Any sports team especially wants to win its season opener for the psychological boost it can give a team looking to coalesce into a championship contender.
It’s hard to say, however, how much thought the 2012 Chillicothe Mudcats would have to give to their answer to the question, “How important was it to win your season opener?” before the game was played last night if they had known that two pitchers plugged into other positions would have to leave the game with injuries, one of which could have long-term ramifications.
Regardless of what the team’s players and coaching staff might have responded to such a proposed tradeoff, what they exited Chillicothe’s “June”?Shaffer Memorial Park with after last night’s season and MINK?League opener against the Clarinda (Iowa) A’s was a well-pitched, well-played, 4-3 victory, but one pitcher with a sore mouth and nose and another with a rearranged pinky on his pitching hand.
The Mudcats received sturdy, 5-hit pitching from the duo of starter Steve Adkins (42⁄3 innings) and reliever Aaron Hyder (41⁄3 innings) that made a 4-run fourth inning suffice for a triumph.
Clarinda (3-2, 0-1 MINK) knocked Adkins out during a 2-run top of the fifth, one out shy of qualifying for the victory, and made it a 1-run game in the sixth, but couldn’t solve Hyder again over the last three frames to drop its league opener for 2012.
Hyder retired seven of the last eight A’s batters, allowing only a bloop hit in that time. The first of those seven outs was a strikeout of Clarinda designated hitter Zack Reding that ended the top of the seventh on the heels of consecutive 2-out walks.
When center fielder Isaac Smith?trotted in to easily squeeze a fly ball for the game’s last out, the Mudcats had won their season opener for the fifth time in their 11 years of existence and the seventh time in 11 home openers, but they’d also lost lefthanded pitcher Matt Thomas and righthanded pitcher Ryan?Brinley to in-game mishaps.
Brinley, recruited to the University of Central Arkansas for both his mound work and his potential as a hitter and position player, was – like Thomas – selected for use in the field in the opener while the team awaits the arrival of more position players.
Thomas not only pitches, but also has played regularly in the outfield and hit productively for William Woods University as a freshman and sophomore, so being in the field and at the plate was no rare occurrence for him.
However, neither was able to finish th game – Brinley leaving in the top of the fifth inning when, playing left field, his diving attempt to catch a fly ball resulted in the ball bouncing and going off his upper lip and nose, and Thomas bowing out after eight after mangling the little finger on his left (throwing) hand while being cut down trying to steal second base following his second hit.
Unless Brinley’s nose was broken, his absence figures to be a rather brief one, but Thomas’ greatly-contorted pinky figures to put him on the shelf for a while, especially if there was bone breakage and not just a severe dislocation at the middle knuckle.
Because of the use of that finger in controlling the ball as he throws it, Thomas figures to be unlikely to pitch for a while, perhaps a long while. He may be able to hit sooner than he can throw, but being able to swing the bat probably is a ways off, too, a tough break for the north Missourian (Brashear) who showed signs of being a potentially-integral part of this year’s Fish.
The Mudcats will play their first road game of the new season and try for win No. 2 – without further injuries – tonight at Sedalia. The first pitch there is slated for 7 p.m.
Jeremy Perron, who finished up at first base last night after Thomas’ injury, is slated to be Chillicothe’s starting pitcher tonight at the Liberty Park stadium. Perron is a lefthander from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester,?Mass. He hails from Bradenton,?Fla.
The same two MINK?League teams will hook up in Chillicothe Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. before the Mudcats roll south to meet the Ozark?Generals in more league action at 5 p.m. Sunday. Ozark’s games are being played at Meador Park in Springfield this year.
Although it ended up out-hitting the Iowans 7-5, Chillicothe was able to score in only one inning against A’s starter and loser Jeff Gacke, but it did enough damage that one time to win.
“The big inning helped us out a lot,” Fish head coach?Eric Peterson admitted.
In a scoreless game which had seen each team produce only one hit through the first 31⁄2 innings, the Mudcats used a base on balls to ignite its big rally.
After Tyler Duplantis drew the free pass to open the home fourth, he stole second base. Shortstop Ryan Busch, who had poled a long triple that bounced on one hop off the wall in distant right-center field in the second – only to be stranded as the next three men were retired, found the hole on the left side with a bouncer and Duplantis was waved home by third base coach Bill Jackson. The throw to the plate was wide to the fair side of the dish, allowing Duplantis to score standing up. Anticipating the throw home all the way, Busch was well on his way to second when the catcher got the throw and no attempt was able to be made on the batter as he picked up the extra 90 feet.
That advance proved helpful as catcher Nate Arnold’s slow-bouncer to the shortstop’s right required the infielder to charge the ball to try to come up with it on the backhand and throw across the diamond, rather than hang back and field a higher hop and then throw to second for a forceout on Busch coming in from first. The more-difficult play wasn’t made and Arnold was safe on an infield hit.
After going to a full count, newly-signed outfielder Alex Peña, who played at Graceland?University in Iowa where Jackson is associate head coach, was hit by a pitch to load the sacks with no outs.
Thomas raked a low sizzler through the box that could have been a 2-run single and a third hit of the night, but it skipped up and off the pitcher’s ankle right to the third baseman. He gloved it and tagged Arnold coming over from second as Busch made it 2-0.
Designated hitter Ryan?Lavoie, also with the club primarily to pitch, but filling in with the bat and glove this night – he took over for Brinley in left when Brinley got hurt in the fifth, roped an 0-2 Jeff Gacke pitch over the second baseman’s head for an RBI single that also sent Thomas to third as Chillicothe moved in front 3-0.
With runners on the corners, Gacke attempted a pickoff play, but seemingly out-smarted his own teammate. Instead of faking a throw toward third and then spinning to either look at or throw to first, in case Lavoie had strayed too far, the A’s hurler threw toward third, catching his third baseman unprepared. The ball sailed into foul territory as Thomas darted home without a play and the trail runner took second. The errant throw by Gacke turned out to deliver the deciding run of the contest.
“We’re trying to develop quality ABs (at-bats) at this point,” Peterson said of his team’s hitting. “We’re trying to be aggressive – take the next bag. In that inning, all of that stuff happened for us.”