Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Jul 14 2015, Page 27

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - July 14, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE D3 winnipegfreepress. com BASEBALL WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, TUESDAY, JULY 14, 2015 D 3 O NE night in June, Tom Vaeth swears it was after the Goldeyes first faced the St. Paul Saints, the Fish hitting coach pulled one of his top players aside. The Goldeyes had just fallen 8- 1 at home to the juggernaut from Minnesota, a limp effort against a highpowered squad. Only three Goldeyes batters swung for a hit that night, and infielder Josh Mazzola wasn’t one of them. At that point, 23 games into the season, the fourth- year Fish was batting .267. “ That was pretty much our lowest point,” Vaeth said, chatting in a shady part of the Shaw Park stands on Monday afternoon — his birthday. “ We were bad that night. And ( Josh) and I talked for an hour after the game in the cage. We stayed around, and we made a couple of adjustments, and so far it’s kind of worked out.” Yeah, it did. The very next game, Mazzola blasted a two- run homer, opening a furious streak that saw him bust out four home runs and 10 RBI in just three games; it ended in Fargo, N. D., where he walloped a solo homer and a grand slam in the same inning. To Vaeth, it looked as if a lightbulb had gone off behind Mazzola’s eyes. Now, near the halfway mark of this rocky Goldeyes season, the 28- yearold Californian has quietly put himself on pace for one of the best showings of his eight- year pro career — and in the American Association. Before the Fish closed their second series against St. Paul on Monday night, he led the league in home runs, with 11. He was also leading the Goldeyes with 35 runs scored, sitting second with 30 RBI, and high atop the order with a .983 on- base- plus- slugging number. It isn’t just the Goldeyes, either. When it comes to fancy stats — isolated power, runs created — Mazzola is squarely in the top echelons of the league’s hitters. How he started doesn’t guarantee how he’ll finish, of course. But by most standard measures, he’s looking more like the Mazzola that was a lightning bolt in the Goldeyes’ championship run three years ago. The long balls are flying off his bat and his average is ticking up, now at .319. If he keeps it up ( no jinx), he could be looking at a bit of a bounce from 2014, when he delivered a decent outing, but was overshadowed by a Goldeyes’ offensive engine that kept runners chugging over bases. The story wasn’t Josh Mazzola, last year. It was Casey Haerther and Tyler Kuhn, who tore up opposing pitchers. So what’s the difference? A workout buff, Mazzola came into camp fit, but that’s a given for him. Working with Vaeth, he did scrap a footing tweak he’d made in the off- season and went back to his old swing, “ just modified a little bit,” he said. “ It allowed me to get the barrel on the ball a little more efficiently. I started barreling up some balls, and some of them went out, started driving some runs in.” As the Goldeyes’ losses piled up, Mazzola also made an effort to loosen up the mood. Not too long ago, Haerther and Mazzola went out to pop some ground balls along the grass, challenging each other to play catch- up. It wasn’t serious, but it got the blood bubbling. “ Just like kids would do at the playground,” he said. “ Maybe we’d do something like make a jump throw or something. Something out of the ordinary, just to bring that kid feeling back to the game. If you get away from that, it’s going to eat you up, and that’s something you can’t let happen.” Some stats are less rosy, but in some ways more telling. With runners in scoring position and two outs on the board, Haerther shines: as of Monday afternoon, the first baseman had hit .545 with 16 RBI ( half his season total) in 22 at- bats under that pressure. Mazzola, by contrast, had hit just .217 in 23 tries, with seven RBI. Vaeth knows those numbers well: they talk about ’ em often. “ With Josh, he always wants to do so much to help the club, that he tries to do too much at times,” he said. “ It’s that old saying, more is less and less is more. When he tries to do too much, the results aren’t there. “ I keep telling him every year, ‘ man, it’s not the home runs that are gonna get you paid, it’s going to be the RBI.’ That’s something we constantly battle on.” That last part, Vaeth said that with a laugh and a knowing smile. The two have butted heads just plenty, and the coach isn’t shy about that; anyway, everyone knows the Fish’s Renaissance player is a spitfire, you can see it at the plate. When he struck out on his first try on Monday night, he playfully flipped his bat. That spirit and that talent are a big part of the reason why Mazzola can do big damage. They are also why Vaeth doesn’t mind when they spill off the field. “ I’m not afraid to make him mad,” Vaeth said. “ We usually hug it out, or crack a joke after he’s done screaming at me, or I’m screaming at him.” Let’s face it, there aren’t many players out there so hungry for the win, and so willing to do the work to get there — which on this team, Mazzola always has been. “ I probably give him a lot more leeway than I do with the other guys,” Vaeth said. “ He wants it not only for himself, but he wants it for his teammates, for management, for fans. With a guy like that, even though he may be frustrating at times and a little bit hard to handle, he’s earned that extra- long leash.” melissa. martin@ freepress. mb. ca CINCINNATI — Darren O’Day can count his career saves on the fingers of both hands — only 10 digits needed to sum up his eight years of relief work in the majors. Kelvin Herrera needs only one hand to tally his saves total. No matter. Managers know the value of having a bullpen full of dependable setup men and specialists who can hold a lead long enough to bring in the bigname closer, and that’s reflected in these All- Star Game rosters. “ People are noticing that it’s similar to being a closer,” said O’Day, the sidearming righty who usually pitches the seventh or eighth inning for the Baltimore Orioles. “ You go out there and get three outs, four outs. Sometimes you might even have a harder job than a closer. “ I wouldn’t say we do the same thing, but it’s similar.” And in many ways, just as valuable. An all- star closer is of little use if he rarely gets to pitch with a lead because the rest of the bullpen is leaky. “ You have to have those guys,” Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal said. “ They’re invaluable.” Some of those guys might get to show off at Great American Ball Park tonight, well before any save situations develop. In the last six years, there have been 17 relievers picked as all- stars who had fewer than five saves at midseason, according to STATS. By comparison, there were only 10 such players chosen from 2001- 09, and only six such players from 1971- 2000. “ Especially on an all- star team, you want to highlight closers,” American League manager Ned Yost of Kansas City said. “ But I think setup men have become more prominent in the game, this year and last year, too. We did take a couple of premier setup men.” There were four relievers with fewer than five saves in the All- Star Game last year: Pat Neshek, Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Tony Watson. O’Day and Herrera fit the profile this year. Betances has seven saves this year after filling in as the Yankees’ closer when Andrew Miller was injured, but he still qualifies in the way he’s used. Nobody questions the value of those setup guys in Cincinnati. The Reds had a blueprint for bullpen success in 1990, when they won the World Series behind the Nasty Boys trio of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers. This year, they’ve got one of the most electric closers in the game with all- star Aroldis Chapman, who throws 103 mph and has blown only one save chance. But the lack of a dependable setup man has left him with only 19 such chances. The Cardinals have invested in their bullpen over the years, helping to define how it’s used nowadays. Manager Mike Matheny emphasized the setup role on his all- star team last year. “ I think everyone understands the importance of bullpen roles beyond the closer in today’s game, and I was happy to reward some of those pitchers last season,” Matheny said. “ If you’re one of the best at what you do at your position, you deserve to be an all- star.” Yost’s Royals are a good example of how having a deep, dependable bullpen can take a team far. “ It’s effective if you’ve got three guys who are lockdown guys,” O’Day said. “ You can dominate. I keep complimenting the Royals, but what they did during the playoffs last year was shorten the game to six innings.” Even though they’re getting more attention in all- star selections, those setup guys are still hoping that they can someday move into a ninth- inning role. “ Yeah, I’d love to do it,” O’Day said. “ It’s a rush. I did it in college and all throughout the minors. I’ve done it filling in for guys when they need a day off. It’s a lot of fun, except when it’s extra innings on the road and you’re going to warm up seven times.” — The Associated Press By Joe Kay Middle relievers getting their due at All- Star Game JULIE JACOBSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Dellin Betances has been lights out. One night in the cage changed everything How the Goldeyes’ Josh Mazzola regained his stroke JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Josh Mazzola hustles around the bases Monday night at Shaw Park. WITH a chance to clinch their first home- series win — and deal the dominant St. Paul Saints their first series loss anywhere — the Goldeyes fell short. The Goldeyes actually put up a few more base hits than their North Division rivals. Still, a couple of gaffes allowed them to fall on the wrong side of the razor- thin margin, forcing them to settle for the 2- 2 series split. Can’t fault the pitching. Goldeyes starter Matt Jackson went seven innings and gave up three hits and two runs, just one of which was earned. ( That said, the fourth- inning unearned run fell on Jackson’s shoulders, as Saints outfielder Alonzo Harris benefitted from a walk and an error by the pitcher; he went on to score on an RBI single from Saints slugger Ian Gac.) The Fish bit on a similar chance of their own in the fourth, when rookie Brady Wilson took a walk from Saints starter Kramer Sneed, stole second and scampered to third when Saints first baseman Angelo Songco overthrew the toss to the shortstop. But Songco would get a chance to make up for the blooper in the seventh inning, when he slammed a solo homer to lift the Saints into the lead. On The Hook The Goldeyes ( 21- 28) have a rare day off on today, then kick off the second half of this homestand on Wednesday with the first of four against the Gary SouthShore RailCats. — Martin By Melissa Martin SAINTS 2 GOLDEYES 1 D_ 03_ Jul- 14- 15_ FP_ 01. indd D3 7/ 13/ 15 10: 23: 05 PM

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