Going to try to do one of these posts after each homestand with stuff that doesn’t get into game stories or other daily items.
WHAT’S IN A LINEUP?
Jay Bell’s true Triple-A Experience began before the season even started. Projected lineup regulars Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada were called up to the big leagues after the RailRiders had already broken camp. He could throw out any kind of ideas he had about lineup construction, like batting Frazier leadoff and in center field like he wanted to opening day. Even when they got Estrada back, they lost Gio Urshela.
Add in an injury to Matt Lipka and Kyle Higashioka’s eventual promotion, and the construction of the RailRiders’ lineup has been anything but consistent. Take a look:
Mike Ford was locked into the No. 2 spot before his call-up and Billy Burns into the No. 9 spot. Otherwise, Mandy Alvarez and Cliff Pennington have started in four spots. Gosuke Katoh, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan McBroom have appeared at three. Zack Zehner is the leader in the clubhouse at five: second, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth.
So, besides scheduled off days for all of the players, how does Bell put the lineup together? It’s a mix of feel and numbers.
“Talk to Phil (Plantier, the SWB hitting coach) a lot about it, about the lineup construction,” Bell said. “One of the things: I believe that history matters, so I know what everybody in that locker room does offensively. I know where they like to hit in a lineup. I know the positions that they tend to gravitate to. But the same time, you also have to take into consideration how they’re feeling at the time, what their mentality is. Try and figure out how to get guys — I like speed down at the bottom of the lineup. That’s just my preference. So, Billy Burns has done a great job for me down there. I like when Cliff and Billy are down there. It really works. But yesterday, I had Cliff in the two-hole. Feel good about him being there. He hits well there traditionally. Amburgey’s hit all over the place. He does like the leadoff spot, but then again, so does Thairo. So, there’s a number of different reasons why.
“Again, their psyche matters to me. How they’re doing at that particular moment in time matters to me. The pitcher matters to me. Sometimes, whenever I have a pitcher who struggles against one side of the plate or the other, I pay attention to that. So, sometimes I stack the lineup at the top of the lineup to try and get that starter early. Sometimes it works, sometimes it — there’s no magic to it. There is a hypothesis to it, though. So I think about stuff, I try to figure out ways that will work, but at the same time, those guys have to be the ones that take care of business, and they’ve done that to a great extent this year.”
The RailRiders have scored 82 runs in 14 games, good for third most in the International League behind Charlotte (93 in 15 games) and Lehigh Valley (85 in 13 games).
For whatever reason, the RailRiders played news of Mike Ford’s promotion close to the vest Monday. (The guess here is because the Yankees had the day off, so they waited to announce it until Tuesday).
Ford was originally in the RailRiders’ lineup as the first baseman for Monday’s game against Lehigh Valley, but they changed it so he was the designated hitter.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t at liberty to talk about it at all prior to sending him out,” Bell said. “Matter of fact, I had to tell him a little bit of a fib. During the game, he was asking why I changed the lineup. So, I just basically told him that he’s going to play a lot of first base in the very near future and I need to make sure that his legs stay nice and fresh. I didn’t tell him that the very near future was in New York. I don’t know if — It wasn’t a lie. It was just kind of a half-truth I guess, which technically is a lie.”
Bell said he had to wait until most of the players were out of the clubhouse to tell him, and the few players who were left were asked to keep it off social media.
Kellin Deglan made the RailRiders’ opening day clubhouse, but not the opening day roster.
He’s been around the team from the outset, but wasn’t activated until the Yankees needed Higashioka back in New York when Gary Sanchez landed on the injured list. In his second Triple-A game, Deglan, the 26-year-old former first-round pick (by the Texas Rangers in 2010), hit a home run.
“He’s swung the bat really, really well during BP,” Bell said. “The cool thing is to see it translate from BP to the game. He’s having a long couple years, trying to come back from arm issues and that kind of stuff. Doug (Davis, the RailRiders bullpen coach) had him out the other day throwing to bases. He was exceptionally good. Ball’s coming out a lot better than it has the last couple years. I see what Texas — I see what they saw. He’s got some bat speed. He’s got a little bit of thunder. I see his footwork, Dougie’s done a great job working with him on his footwork. He’s getting better behind the plate. Can’t forget that he’s still a really young player. He’s not an old guy at all. He seems like he’s been around forever, but still he’s a young player. It’s good stuff.”
Also, in nickname news, the RailRiders might’ve lost Higgy to the bigs, but they still have “Deggy,” which Gio Gonzalez pronounced like “Diggy.” So, not much of a change in the catching ranks when it comes to that.
Gosuke Katoh’s career high for home runs is six, something he’s done three times. Through 11 games this season, the 2013 second-round pick (34 spots behind Aaron Judge) already has four. Three of them are opposite-field shots, clearing the left-center field fence in the deepest part of PNC Field. Overall, he’s hitting .278/.366/.667 with 11 RBIs.
“He’s had some power, there’s no doubt about it,” Bell said. “Whenever his flexibility is right, he can hit the ball out to all parts. Last year, he hit a ball over the batter’s eye in Trenton, and Trenton’s not an easy park for a left-handed hitter. Now, the wind was blowing out just a little bit, but still it was good, really solid contact. He’s capable of doing some really good things.
“Guys develop at different rates. When you have the time and you are allowed to grow into this game, it’s pretty special. And I am thrilled that he’s got the opportunity to be here with me.”
RailRiders’ Billy Fleming, second from right, is congratulated by teammates Zack Zehner, left, and Gosuke Katoh, after Fleming hit the first grand slam of his career during Monday night’s game against Lehigh Valley at PNC Field. Christopher Dolan / Staff photographer