Despite frigid temperatures across the northeast, for the first time since 2014, all scheduled games for Blue Jays affiliates on Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day were played. While Buffalo doesn’t start their season until today, New Hampshire, Dunedin and Lansing all won their openers last night to start 2018 on the right foot.
Yennsy Diaz was the star of the evening, throwing 5.2 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. He faced just two batters over the minimum, a hit batman in the third and a double on the first pitch of the sixth inning to spoil the no hitter. That was basically the only hard hit ball he yielded, though there were only seven non-bunted balls put in play.
Diaz was sitting 92-95 MPH with his fastball, touching 96 once, pretty close to his top shelf velo considering it was the first game for the year and the game time temperature below 5C. Funny enough, the first five strikeouts were all looking on fastball, and the last five strikeouts were all swinging. The dominance showed in the incredible 19 whiffs Diaz piled up on just 44 swings (57% contact rate) and just 81 pitches. He did have to labour a little harder towards the end, running a bunch of deep counts.
Maximo Castillo made his full season debut, recording four outs in the 8th inning as one of the three strikeouts reached. His fastball was 90-91, and he added 5 swinging strikes of his own in 20 pitches. Offensively, the stars were Reggie Pruitt and Chavez Young, each of whom recorded three hits (as did Kevin Vicuna, who is still only 20 despite this being his 4th year in the system).
The Fisher Cats also pulled out a decisive 6-0 whitewash, as Francisco Rios scattered four hits over 4 shutout innings with five strikeouts (though he gave up a lot of hard contact and was frankly lucky to get out unscathed). Justin Shafer added 3 strikeouts against the six batters he faced, but let’s be honest, all anyone cares about it the Vlad and Bo show.
For his part, Bichette went 0-4 with a walk. None of the contact was particularly good, with a pair of weak ground outs and a popout. On the latter groundout, he worked into a 2-0 hitter’s count but swung through a couple fastballs.
Vlady Jr. fared better, 1/4 with a double and walk. The double was a line drive that the outfielder didn’t read well, but it didn’t sound like it really mattered. Guerrero was initially awarded a second hit on an infield single, later changed to an error. His penultimate trip to the plate was a flyout that had no chance on a cold night, but good contact that on a hot summer’s night may have gone.
Lourdes Gurriel added a pair of doubles on deep fly balls, Cavan Biggio had a pair of hits on a hard double and bunt single, and Connor Panas chipped in a pair of hits too. Of note, Max Pentecost did not get the opening day start (make of that what you will).
Finally, down in Dunedin another fine pitching prospect in T.J. Zeuch was on the mound. As has often been the case in his professional career, it was a mixed basket of dominance and damage as he allowed 4 earned runs on 4 hits in 6 innings, with two walks against 5 strikeouts. All the scoring came on a pair of home runs, the only hard hit balls he allowed.
Zeuch was locked in early, needing just five pitches in a perfect 1st inning and six to do likewise in the 2nd. The second batter of the 3rd inning touched him for a solo home run, but he settled right back in and kept rolling through the Clearwater order. Through five innings, the only batter he faced over the minimum was the home run, with a pair of ground ball hits immediately erased on double plays.
He got himself into trouble in the 6th, and paid the price, alternating walks and strikeouts to start the inning. With two on and two out, he fell behind 2017 first rounder Adam Haseley 3-1, who launched a home run on the 8th pitch of the at-bat.
The positive news is that off 15 balls in play, 11 were on the ground (73%) - the only balls in the air were the two home runs and a pair of routine flyouts to start the game. The home runs were the only well hit balls allowed (other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...). Zeuch sat 92-94 with his fastball, mixing in a lot of sliders. He did a good job working ahead, and was able to mostly put away hitters when in position to with 11 whiffs on 34 swings (68% contact rate).