I’ve been putting off writing this post, but after seven seasons, it is time to end my time writing “Drinking the Royals Blue Aid”. While I enjoy it, I’m getting too old to be putting so much time into what people consider more a hobby than a job (which is what I consider it).
When I started, I had high hopes that this would lead to a legit, paying, journalist position (it hasn’t). I went from a very shy girl (I’m still shy) with no clue what I was doing (besides loving baseball and loving to write), to holding my own and being the only reporter covering the Wilmington Blue Rocks over the last two-plus seasons.
I have met so many people over the last seven seasons, both in person and through social media. You don’t know how much I appreciate your friendship, encouragement, and kind words. I hope to keep those friendships alive into the future.
As High-A Wilmington‘s 2017 season came to a close, they were in need of a starting pitcher. They called on right-hander Anthony Bender for a doubleheader start on the last Sunday of the regular season.
Blue Rocks starter Anthony Bender during Game 2 of their doubleheader on September, 3, 2017 (Jen Nevius).
The 20th round pick of the KC Royals in 2016 found out that he was coming to join the Blue Rocks the day before he started. “I was supposed to come two days before and then something happened where they called me back and I stayed in Lexington,” Bender said after the final game of the season. “Then we [Lexington] went on the road and I found out on the road that I was coming to Wilmington. So we were like two hours away [in Hagerstown, MD], so I just took a ride and showed up.”
While the Blue Rocks season was coming to an end, they were facing Northern Division champion Lynchburg, who was preparing for the playoffs (they have since been crowned co-champs in the Carolina League). The Hillcats had arguably the best team in the league and Bender had this to say about them: “They’re some good hitters. Definitely a step up from Lexington.”
The first full professional season for right-hander Jace Vines was a successful one. The 2016 fourth round KC Royals Draft pick out of Texas A&M started the season with Low-A Lexington, was named to the South Atlantic League All-Star team, was promoted to High-A Wilmington at the end of July, and even made a start for Triple-A Omaha.
Blue Rocks starter Jace Vines during his start on August 5, 2017 (Jen Nevius).
“I think it’s just been a year that God’s blessed me,” Vines said after his final start of the 2017 season in Wilmington. “He’s kept me healthy all year. I think I just finished 146 innings, which is a lot more than I’ve ever thrown and I feel really good.”
Side note: Vines threw just 57.1 innings after signing in 2016 between the AZL Royals and rookie level Idaho Falls.
Vines continued talking about his 2017 season: “God’s given me so much success and it’s a complement to the pitching coach and pitching instructors and coordinators that we have. I think it started in spring training. The coaches there were helping me with some mechanical issues that I had and I think this season has been about locking those mechanics down. Then competing with the fastball. I think I have a pretty good sinker, so that’s been the reason for a lot of success. But I think it’s mainly God helping me. This is his journey and a combination of figuring out those mechanics, locking them down, and competing with the fastball.”
Double-A NW Arkansas saw their 2017 season come to an end on Sunday night, as the Naturals lost Game 5 of the Texas League North Division series in Tulsa, 6-1.
The Naturals could not solve their road woes, as they lost two of the three games in Tulsa, after going just 8-28 on the road in the second half.
Naturals starter Corey Ray took the loss, as he lasted just four innings. He allowed four runs on three hits and two walks while striking out three. However, Ray threw just 31 of his 63 pitches for strikes.
The righty-lefty combo of Andrew Edwards and Tim Hill were two of the lone bright spots for the Naturals in the series (both threw just 19 pitches tonight). On Sunday night, Edwards walked two in 1.1 scoreless innings. Hill stranded both runners in the 6th inning (1.2IP, H, R, 0BB, 0K).
Lefty Richard Lovelady allowed two runs on three hits in the bottom of the eighth.
Three of the Naturals’ six hits came in the ninth when they scored their lone run (Mauricio Ramos drove in the run with a double). Samir Duenez went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored.
Double-A NW Arkansas blew an early lead, losing 16-8 in Game 4 of the Texas League Division Series in Tulsa. The two teams will play a win-or-go-home Game 5 on Sunday to determine the North Division champs and who will head to the TL Championship Series.
The Naturals led 4-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth. They scored two runs each in the third and fourth innings. In the fourth, Jack Lopez drove in both runs with a two out single (he went 2-for-4 in his third multi-hit game of the playoffs).
They then fought back to tie the game at 8-8 in the sixth (after Tulsa scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth), only to see the Drillers re-take the lead in the bottom of the sixth. In the top of the 6th inning, the Naturals received the second RBI single of the game for Samir Duenez, followed by a three-run home run from Ryan O’Hearn.
Unfortunately, the Naturals pitching left a lot to be desired.
The NW Naturals took a 2-1 Texas League Division Series lead over Tulsa, winning 7-3 in Game 3 at Tulsa.
The Naturals took a 3-0 lead in the first, starting with back-to-back RBI singles from Ryan O’Hearn and Mauricio Ramos. With two outs, Nicky Lopez delivered an RBI single (one of his two hits).
However, the Drillers quickly tied the game in the bottom of the first on two home runs with two outs off Naturals starter Emilio Ogando.
The Naturals came right back to retake the lead in the top of the second with three runs, capped by a Samir Duenez two-run single. O’Hearn went 3-for-4, while Ramos had two hits and two RBIs. Humberto Arteaga also had two hits, an RBI, and a run scored.
After that first inning, Ogando only allowed two hits over the next 4.1 innings. He retired 11 in a row before allowing a one out single in the fifth (which was erased on an inning ending double play). Ogando was pulled in the 6th inning with two on and one out (one reached via an error and the other on a single).
Lefty Tim Hill stranded both runners, as he threw 2.2 perfect innings of relief. Richard Lovelady retired all three batters in the ninth.
Game 4 will be played on Saturday night in Tulsa, with Zach Lovvorn getting the start for the Naturals.
In the Double-A Texas League, the NW Arkansas Naturals and Tulsa Drillers split the first two games of the TL North Division Series, with the Naturals as host.
The Naturals took the first game, 3-1. Neither starting pitcher factored into the decision.
Naturals starter Foster Griffin allowed two hits and walked two over 6.1 scoreless innings. He struck out eight. Drillers starter Mitchell White allowed four hits and walked one over six scoreless innings.
In the bottom of the seventh, Alfredo Escalera singled to start the inning (he doubled earlier), was sacrificed to second base, and scored the game’s first run on a Nick Dini single. After a fielding error, Donnie Dewees hit a sac fly to drive in the second run and Jack Lopez followed with two out RBI double (one of his two hits).
Lefty reliever Tim Hill picked up the win, though he allowed a run in the eighth. Richard Lovelady earned the save by striking out two of the four batters he faced.