As Christians around the world observed Good Friday this past weekend, Blue Jays faithful were given renewed hope and reason for optimism with the performance of three of their minor league pitchers.
It was a combined performance that may not be seen for some time.
Starting in AA, top prospect Aaron Sanchez of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats pitched 6 shutout innings against Binghamton, allowing just 4 hits and two walks while striking out 6, lowering his ERA to 2.29. Eastern League hitters are managing a paltry .215 against the tall righthander. Sanchez has been able to induce much of the contact against him to be of the weak variety this season, as his seven ground ball outs would suggest.
In High A, Dunedin Blue Jays Daniel Norris continued his hot start, throwing four no-hit innings against Brevard County, walking two and striking out six. With his pitch count up a bit, D-Jays manager Omar Malave lifted Norris in favour of Kramer Champlin, who through 5 scoreless and hitless innings in relief. Along the way, however, the hometown official scorer's decision changed a D-Jays error while Norris was on the mound into a hit. Norris lowered his ERA to a tiny 0.60 with this outing.
And to top it all off, Kendall Graveman of the Lansing Lugnuts took a no-hitter into the ninth inning, ending the Lugnuts' losing streak at six in spectacular style. The 8th round pick from last year's draft out of Mississippi State is repeating at Lansing this year, and is taking his leadership role with the club seriously. Over 8 innings, Graveman walked one and struck out seven before his no-hit bid was broken up with one out in the ninth. Graveman's ERA dropped to 0.44 after his dominant performance.
Between Sanchez, Norris, and Graveman, in 18 1/3 shutout innings, they gave up but six hits, walked 5, and struck out 19. Not to be undone, Buffalo's Bobby Korecky pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to give the Bisons the victory, giving the organization a perfect 5-0 record for the evening.
On that same evening, as we got a glimpse of the rosy future of the Jays rotation, Drew Hutchison was giving us a great view of the present, pitching five scoreless innings against the Twins. The same night the bullpen suffered a huge meltdown. Which we won't recount here.
We had the opportunity to take our first look at the Lansing Lugnuts on Thursday night in the second game of a double header on a cold spring night in Wisconsin.
The Lugnuts were swept in the twin bill to run their losing streak to six games, but we came away from the evening with the impression that good things are yet to come for the Low A club.
The Lugs are one of the youngest clubs in the Midwest League. Their youthfulness has shown up in their high unearned run totals, as well as that six game loss stretch.
Taking the mound on the evening we watched was Chase De Jong (Or, DeZhong, as the Wisconsin announcer called him). De Jong was knocked around in his first two starts of full season ball earlier this month, but was commanding his fastball and slider in this start, pitching 4 scoreless innings, giving up 2 hits and no walks, to go along with 4 strikeouts. He did give up a number of fly balls, which was a concern, but few were hit hard. De Jong also made a very athletic play to reach the length of his 6'4" frame to grab a popped-up bunt attempt that made some highlight reels.
De Jong has a nice, smooth delivery, which he consistently repeated.
On the offensive side, we were impressed by the approaches of both Mitch Nay and Matt Dean at the plate. Both were very selective, and have balanced stances, providing for good plate coverage.
We weren't as high on DJ Davis' approach, although he went 1-3 with a pair of strikeouts. It looks very much like Davis still needs to work on pitch recognition and knowledge of the strike zone, but his speed was obvious on the base paths and in the outfield. Davis, simply put, looks like an athlete. And in fairness to the Lugnuts, Wisconsin's Barrett Astin was very much on his game, commanding the lower part of the strike zone.
We should also add that Adonys Cardona looked comfortable on the mound in piggybacking with DeJong in the 7 inning game. We saw a projectable delivery and young pitcher in Cardona in our first look at him.
Even though the Lugnuts are off to a rough start, there is plenty of reason to consider that they will be a formidable MWL opponent as the season progresses.