Jays farm system, and appears to provide little more than organizational depth at this time.
  • Danry Vasquez still has room to grow into his frame, and he appeared overmatched at the plate, managing to scratch out an infield single while fanning twice.

The victory capped the festivities on the 20th Opening Day at the ballyard in Comstock Park. For those waiting for a review of the “Baco”, the latest gastronomical creation at Fifth Third, unfortunately I decided against it, not wanting to soil many layers of clothing with the inevitable spillage. I can, however, give the craft-beer stand on the 3rd-base side a hearty thumbs-up!

 

 

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