Wednesday, July 23 - Savannah 7, Augusta 2
The first game of a three-game set between two in-state opponents featured the story of an individual comeback and getting back in the groove on the mound.
The Savannah starter pitched for the Sand Gnats for the first time since May 1. He sustained a cut on a right knuckle a day before that start that became infected later, and he was placed on the disabled list. He said he was in the hospital four days while doctors ran tests on the infection, and he had to get it cleaned out.
Whalen returned to the Gulf Coast League Mets in early July and appeared three times for seven innings. Wednesday was his return to the Sand Gnats, and he allowed two runs on three hits in 5.2 innings.
Whalen's fastball was 88-92 with varying movement. He showed the ability to bore it on right-handed batters, he showed cutting action to both sides of the plate, and he showed some heavy sink. The pitch is a natural sinker, but he has the feel to change movement without losing velo. He was able to cut the fastball at 91 on the glove side, which is impressive.
Whalen said he threw maybe five breaking balls in the start. He explained his cutter and slider sometimes have nearly the same depth, and the velo wavers, so it can be confusing to recognize pitch type. The slider lacked depth but had hard spin, and he spotted it pretty well down in the zone. He flashed an average curveball with downward break and solid depth, but it was loose in limited attempts. If he can tighten it up, it shows more potential than the changeup and can be a solid third offering to change pace. The changeup flashed but has a ways to go to be serviceable.
Whalen has the framework to be a 4 if it comes together. Previous reports said he had an out pitch among his secondary breaking balls, but I didn't see it. It was his first extended action since May, and his command understandably wavered. But his breaking pitches flashed average without a lot of potential for more. Even so, Whalen has a durable body, clean arm path and delivery, and a varying fastball he can ride to the upper levels with command. I like the overall potential for Whalen to be a reliable starting pitcher in the upper levels.
Gregorio never showed feel for his stuff or control. He walked seven unintentionally, which tells you plenty. He could never get his arm and body in sync. At times, he rushed his body and threw across to miss glove side. Other times, his arm dragged and he missed high and arm side. The result was an inconsistent release point.
Gregorio is as lanky as they come, so outings like this will happen. It takes a lot to get his mechanics in sync with such long levers, and he does an excellent job most of the time. He simply never had a feel for his mechanics in this start.
Gregorio's fastball was 90-95 and touched 96. His command suffered, so he gave up more fly balls than normal, but the pitch was still fairly heavy with run. His slider was inconsistent, showing the same inconsistent shape and depth between hard/downward and loose/slurvy. He actually showed better feel for his changeup than normal, which is odd considering the night he had. He flashed a decent changeup a couple times.
Lofton will run into a home run sometimes. The one he hit in this game was his first this season between Augusta and San Jose. It was an 88 mph fastball left up and flat from Whalen in his last inning of work. Lofton turned on it and it carried out to right field.
A recent, small surge has upped Lofton's batting average to .262 with the GreenJackets. He's 9 for his last 18 with two doubles, a homer and two RBI.
Lofton hasn't taken the necessary step forward in 2014 and is more than 2 years older than the average SAL age. He didn't have a terrible 2013 with San Jose, but the Giants wanted to see more there, and he wasn't able to repeat. He isn't lighting up the SAL like he should, either, which puts him well behind.
Lofton is the usual speed profile with plus run and defensive tools. He's excellent in center field, including plus range, and he makes good reads and routes. He's able to navigate a deep Lake Olmstead center field better than most. But the bat hasn't caught up to the rest of the game.
***Gregorio's eight walks are a career high. His previous high was five set two starts ago July 9, also against Savannah.
***Lofton's home run was his first since Aug. 17, 2013, with San Jose, spanning 84 games.
***Augusta's Craig Massoni recorded two hits for the fourth time as a GreenJacket this season. He's 11 for 37 in his last 10 games, including three doubles and two walks.
***Whalen has allowed two earned and three total runs with nine strikeouts in 10.2 innings against Augusta in two starts.
***Over his past 21 games, Savannah's Matt Oberste is 37 for 83 with seven doubles, seven home runs and 25 RBI.
Notable Augusta lines:
Joan Gregorio: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 R/ER, 8 BB, 3 K, 9 ground balls, 8 fly balls, 4 line drives, 7 swinging strikes, 90-95, t96
Chris Lofton: 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI
Craig Massoni: 2-3, 2B
Notable Savannah lines:
Robert Whalen: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R/ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 10 ground balls, 4 fly balls, 2 line drives, 8 swinging strikes, 88-92
Jonathan Johnson: 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI
Matt Oberste: 1-4, HR, 3 RBI
Patrick Biondi: 2-2, 2B, 3 BB
Victor Cruzado: 2-3, 2B, 2 BB