TRENTON – After taking the opener of their three-game set against New Hampshire on Monday night at ARM & HAMMER Park, the Thunder secured their fourth consecutive victory to push their eastern division lead over Binghamton to 2 1/2 games with a 14-7 overall mark and 9-1 record at home.
Despite their solid opening month, the injury bug has certainly taken a bite out of the Thunder roster, particularly in the starting rotation. Hurlers Nick Nelson (shoulder), Nick Green (shoulder), Trevor Stephan (back) and as of Tuesday afternoon Garrett Whitlock (finger), have all found themselves on the injured list.
Whitlock exited his most recent start last Saturday afternoon against Erie after just one inning of work due to a finger nail issue.
“He smashed his finger this offseason doing something at home, and it’s taken a while for that nail underneath to grow in, but he went and saw a doctor today and actually the nail looks better now that they removed the hangnail part of it,” Thunder Manager Pat Osborn said. “Now it’s a just matter of time for the nail that hardens up a little bit.”
“It’s going good,” Whitlock said in regards to the healing process. “I am trying to get it fixed up and everything, but just letting the nail harden back up and once that gets going, we’ll be right back on the mound. I smashed my nail during spring training and it just kind of died. When I went out there and threw one of my breaking balls, the seam caught on the end of the nail and it kind of ripped off. If you have ever ripped your nail you know how painful it is.”
With four starters on the IL, both Rony and Deivi Garcia have been summoned from High-A Tampa to assist in filling the rotation void. Rony tossed five innings of shutout ball in his Double-A debut on Sunday afternoon while Deivi is slated to make his 2019 Thunder debut on Wednesday morning in the series finale against New Hampshire.
As presently constructed, the Thunder rotation will line up as follows for the next turn around according to Osborn.
Tuesday April 30 – Albert Abreu
Wednesday May 1- Deivi Garcia
Thursday May 2 – Adonis Rosa
Friday May 3- Jose Mesa Jr.
Friday May 4 – Rony Garcia
Hard Hittin’ Chris Gittens: After hitting just .197 in an injury plagued 2018 debut season with the Thunder, power-hitting first baseman Chris Gittens has entrenched himself as a reliable run producer in the heart of the Thunder order. In 16 games thus far, the Grayson JC product has slashed .321/.478/.660 with an Eastern League best 1.139 OPS and team-high four homers and 16 RBI.
While all of those stats jump off of the page, perhaps the most important number for Gittens is the 16 walks that he has drawn, which is the second most in the league, compared to just 15 strikeouts. The plate discipline has dramatically improved and it is paying off in a big way for the slugger.
“He’s opening eyes, and with what’s happened above us and the way he’s playing, he’s producing, you have no choice but to look down here and say, man, this kid could help us,’” Osborn said. “I know that’s encouraging for him, that’s exciting for all of us that get to be here to impact him a little bit. I’m sure he’s got an eye on that and that’s given him a little extra motivation.”
Leaning on the pen: With so many injuries facing the rotation, the Thunder bullpen has been vital in the first month of the season.
“The pen as a whole has been outstanding,” Osborn said. “It’s kind of a nice crutch to lean on when you have to, knowing that those guys are going to come in and do a good job.”
Domingo Acevedo (3-1, 1.46 ERA – 12.1 IP)
Trevor Lane (1-0, 1 SV, 0.87 ERA – 10.1 IP)
James Reeves (1-0, 1.93 ERA – 9.1 IP)
Daniel Alvarez (4-0, 2 SV, 2.08 ERA – 8.2 IP)
The group of 4 relievers listed above has combined to go 9-1 with a 1.58 ERA with 50 strikeouts and just 17 walks over 40 2/3 innings. Right-hander Kaleb Ort has also notched two saves and has fanned 17 batters in just 9 2/3 innings spanning seven appearances. After allowing three runs in his first appearance of the season on April 5, Ort has allowed just one run over his last 8 1/3 innings.
“Alvarez has kind of been our go-to closer, although he hasn’t had many save opportunities because they have been one inning stints. Same with Reeves, he has not had much work either. Those guys have done a great job when they are called upon.”
“Kaleb Ort has been outstanding,” Osborn added. “He is a guy that just comes in with power stuff and says ‘Here you go, try to hit it,’ but it is a very comforting feeling knowing that those guys are back there.”