Vatrano off to amazing start for P-Bruins

By Eddie Pannone

PROVIDENCE, R.I., – It is safe to say that the Providence Bruins are off to a better start than their parent club in Boston. Despite earning just one win in three games, the P-Bruins have earned a point in every game so far in 2015 and are one of only two teams with double digit goals already.

This hot start offensively is in large part due to rookie forward Frankie Vatrano. Vatrano is on an absolute tear in the first three games, including a four-goal performance Sunday against the Portland Pirates. Signed as free agent from UMass-Amherst, he scored just seven seconds into the game and is leading the AHL in scoring early on. Just how good has his performance been? Vatrano leads in scoring despite not recording an assist. He is doing this based solely on goal scoring, as he has six on the year while no other player has more than three.

Not surprisingly, his fellow line mates are enjoying success as well. Alexander Khokhlachev and rookie Austin Czarnik are both among the league’s leading scorers as they each have five points. Czarnik has a goal and four assists while Khokhlachev has five helpers. This line has a combined +9 rating just three games in and combined for all the scoring in Sunday’s win.

Starting goaltender Malcolm Subban has been sidelined with a lower-body injury and has yet to see any action. In his absence, rookie Zane McIntyre has stepped in and played well. Sunday’s victory was his first as a pro and he has stopped 91 of 101 shots on the season. Both marks are far and away tops in the league while he also leads in minutes played.

Not even a full week into the season and Providence has already seen its roster take a hit, though it is probably one that Tommy Cross is happy about. The P-Bruin captain received his first call-up to Boston and made his NHL debut last night. With the young Bruin defense core struggling early on, Cross has a chance to make an impact if he plays well.

The team is back in action tomorrow as they begin a home-and-home series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

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Japan tenure helping Bowden get back to MLB

By Eddie Pannone

It has been quite the baseball journey for Rochester Red Wings pitcher Michael Bowden to say the least. It’s a journey that has taken him from Boston to Chicago to Japan on his quest to return to the big leagues.

Originally a first round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2005, Bowden made his MLB debut in 2008 for the club, recording a win in his first start. With depth in both the rotation and the bullpen, it was tough for him to stick in the big leagues and was constantly sent back and forth between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket. Bowden was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2012 and the same situation presented itself despite him posting solid numbers. He was released following the 2013 season and his dream of being a big league pitcher seemed as far away as it ever had.

But Bowden continued to fight and find a way, even if it was a way that not many players have taken. Many times we hear about Japanese players that make the transition over to America, though it is uncommon to hear about Americans that head over to Japan. That’s the road Bowden decided to take, and it is one he is glad he got to experience.

“It was unbelievable,” Bowden said. “I like to travel, so I figured if I had the opportunity to play baseball there and see another part of the world, it doesn’t get much better than that. The fans, the food, the culture, the games, I had a great time.”

Obviously there are going to be challenges anytime one goes to a foreign place to work for the first time. Fortunately for Bowden, the daily routine of a ball player in the states was not among them.

“It’s fairly comparable,” he said about comparing the two. “Batting practice might be a little longer and the days are probably a little longer. Overall it is very much the same as over here.”

Aside from enjoying a new environment and a new culture, Bowden continued to grow as a pitcher with the Seibu Lions. While working to show he could still compete at a high level, he was also able to pick up some new tools that are helping him this year.

“There’s plenty that I learned there,” he explained. “I feel like I’m a student of the game everyday I come to the park, and my time in Japan was no different. My split-finger that I throw now is a good pitch for me and I learned it over there.”

Bowden earned another chance in the states following his run in Japan, signing a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds to start 2015. His contract was purchased by the Baltimore Orioles at the end of spring training and he was assigned to the Norfolk Tides. Bowden shined for his new team, making the International League All-Star team while pitching as both a reliever and a starter. After opting out of his contract on July 16, he signed with the Minnesota Twins on July 26 and was sent to Rochester in hopes of getting back to the MLB. He continues to impress in their rotation, maintaining his place amongst the International League’s ERA leaders. Bowden certainly has done enough to earn a chance to pitch in the majors for the first time since 2013, but until then he continues to do whatever is asked of him while putting up quality numbers.

“I’m just trying to go out every time and get outs while being as consistent as I can in whatever role I’m in,” he said. “Hopefully the results speak for themselves and I’ll have another opportunity.”

