There is a pulse emanating from South Commercial Street. Fresh off their first road series sweep over the weekend, the cellar-dwelling Fisher Cats returned home with momentum and actually had Monday off to enjoy it.
Today New Hampshire looks to extend its winning streak to four when it begins a three-game series against Baltimore-affiliate Bowie at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Game times are 6:35 p.m. today, 10:35 a.m. Wednesday and 7:05 p.m. Thursday. The Fisher Cats then entertain Erie in a three-game set on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
New Hampshire is 21-35 and last in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division, 9½ games behind Binghamton for the second playoff berth.
Tonight’s pitching matchup features Bowie’s Ed Rodriguez (1-2, 4.73) against Casey Lawrence (3-4, 3.61). On Wednesday, the Fisher Cats send Aaron Sanchez (1-4, 4.14) to the hill against Zach Davies (1-2, 3.92). Thursday’s pitching probables were not announced Monday.
After a disastrous month of May when the team suffered through a 9-23 record, setting a franchise record for most losses in a month, the Fisher Cats reversed a trend that has killed them to this point in the season.
Owners of a dismal 6-17 record in one-run decisions, New Hampshire beat Altoona three times over the weekend, twice by one run. They posted a 1-0, 12-inning decision on Friday thanks to a run-scoring single from newcomer Jorge Flores, a 2012 19th-round selection by Toronto. He was playing in just his third game with New Hampshire.
In that game, New Hampshire starter Radhames Liz had eight strikeouts. Combined with the efforts of relievers Scott Copeland, Arik Sikula, Tyler Ybarra, Dustin Antolin and Randy Boone, the Fisher Cats pitching staff allowed eight hits in 12 innings.
Righthander P.J. Walters, acquired by Toronto with outfielder Melky Mesa from the Kansas City Royals in May, was outstanding in his debut with New Hampshire Saturday. On 101 pitches, 65 for strikes, Walters allowed one hit over seven innings with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Richard Bleier allowed two hits over the final two innings to complete the 4-0 shutout win.
On Sunday, Mesa contributed a run-scoring single for a 2-1 win against the Curve in 12 innings. In that contest, New Hampshire starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx set the tone with five scoreless innings. He fanned six and didn’t walk a batter. Ybarra, Sikula, Antolin, Copeland and Boone (fifth season save) closed the door. The relievers over the final seven innings allowed five hits, one run and two walks, with five whiffs.
The three-game winning streak is the longest for New Hampshire this season since April 23-27 when the team glued together five straight victories, including a three-game home series sweep of Reading on the back end. The Fisher Cats’ season went south after that streak, losing 24 of the next 30 games. In May, the team batted just .219. For the season, New Hampshire ranks last in team hitting (.224) and 11th in the 12-team Eastern League circuit in runs scored with 211. The team also ranks last in hits with 423.
A leading candidate for all-star recognition is third baseman Ryan Schimpf, who leads the team with 10 homers and 26 RBIs. Schimpf is third in franchise history with 41 career homers, trailing Dave Smith (55) and Chip Cannon (51).
Nashua native Kevin Nolan has struggled with New Hampshire this season. In 42 games played, the shortstop is hitting .190 with three homers and 13 RBIs. Only eight of his 28 hits are extra-base hits.
Bowie players to watch this week are first baseman Christian Walker, second baseman Niuman Romero and rightfielder Dariel Alvarez. Walker is a Triple Crown threat this season, leading the Eastern League with 47 RBIs and tied for first with 15 homers, He is ranked 13th with a .319 batting average. He was selected by the Orioles in the fourth round in 2012 out of the University of South Carolina.
Romero owns the second-best batting average (.349) in the Eastern League and Alvarez is second overall with 44 RBIs with 10 homers and a .326 batting average.