HarbourCats Look to Find Their Groove at Home

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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

June 9, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – After dropping their opening series of the season to the Kelowna Falcons over the weekend, the Victoria HarbourCats will look to get back in the winning groove when they return for their home opener against the Cowlitz Black Bears on Tuesday evening at Sports Traders Diamond at Royal Athletic Park. Game time is 7:11 pm.

The Victoria coaching staff will look to get the ‘Cats back into the win column at the home opener on Tuesday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The ‘Cats began the season with an 8-7 exhibition win over the Victoria Eagles/Mariners last Thursday and followed that up with a series opening win against the Falcons on Friday, holding on for a 7-6 win. Then somebody must have put something in the Kelowna water the HarbourCats were drinking, as a disastrous 5th inning Saturday saw Victoria turn a 6-1 lead into an eventual 9-7 loss, and on Sunday, the bats went quiet as the Falcons took the series with a 4-1 win.

On the plus side, one series does not a season make and there are a lot of highlights the HarbourCats can pull out this opening series to use moving forward. Similarly, they can learn from some of the negatives and use those to get better down the road.

On that positive side is the hitting prowess shown by the likes of Nathan Lukes, Cole Kreuter and Hunter Mercado-Hood. All Lukes did over the weekend was go 6 for 15 with a double and 3 RBIs to sit at .400, tied for 8th in the early season West Coast League (WCL) batting title race. Not far behind is infielder Cole Kreuter who went 5 for 14 over the three game series and who also chipped in 3 hits in the HarbourCats pre-season game last Thursday.

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Nathan Lukes had an impressive opening weekend at the plate, going 6 for 15 against the Falcons (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Mercado-Hood seems to be establishing himself as this year’s RBI machine, as he has 7 already in the three games played, including the HarbourCats first homerun of the season. Also of note, expect to see more of Coquitlam’s Darren Honeysett in the lineup. All he did in his first and only game so far Saturday was reach base all five times he was up, including a pair of singles and 3 walks.

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Infielder Cole Kreuter has looked good defensively, as well as at the plate, after going 5 for 14 in the weekend series against Kelowna and having 3 hits in last week’s exhibition game (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The HarbourCats also look like they may take a run at the WCL stole base record, having already swiped 12 in three games so far this season. Leading the way is outfielder Wyler Smith with 5, including a daring straight steal of home plate in one of the games against Kelowna. Infielder Ted Boeke is a close second with 4. Given that the ‘Cats also swiped 8 bases in the exhibition game last Thursday, fans can expect that if runners get on base, field boss Bob Miller is going to have them moving as often as possible.

On the pitching side of the diamond, generally speaking, the HarbourCats hurlers fared well, although some issues with walks and wild pitches were big downfalls in the two weekend losses. That should start to iron out as the pitchers become more familiar with their catchers and get some of their first game jitters out of their system.

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Outfielder Wyler Smith is not yet ripping it up at the plate, but he has been on base enough to lead the team with five stolen bases, including a steal of home (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Looking particularly good for the HarbourCats has been reliever Alex Fagalde who pitched 3 scoreless innings against Kelowna Sunday and who also threw a pair of scoreless innings against the Eagles/Mariners last Thursday. Fagalde hails from Cuesta College so Head Coach Bob Miller is familiar with him and will no doubt continue to use him effectively this season.

Starter Tim Peabody (4IP, 3ER, 5H, 2K, 1W) looked good in the HarbourCats opener on Friday , getting the win, and similarly Saturday starter Quintin Torres-Costa (3IP, 1ER, 3H, 4K, 1W) and Sunday starter Alex Rogers (4IP, 2ER, 1H, 1K, 2W) both pitched well enough to give their team a chance. Unfortunately the ‘Cats bullpen has not been as effective so far, surrendering 12 runs and 10 hits over a combined 11 innings of relief work in the 3 games played thus far.

Errors, which are of course going to be a big part of the game at this level, have also hurt the HarbourCats so far and they will need to tighten up their defence a bit to eliminate that from their games. Over the weekend, the ‘Cats gave up 3 unearned runs as a result of 7 errors. While this does not sound like much, when combined with 11 walks and 8 wild pitches / passed balls and 7 hit batters that the pitchers also surrendered, they all seemed to do some damage on the scoreboard, coming at crucial times in the game.

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Relief pitcher Alex Fagalde has been lights out thus far for the HarbourCats, throwing 5 innings of scoreless ball over two games (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

As an example, in Saturday’s 9-7 loss, the Falcons scored 7 times in the bottom of the 5th inning on just 2 hits, thanks in part to 3 walks to start the inning, 2 hit batters, and 2 errors. One of those errors had the potential to be a double-play ball that would have ended the inning after just two Falcon runs. Similarly in the 4-1 loss Sunday, the Falcons 3 run 4th inning was aided by 2 walks, a hit batter and then an error that allowed two runs to score on the play. Again, it is early in the season, but with a bit more defensive focus in key situations, the outcome of the two weekend losses may have been much different.

The ‘Cats will be looking to turn things around against a Cowlitz team that won their opening series against the Medford Rogues, winning 3-2 Friday and 4-3 Saturday, before dropping the finale 5-2 on Sunday.

Offensively the Bears have been led so far by the hot bat of Yorba Linda, California’s Ryan Aguilar who went 6 for 10 in the Medford series with a pair of doubles and 4 runs scored. Daniel Orr and Austin Baker also had 3 hits each in the Medford series, while Chris Iriart drove in 3 of the 9 runs they scored on the weekend.

On the mound, the Bears have combined thus far for a team ERA of 3.00 and have held their opponents to a .208 batting average. Leading the way for them is opening night starter Billy Sahlinger who gave up no runs on just 2 hits and 7 strikeouts in the 6 innings of work that he saw. Game 2 starter Colton Kreuger was also effective, surrendering one earned run on 4 hits in 6 and 2/3 innings of work in the Bear’s 4-3 win Saturday. Chances are that the HarbourCats may see one of these starters later in the series in Victoria.

HarbourCats fans will see a familiar face on the mound in Tuesday’s opener as returnee Logan Lombana is scheduled to make the opening day start. Last season, Lombana saw action in 11 games, amassing a record of 2-2 and an ERA of 6.00. This past season for the Long Beach State Dirtbags, Lombana appeared in 19 games and had an ERA of 4.63, holding opponents to a .205 average.

Andrew Nelson, who arrived in camp this week following his season at the University of Kentucky, will get the start Wednesday, while Mikey Wright, who threw effectively in the HarbourCats win over Kelowna (5IP, 3R, 4H, 7K, 1W) will get the nod Thursday.

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Fan favourite Alex DeGoti should make his return to the HarbourCats and the starting lineup in Tuesday’s home opener (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Fans should also expect to see returnee Alex DeGoti (Long Beach State) in the lineup on Tuesday. DeGoti will no doubt be a key anchor in the middle infield for the ‘Cats and will provide some pop offensively. DeGoti finished second to slugger Alex Real in hitting last season with a .286 average, amassing 55 hits (including 9 doubles, a triple and 3 home runs), scoring 26 runs and knocking in 21.

Game time for all three games of the Cowlitz series, including Tuesday’s home opener, is at 7:11 pm. Tickets are available at the gate, or in advance at http://www.harbourcats.com/tickets/.