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Marrero cousins reunited with PawSox

Photo by Ken Jancef

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – As children growing up who enjoyed watching and playing baseball, we all had that certain player we idolized. Someone who we wished we could be like or play with. For millions across the country that player could be Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Giancarlo Stanton or a number of other MLB superstars.

For Pawtucket Red Sox shortstop Deven Marrero, it was his cousin Chris.

Chris Marrero is two years older than Deven and was a star baseball player from a young age in Florida. Despite the cousins being only two years apart, the duo never played much together due to Chris’s early success.

“We played together back in the day when I was 8-years old and he was 10,” Deven said. “He was always playing older than his age, sometimes three years above because he was the best player in Florida.”

Chris Marrero took this success all the way to the pros, as he was drafted in the first round by the Washington Nationals out of high school in 2006. Deven took a different path than his cousin, opting to go to Arizona State for three seasons and play college baseball before becoming a first round pick in 2012. Even though this was different from what Chris did, Deven still credits him for opening up that door in his life.

“He was the one who created a path for me and really got the name Marrero out there,” he explained. “He and his brother (Christian) got the Marrero reputation out there and I’ve just tried to continue that reputation and live up to that last name the best I can.”

Fast-forward to 2015 and the Marrero’s are still working towards their goal of being major league regulars. Deven remains a prospect with Boston and has Gold Glove potential at shortstop. Chris has had to fight his way back into the league, starting the year in the Independent League before the Chicago White Sox gave him a chance. After getting released by the club in early August, an opportunity to reunite with his cousin for the first time in years presented itself. Boston signed him to a minor league deal and assigned him to Pawtucket, thrilling his younger cousin.

“Chris being here makes me feel really comfortable and really happy,” Deven said. “To play with my idol and someone I’ve looked up to ever since I was born is amazing. I’ve always wanted to be like him and to have him by my side is awesome. To both live our dream together is pretty cool.”

The Triple-A season is coming to an end and Pawtucket is far out of contention, so the amount of games the two have together is likely numbered. However, it is an experience they are savoring and enjoying. After all, it isn’t everyday you get to play ball with your idol

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Fisher Cats Defeat Erie, Avoid Sweep

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are back over .500, as they avoided the sweep and defeated the Western Division rival Erie SeaWolves by a score of 8-3 on

Austin Bibens-Dirkx pitched very well on Sunday against the Erie SeaWolves. (MiLB.com)

Sunday afternoon.

Ryan Schimpf remained hot for New Hampshire, as he wasted no time getting the Fisher Cats on the board with a solo homerun to lead off the bottom of the second inning. The line drive off the scoreboard is Schimpf’s third home run in as many games.

In the bottom of the 3rd inning, New Hampshire managed to score two more runs after Dwight Smith Jr. hit an RBI single, and later Roemon Fields scored on a fielder’s choice. This offensive showing in the third gave the Fisher Cats an early 3-0 lead.

Erie answered with a lone run in the top of the 4th inning, after Miguel Gonzalez hit an RBI single to score JaCoby Jones from third base. Though they weren’t done scoring yet, the SeaWolves could not capitalize on several prime opportunities, as they went on to leave twelve men on base.

New Hampshire came to life in the bottom of the sixth inning when Ryan Schimpf hit a leadoff single before K.C. Hobson hit a line drive that cleared the right-field fence. Derrick Chung walked and Emilio Guerrero hit a double before Jorge Flores hit a 2 RBI single to right-field adding two more runs to the tally. The Fisher Cats ended their rally with Kevin Nolan sacrifice fly that scored Roemon Fields. After six innings, the score held 8-1 in favor of the Fisher Cats.

“The pitcher’s did a great job today,” said Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham. “They kept us right in it until we got our offense rolling.”

A Jason Krizan sparked some hope for the SeaWolves, but Fisher Cats reliever John Anderson shut Erie down, and the final score held 8-3.

New Hampshire starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx tossed seven complete innings, giving up six hits, one earned run , one walk, and striking out seven Erie batters.

“Austin did a great job,” praised Meacham. “He kept them guessing and off balance, and performed well enough so we could roll him out there for seven innings.”

Bibens-Dirkx was credited with the win, while his Erie counterpart, Michael Fulmer, was charged with the loss.

The Fisher Cats hit the road tomorrow for a four-game series with the Reading Fightin Phils at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennsylvania. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM and Taylor Cole (5-9, 4.41) will start on the mound for New Hampshire.

