Expect to see more of Bender in Wilmington in 2018

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.

Anthony Bender

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.”

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Blue Rocks Vines talks about his 2017 season

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.

Jace Vines

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.”

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Tulsa wins TL North title over Naturals

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.

nwaThe 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.

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Naturals get blown out in Game 4 of TLDS

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.

nwaThe 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.

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Naturals take 2-1 series lead over Tulsa

The NW Naturals took a 2-1 Texas League Division Series lead over Tulsa, winning 7-3 in Game 3 at Tulsa.

nwaThe 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.

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Naturals and Tulsa split first two games of Texas League Division Series

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.

nwaThe 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.

 

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Final weekly recap and awards

The KC Royals went 4-3 last week, but are 12.5 games back of Cleveland (who has won 12 in a row) in the American League Central. The Royals are also 2.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot, which is held by Minnesota (with five teams in front of them). The Royals continue their road trip in Detroit tonight.

Right-hander Andres Machado made his Major League debut on Saturday in Minnesota. He came on in the first inning and got out of the jam, but struggled in the 2nd inning (2/3IP, 4H, 6R, 3BB, 0K). That came after Onelki Garcia made his first start with the Royals (1/3IP, 4H, 4R, BB, 0K).

Lefty Brian Flynn was placed on the DL and fellow lefty Eric Skoglund was back up.

The Royals also claimed pitcher Sam Gaviglio off waivers from Seattle. He has not made his Royals debut yet. They released reliever Neftali Feliz and activated Trevor Cahill from the DL. They also called up catcher Cam Gallagher, infielder Raul Mondesi, and outfielders Terrance Gore and Paulo Orlando on September 1st.

TROPHYTriple-A Omaha finished their 2017 season by going 5-2. Unfortunately, the Storm Chasers overall record was just 69-72.

Two starters made their Triple-A debut last week. Jace Vines started on Monday (up from High-A Wilmington), going six innings. He allowed just two runs on six hits while striking out three. Arnaldo Hernadez, up from Low-A Lexington, made two starts. Over 10.1 innings, he allowed two runs on nine hits and four walks while striking out six. Hernandez picked up the win yesterday.

Right-hander Yender Caramo was activated from the DL and pitched twice to end the season (2.2IP, 2H, R, 0BB, 0K). Infielder Carlos Diaz returned to Omaha after once again bouncing around the minor league system. He went 0-for-3 with an RBI yesterday.

Infielders Garin Cecchini and Ruben Sosa, along with catcher Luis Villegas were also activated. Cecchini went 6-for-19 with an RBI. Sosa went 4-for-17 with a pinch-hit two-run home run in the 8th inning on Sunday to give Omaha the lead. Villegas went 3-for-10 with two RBIs.

Double-A NW Arkansas went 4-4 to end the regular season, but finished with a 28-42 second half record. They also finished with just an 8-28 second half road record (worst in franchise history). The Naturals won the Texas League North Division first half title and currently are the only Royals team in the postseason. They open up the Division Series at home against Tulsa on Wednesday night (they just went 2-2 in Tulsa).

Infielder Jack Lopez returned from paternity leave after the birth of his daughter and went 4-for-15 with a home run and three RBIs. Pitcher Ashton Goudeau returned from the DL to make one appearance (2IP, 4H, 2R, BB, 3K).

Reliever Walker Sheller made his Double-A debut last Monday (up from High-A Wilmington). Over three appearances (totaling six innings), he allowed three hits and walked three while striking out five.

High-A Wilmington finished the season on a down note, losing all seven games of their homestand. The Blue Rocks finished the second half at just 28-41 and had just ten wins over their final 31 games.

Reliever Cody Nesbit finally made his High-A debut on August 30th, after being with the team for over a week. In two appearances, he allowed four runs on four hits and a walk over three innings. He struck out two. Anthony Bender made his High-A debut in Sunday’s Game 2 start, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks over four innings. He struck out three.

Low-A Lexington lost eight in a row to end their season, as the Legends finished the second half with just a 28-40 record.

Third baseman Emmanuel Rivera won the South Atlantic League batting title with a .310 batting average. He also led the league in hits with 144.

Rookie level Idaho Falls is the only minor league team still in regular action, but they were eliminated from postseason play in the Pioneer League with just a 14-19 second half record (31-40 overall).

Rookie level Burlington finished the season with a 29-39 record in the Appalachian League.

The AZL Royals finished the second half with a 13-15 record (26-30 overall).

 

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