TRENTON, NJ – It’s happened before, but few minor-league teams have gone through the transition the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees’ Double-A farm team, have since the end of Spring Training.
The Thunder (55-47) notched a 3-2 win over the Portland Sea Dogs before 3,410 fans at Arm & Hammer Park Monday night and took over second place in the Eastern League East, a half-game behind the Binghamton Mets, certainly in the playoff chase with 40 games remaining.
Catcher Eddy Rodriguez and designated hitter Juan Graterol drove in the runs. Jaron Long (2-2) earned the win with three flawless innings in relief of starter Kyle Haynes. Andrew Bailey recorded his second Trenton save.
“Certainly we’re not the same team that left Spring Training,” said Thunder manager Al Pedrique. “After (Gary) Sanchez, the last of that power group was promoted, we had a team meeting.
“We talked about how things like this happen during a season and dealing with it. We have to play good defense, hit and run, score runs every way we can. We have to concentrate on playing better baseball and not make mistakes. Our pitchers cannot walk batters leading off an inning.
“The guys know that, and they are working hard.”
Offensively, the Thunder have seen outfielder Aaron Judge, infielder Greg Bird and catcher Sanchez promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre over the past few weeks, and one can’t forget outfielder Mason Williams, who reached The Bronx, also started with the Thunder. Even infielder Cito Culver is getting his shot at SWB.
On the pitching side, led by top prospect Luis Severino, solid relievers James Pazos and Johnny Barbato have gotten the call, as did Nick Goody, presently with the Yankees.
Upper-level prospects move much more quickly in the Yankees system under the Gary Denbo regime.
“It’s really cool to see our guys move up,” said Thunder outfielder Jake Cave. “They are all my friends, and it’s great to see how well Aaron and Greg are doing up there (at SWB).”
Cave, whose average has dropped from .300 to .260 (100-for-394) over the last few weeks, mentioned the pressure of trying to make up for the production of those promoted is not the reason his is mired in a bit of a slump.
Following Sanchez’s trip up the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension, Pedrique tried batting Cave third.
“Jake was swinging a hot bat at the time,” said Pedrique. “It was something that just didn’t work out. That happens with a young hitter. He can put a lot of pressure on himself. He needs to relax.”
Cave, a dirtbag type of player if there ever was one – who already has 429 plate appearances this season – agreed with his manager.
“I’ve always been the kind of player who runs out every ground ball at top speed, runs out every pop up,” he said. “I’m not all that good at relaxing. It’s something I’m working on.”
As far as his slump at the plate?
“I’m not changing anything,” said Cave. “I’m just doing what I always have done. It’ll (the hitting) will come back. We know baseball can humble you, and right now I feel humbled.”
This Thunder bunch is gritty enough and tight enough to stay in the Eastern League playoff race till the end, There is not a lot of help available at Class-A Tampa, but maybe outfielders Williams and Slade Heathcott, who started his rehab at Class-A Charleston this past weekend.
“The standings are tight, but we’re not worried about them,” said Pedrique. “We just have to play good baseball and get some wins.”
That combination would work, even without the big guns who have moved on.