TIME WINDS DOWN: There are just seven home games left to be played here in Manchester, and it feels like fans have seen it all this year at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. For the first time this season, fans saw their first “pitch clock violation” as Erie’s starter Michael Fulmer exceeded the 2:25 break in between innings before delivering his first pitch to start the bottom of the first inning. The penalty in violations like this is for an automatic ball to be added to the current batter’s count. This rule was implemented into both Double-A and Triple-A baseball this year, in an effort to see if it helped speed up the pace of a nine-inning ballgame.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

 

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There’s A Chopper in Centerfield!

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

The Seacoast Helicopters R66 chopper lands at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium prior to fans entering the ballpark.

(MANCHESTER)—Before Sunday afternoon’s game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, Seacoast Helicopters was in attendance with one of their helicopters sitting in centerfield, as they gave one lucky fan the opportunity to take off from the ballpark and enjoy a birds-eye view of the Queen City, before landing back on the field and delivering the game balls.

“This is going to be quite the memory for one lucky fan,” said Fisher Cats president and GM Rick Brenner in a press release. “Riding in a helicopter is such a thrilling experience, but landing in the outfield and then delivering the ball to home plate takes it to a new level.  We look forward to working with Seacoast Helicopters to create this memorable opportunity.”

It was quite the sight for fans that arrived at the ballpark early on Sunday afternoon for the Fisher Cats game. Most fans expect to see batting practice, athletes playing catch, or coaches hitting their infielders ground balls, not a helicopter stationed in straightaway center-field.

Click here for BSU18 exclusive video of the helicopter landing at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

The gates to the ballpark opened at noon, and the Fisher Cats allowed fans onto the field for a half-hour to take pictures with the R66 helicopter and enjoy an on-field sing-a-long with Lil’ Iguana Children’s Safety Foundation.

So how did the lucky fan win this one-of-a-kind experience?

The Fisher Cats hosted an online contest on their Facebook page, and anyone over the age of 18 was free to enter. The random winner was selected on Friday, August 14, amd will depart from the outfield by chopper at approximately 12:40 PM and return at 1:15 PM with the game balls in hand to deliver to today’s umpires at the pre-game plate meeting.

The Fishers host the Erie SeaWolves today and finish off their homestand at 1:35 PM. New Hampshire looks to avoid being swept after falling in the first two games of the series. RHP Asutin Bibens-Dirkx takes the hill for New Hampshire. Be sure to stay tuned to BSU18’s social media outlets for live updates and a game recap.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

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Fisher Cats Fall to Erie

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)The New Hampshire Fisher Cat fell to .500 (58-58) on Saturday night, as the Erie SeaWolves scored early and often, before edging out the hometown Fishers by a score of 5-3.

Erie wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, as they plated their first run in the top of the first inning on a Jason Krizan RBI single that scored leadoff man Wynton Bernard from third base. The SeaWolves tacked on three more runs in the third inning after a sacrifice fly and a 2 RBI single from Dominic Ficociello. Then in the 5th inning, Dean Green hit a loud RBI double to left-field, which gave Erie a 5-0 lead.

New Hampshire finally broke the silence in the bottom of the 6th inning. Christian Lopes led off the inning with a single, before Kevin Nolan reached on an error, and Ryan Schimpf cleared the bases with a three-run homerun over the right-field fence, reducing Erie’s lead to 5-3. However, the Fisher Cats could not capitalize on any further opportunities.

New Hampshire starter Scott Barnes was charged with the loss after tossing three innings, giving up five hits, four runs (all earned), walked two, and struck out four. Josh Turley, his Erie counterpart, was credited with the win. SeaWolves reliever Joe Mantiply was credited with the save.

The Fisher Cats are back in action tomorrow afternoon as they finish off the series and the homestand with a Sunday afternoon matinee against the Erie SeaWolves. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 PM. RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx (4-6, 4.82) is slated to start for New Hampshire. You can follow Patrick Cavanaugh on Twitter for live updates throughout the game.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

 

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Fisher Cats Rally Early, Fall to SeaWolves

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER, NH)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats continued their homestand and opened up a three-game series with the Erie SeaWolves on Friday night, falling to the

Casey Lawrence pitches in an outing earlier in 2015. (MiLB.com)

Western Division rival by a final score of 5-4.

The Fisher Cats got on the board early, plating three big runs in the bottom of the first inning. Roemon Fields walked to leadoff the game, and stole second base before Melky Mesa hit a pop-up that was mishandled by Erie the shortstop, which allowed him to score. Later in the inning, K.C. Hobson hit a 2 RBI infield single that gave New Hampshire a 3-0 edge.

