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Cannonballs coming: Keller and Escobar strong in debuts

If you’re going to sit through a baseball game in mid-30s weather, watching a prospect like Mitch Keller is a good way to make it worthwhile. Keller threw six shutout innings in a 4-0 Altoona (3-1) win over Akron. He allowed just two hits and two walks, while striking out eight and throwing 77 pitches.

Keller’s fastball was mostly about 91, although he cranked it up to 94-95 at times. (Caveat: This is the notorious Altoona scoreboard gun, although it seemed accurate yesterday. Today it was missing about half the pitches.) I don’t see how anybody could get completely loose in that cold and I know Keller was throwing harder this spring, so I put little stock in his velocity in this game. Anyway, except for a couple of brief spells, he commanded the fastball very well. Facing a lineup of eight left-handed hitters, Keller threw a lot of changeups. I made no effort to keep track, but I’d guess he threw quite a few more of that pitch than his dominating curve. The change looked good to me, with at least a little fade and good enough deception. He didn’t always command it well, but it got a lot of swings and misses, and called strikes, and I don’t recall it getting hit hard. In fact, there were only 3-4 balls hit hard in his six innings. Most of them were by Akron leadoff hitter Sam Haggerty, who hammered the ball throughout the last two games. Tate Scioneaux and Geoff Hartlieb finished off the last three innings with just one baserunner.

It was also a good day for Will Craig, who for the second straight day homered well up onto the slope behind the left field bleachers. Craig finished 1-3 with a walk. He also had a diving stop that saved a hit, and two good grabs on bad throws to first.

Cole Tucker went 2-4 and Stephen Alemais 1-2 with a walk. Altoona had a lot of well hit balls that were caught, especially Pablo Reyes. He went 1-4 with a two-run double, but also had a lineout and two drives that were caught on the track. Logan Hill was 0-4 with a strikeout, but had a long drive for an out and a bullet hit right at the third baseman with the bases loaded. Bryan Reynolds was 1-2 with a double, but came out of the game halfway through for no reason I could see. Ke’Bryan Hayes was 0-3 with a walk; he didn’t hit anything well in the two games and is off to a 1-for-16 start.

— Indianapolis (2-1) beat Columbus, 5-3, in a LOBsterfest that featured 27 hits and 22 left on base. Starter Alex McRae lasted only three and two-thirds innings despite allowing just one run. Tanner Anderson and Kyle Crick gave up another eight hits in four and a third innings, but just one more run each. Ryan Lavarnway went 3-4 with a double, and Kevin Kramer and Chris Bostick each 2-4. Jerrick Suiter made his AAA debut, picking up a double in four times up. Austin Meadows didn’t play.

Kevin Newman: 1-4, 2B
Max Moroff: 1-4, BB (BA down to .556 and OBP to .643)
Jordan Luplow: 1-4
Crick: 2 IP, 4 H, ER, 3 K
Johnny Hellweg: IP, K, Sv

— Jess Amedee and Scooter Hightower combined to blow a four-run lead in the ninth, but Bradenton (3-1) scored two in the bottom of the tenth to beat St. Lucie, 7-6. The minors have gone to the new fake-baseball rule for extra innings where each half inning starts with a runner on second. (I think some teams are under orders not to simply bunt the runner over, which led to long strings of 1-1 innings in the Dominican Summer League last year and, thus, even longer games.) After St. Lucie got its runner in, the Marauders tied the game on an error and then won it when Ron Hunt, Jr. Tyler Gaffney got hit with a pitch with the bases loaded.

Luis Escobar started and gave up one run on three hits over five innings. He walked none and fanned three, throwing just 61 pitches, which is good after he struggled with high pitch counts last year. Gaffney went 2-4 with a double.

Jared Oliva: 1-5
Adrian Valerio: 1-4
Bligh Madris: 0-4
Angel German: 2 IP, 3 BB, 6 K

— West Virginia (2-2) got its bats in gear and took a pair from Greenville. In the first game, Mason Martin, Cal Mitchell and Chris Sharpe each went deep for the first time this year. Mitchell finished 1-4 with a walk, Sharpe 1-3 and Martin 1-2 with a walk. Lolo Sanchez went 2-4 with two doubles and a walk. The Power had a two-run lead in the seventh, but Joel Cesar couldn’t hold it. These teams did both bunt their “free runner” over in the eighth, but the Power’s Dylan Prohoroff got a one-out strikeout and kept Greenville off the board. The Power then won on a sacrifice fly in the bottom half by Deon Stafford.

Stafford: 1-4
Oneil Cruz: 0-3, BB, E (4th)
Rodolfo Castro: 1-3, BB
Cesar: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K

The Power scored five in the third and won game two handily, 10-3. Dylan Busby went 2-3 with a double, a walk and three runs. Kyle Watson was 2-4 with a double, a HR and three RBIs. Backup catcher Rafelin Lorenzo, newly acquired in the minor league Rule 5 draft, also went deep.

Sanchez: 0-3, BB
Mitchell: 1-3, 3B, BB
Martin: 1-3, 2B, BB
Castro: 2-3
Jacob Taylor: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K