Made the drive from Cincinnati today to Winston-Salem to see Lynchburg play, and will catch Carolina in Zebulon in a couple days. Anyway, thought I'd report on what I observed of the Hillcats.
First off, the new Winston-Salem ballpark is extremely nice and fan-friendly; also interesting, with a series of turns and crannies and height changes along the outfield wall. It rained most of the day here and the crowd was moderate. A friend and I arrived about 45 minutes before game time and asked for tickets near the visitors' dugout if possible. We had no idea we'd be in the first row behind the dugout. Very pleasant.
Lance Janke started for Lynchburg. He's had a disappointing season. My friend, however, was impressed with the way he kept the ball down with sinkers or two-seamers. A few were so down that they bounced and gave Coddington kind of a rough time. Janke's fastest pitch was 91, and he at least kept Lynchburg in the game, with help from some nice defense.
About the defense: The best play was turned in by Brodie Greene at short, ranging to his right, fielding a ball on the grass, turning in the air and making a strong throw to retire a runner at first, aided by an excellent stretch from Neftali Soto. Carlos Mendez at third and Jose Gauldron at second also turned in nice backhand plays. In the outfield, Josh Fellhauer was very aggressive in left and showed some pretty good range. Felix Perez in center made a strong throw after fielding a ball laterally and nearly surprised a runner at second. In right, Efrain Contreras made a poor throw home that was probably the worst defensive play of the night for Lynchburg. Nick Christiani, in relief, came up with an excellent play on a well-placed bunt near the third-base line.
I of course was interested in watching Perez hit. He's not a big guy at all, and his batting style made me wonder about his ability to get around on a major-league fastball. He holds his bat with the head tilted toward the pitcher. He did yank an 89-mph fastball ball into right field for a triple, and smoked a single. He also wears a major-league chain around his neck. And he clearly enjoys playing the game. When it was over, he acknowledged my friend with a point and chest thump.
Soto has a very smooth stroke that starts by picking up his left foot fairly high. (Unfortunately, that's also his running style. He definitely has catcher speed.) Lynchburg's hardest-hit ball of the night might have been a bases-loaded DP, a screaming liner by Soto that, I believe, hit the pitcher, Chris Sale, in the chest before he grabbed it and doubled the runner at first. (At least, that's what it sounded like. Honestly, the ball was hit so hard that the play happened too fast for my eye or my friend's.) Greene looked good swinging the bat, and so did Mendez, who had a sharp, two-strike, bases-loaded single and drove another ball on a line to the track in left, where it was caught on a nice play. Unfortunately, Cody Puckett didn't play.
Christiani had one good inning before a bad one on which the game was decided. It was interesting that, after his first inning, Pat Kelly (manager) and Rigo Beltran (pitching coach) met him in front of the dugout and told him that he should have shown a certain hitter his good slider earlier in the count to set him up for the rest of the at-bat. Christiani--who once reached 94 on the stadium gun--gave up two homers in the eighth, the first by a catcher, Logan Johnson, who is listed as 5-9 but doesn't look more than about 5-7.
Another interesting player for Winston-Salem is the third baseman, Jonathan Gilmore. He's a good-looking hitter with terrific numbers, but what got the attention of me and my friend was his surprisingly awkward manner of throwing. Watching him in infield, he actually has a delay in the backswing of his throw. It looked so bad that, if I'd been a scout, I'd have dismissed him on the spot. When a ball was hit his way during the game, he throw to first in a very unorthodox submarine delivery--which at least eliminated the hitch in his backswing. But the guy was the best-looking hitter on the field. Another unusual player is the outstanding Winston-Salem reliever, Kyle Bellamy, whom Chris Welsh would describe as throwing from Laredo. Actually, you might have to go farther south to do him justice.
Anyway, the game seemed pretty much like a microcosm of what the Reds' system has been offering this year. Decent starting pitching. A competitive lineup. No pop. (None for Lynchburg since Mesoraco was called up, anyway). And blow-up relief. (Donnie Joseph didn't pitch.)