The SeaWolves were able to strike back however. They tacked one run on the scoreboard in the top of fourth inning, after Dominic Ficociello hit a sacrifice fly to left-field and scored Jason Krizan from third base. Then in the sixth inning, JaCoby Jones hit a solo homerun to right field. In the top of the 7th, Erie plated a run on an Alberto Gonzalex RBI double, and Dean Green sealed the deal with a deep two-run homer in the top of the 8th frame, giving Erie a 5-3 lead.

New Hampshire scraped one run across in the bottom of the 8th inning after Ryan Schimpf hit a solo homer, but their efforts fell short and New Hampshire fell by a final score of 5-4.

“We had a chance to win the ballgame,” said Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t come through a couple of times.”

New Hampshire’s ace starting pitcher Casey Lawrence threw well in Friday night’s contest. The righty hurled 7.1 innings, gave up 9 hits, 4 runs (all earned), and walked no Erie hitters. He showcased a dominant fastball in addition to a changeup, slider, and curveball.

“Casey goes out there, throws strikes, and gets them to put the ball in play,” said Meacham. “He kept us close, and in the end they got to him a little bit.”

Lawrence was charged with the loss, while the win was credited to Erie’s reliever Montreal Robertson.

With the loss to open up the weekend, the Fisher Cats drop game one of the three-game series with Erie. The Fishers and SeaWolves are back in action tomorrow night at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester. New Hampshire left-handed pitcher Scott Barnes (2-3, 3.99) will take the hill. First pitch is slated for 7:05 P.M.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12

 

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What Napoli trade means for Allen Craig

By Eddie Pannone

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – With Mike Napoli being traded to the Texas Rangers, there is a hole at first base the Boston Red Sox must fill for the rest of this year as well as going forward. With a thin class of free agents at the position, the organization will likely have to fill that role from within.

So far Travis Shaw has done tremendous in his brief time with Boston, continuing hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching. He was not a heralded prospect, but the 25-year old has certainly done enough to earn an extended look. The team also has Brock Holt who can play anywhere on the diamond and could move there once Dustin Pedroia returns. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval don’t play first, but it is seemingly only a matter of time before the organization is forced to move one of them there.

Then there is 31-year old Allen Craig. It feels more like two decades ago rather than two years ago Craig was a National League All-Star. His 2013 season was the best of his career, as he posted a .297 average with 97 runs batted in and a remarkable .454 average with runners in scoring position (the third highest ever behind George Brett and Tony Gwynn).

His last two seasons haven’t gone as expected to say the least and his career hit a low when he was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket earlier this year. Boston even outrighted him off the 40-man roster seemingly in hopes someone would claim the rest of his $26.5 million contract.

Now, his name has come up as a replacement for Napoli and General Manager Ben Cherington has said Craig will eventually get another chance. This would require him being put back on the 40-man roster, but is this the right move?

Craig has not hit for power and has not had much luck driving in runs. Hitting the middle of the PawSox order, he has just 20 RBIs on 11 extra base hits and a .197 average with RISP. This is a far cry from his 2013 numbers and a far cry from what he is capable of.

“We’ve seen glimpses of it,” PawSox manager Kevin Boles said of Craig’s power. “He’s aware of it and is working hard in terms of going through video analysis, work in the cage and going back to some things that have worked for him in the past. We are going to see some impact here eventually and we are looking forward to that.”

Despite poor power numbers, Craig is still finding ways to get on base. He is second on the team in walks while posting a solid .274 average. It’s the solid numbers in other places along with the hard work of Craig that lead Boles not to be concerned.

“We are looking for the power but as far as it being a concern, no its not,” he said. “We are looking for quality at bats. We want high frequency of contact and barrel manipulation.”

Craig recently had a 17-game on base streak and is hitting much better over the past few weeks. He has not been afraid to use the opposite field, as two of the three home runs he has this year have gone that way. For him, he said that is just getting back to the old Allen Craig.

“I’m working playing the game and taking my at bats like I always do,” Craig said. “Typically I’ve hit the ball really hard to right field in my career. I’ve done that recently so that’s a good thing.”

If he is to get a chance to play in Boston, he will probably need to show a little bit more power than he has so far. However, his opposite field approach and ability to get on base present a strong case for his eventual return to the majors.

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Fisher Cats Edge Akron

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER, NH)—The New Hampshire Fisher Cats finished off a three-game series with victory over the Akron RubberDucks on Thursday night, defeating the inter-division rival by a final score of 1-0.

New Hampshire starter Conner Greene, who is just 20 years old, was the shining star of the weeknight victory that snapped a Fisher Cats four-game losing streak. He was called up from the Dunedin Blue Jays (Toronto’s Advanced-A affiliate) just a couple of days ago. He had a dominant fastball that consistently reached the mid-90s throughout the evening. His change-up was a great “second offer” pitch throughout the night that seemed to catch the RubberDucks off guard. The California native lived up to his high expectations, pitching seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits, three walks, and fanning one Akron batter.

“He was outstanding,” said Fisher Cats skipper Bobby Meacham. “He couldn’t make a mistake and still come out a winner, and I thought he was outstanding.”

The Fisher Cats scraped their only run across the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, after Jorge Flores hit an RBI single to center-field to score Derrick Chung, who led-off the inning with a double. New Hampshire saw several more opportunities to score throughout the night, but could not capitalize on them, as they left fourteen men on base.

“Both pitchers were going at it, down in the zone, and a lot of fastballs,” said Meacham. “They weren’t trying to trick people, but trying to record outs.”

Greene was credited with the win, while the loss was charged to Akron’s Mike Clevinger. New Hampshire reliever Blake McFarland was credited with the save after a nice makeup outing, which came just one day after a shaky performance in which the Fisher Cats would go on to drop in extra innings.

Although they came out with the victory, the Fisher Cats drop the three-game series 2-1 to the Akron RubberDucks, and now move on to a three-game series with the Erie SeaWolves, which will close out the homestand at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The recently featured Fisher Cat and right-handed ace Casey Lawrence gets the nod for New Hampshire. First pitch is slated for 7:05 P.M.

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12

 

 

 

 

 

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Fisher Cats Feature: Casey Lawrence

by PATRICK CAVANAUGH

(MANCHESTER)—Casey Lawrence has been fighting his way through the Toronto Blue Jays farm system for the past three years, and he is really making his name known for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season.

Looking back to the beginning of his career, Lawrence was drafted as a free agent by the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2010, and began his professional career with the

(courtesy of Minor League Baseball)

Auburn Doubledays (Toronto’s low-A affiliate) in the New York-Penn League. He has since spent time with the Lansing Lugnuts (class-A affiliate), Dunedin Blue Jays (high-A affiliate), as well as the Fisher Cats (AA-affiliate), and the Buffalo Bisons (AAA-affiliate) over the past couple of seasons.

Lawrence, 27, can be easily spotted under several categories in the Fisher Cats season record book. In this 2015 season, Lawrence has spent most of his time with the Fisher Cats in the Granite State, but did spend a short time in Triple-A with the Bisons. Currently listed on New Hampshire roster, the righty has pitched in 21 games thus far, hurling 129.1 innings, giving up 162 hits, 26 walks, and fanning 74 batters. He leads the team in wins (11), and has the lowest ERA (4.38) and WHIP (1.45). He is in second place as far as strikeouts go (74), trailing only RHP Taylor Cole who has racked up an outstanding 100 strikeouts this season.

Aside from season records, the Pennsylvania native has found his way into the Fisher Cats franchise record books as well. Lawrence’s last appearance was last Thursday against Richmond. After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Flying Squirrels, he collected his 11th victory of the season, and is just the sixth Fisher Cat to ever achieve that feat, and the first since Ryan Tepera back in 2013. That victory was also his 20th in a Fisher Cats uniform, as he now surpasses Deck McGuire’s prior franchise record for most career wins.

Casey Lawrence 2015 Spray Chart (MLBFarm.com)

Going deeper into his 2015 numbers, he has a record of 11-10, and 10 of his 21 outings have been considered quality starts.* He tosses an average of 6.2 innings every time he takes the hill, and strikes out approximately five batters per nine innings of work. He has great command on the hill, and throws just four pitches: fastball, curveball, slider, and change-up.

Casey Lawrence is New Hampshire’s probable starter for Friday night’s game, as they will open a three-game series with the Erie SeaWolves at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester, NH. First pitch is schedule for 7:05 P.M.

*a quality start is defined as “a statistic for a starting pitcher defined as a game in which the pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs.”

Patrick Cavanaugh covers professional baseball for BostonSportsU18.com. He can be reached at pcavanaugh@bostonsportsu18.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter: @pcava12.

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