The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers got a great performance tonight from starting pitcher Matt Miller, but couldn't quite score enough runs to get him the win and fell to Dayton in ten innings.
Miller was the story of the night, pitching six shutout innings and allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out five. He was pitching on four extra days' rest after having his spot in the rotation skipped last time, and said the extra few days off helped him prepare for this start. "It was nice to get, obviously it doesn't happen often in the midst of the season but to get those extra couple days and kind of just clear your mind, long toss, take a day to take it easy then get back up on the mound and really feel things out," Miller said. "It gives you a little extra time to work on whatever you're focusing on at that time."
Wisconsin manager Matt Erickson said it's likely all of the team's starters will get a similar break at one point or another during the season in an effort to limit their innings and pitches. He said he also thought the break helped Miller. "He got a bunch of ground ball outs early, was in the zone, very competitive, kept us right there," Erickson said. "Six scoreless, you can't ask for anything more than that."
The Timber Rattlers lifted Miller after six innings and carried a 1-0 lead into the ninth, when Seth Harvey allowed a run on a pair of singles and two stolen bases to tie the game. Miller said he wasn't part of the decision making process when he came out, but "I'm here to play and give what I've got until they take the ball away from me."
Meanwhile, Wisconsin's offense scored their only run in the second inning when Greg Hopkins singled, stole second on a failed hit and run attempt and scored on Brandon Macias' single. The Timber Rattlers had five hits in the first four innings, but their last 20 batters to come to the plate in the game were retired in order. Wisconsin also struck out 13 times in the game. Erickson credited Dayton pitcher Justice French and the bullpen for their performance.
"Obviously when you're not putting the ball in play some of that's got to be attributed to their pitcher," Erickson said. "But we're a team that at times has struggled to get some runs but we haven't struck out a whole lot either. So when I see that the ball club is striking out over ten times we have to give credit to their pitchers."
Tonight's loss tied this week's series with Dayton at one game each. The third game in the set will be played at Miller Park tomorrow.
"Unfortunately we got some good pitching today we couldn't take advantage of, but we've got Gagnon going tomorrow, we're excited about going to Miller Park so I'd imagine they'll have a lot of energy and a chance to win the series," Erickson said.
Follow the jump for features on Max Walla, Drew Gagnon and the preparations for tomorrow's game at Miller Park.
Welcoming Max Walla
One of the latest additions to Wisconsin's 2012 roster is outfielder Max Walla, the Brewers' second round pick in the 2009 draft. Walla just turned 21 on April 12 but is already in his fourth professional season. This is his first time playing in Appleton, and he says he's having a blast.
"Little bit windy, little chilly but I'm really enjoying it," Walla said. "Great fans, great ballpark, great team up here. We've got a great set of guys in there and a great staff. So I'm just really enjoying it."
Walla was selected 73rd overall in 2009, making him the highest drafted current member of the Timber Rattlers. He downplayed the significance of that fact, though. "Once we're all out there on the field we've all got the same fighting chance," Walla said. "So honestly, it's not really something you think about too often. You just try to go out there and have fun and play your game, and hopefully help the team win, you know?"
Walla has played in one of the Brewers' split-season rookie leagues in each of the last three seasons. I asked him to describe a typical day in extended spring training.
"Early wake up call. Lot of drills, lot of on field practice work. Which is good, obviously the main part of the game is repetition," Walla said. "So I gotta get everything down. Then you take BP and get ready for the game, play the game and you're done by about 2 or 3 in the afternoon and you've kind of got the rest of the day to rest and get ready for the next one."
The Brewers have been able to be patient with Walla in the minors because he signed out of high school. Walla said the biggest adjustment he's had to make was to the speed of the game. "For me at least I struggled a lot just with game speed and stuff," Walla said. "I had to slow the game down and learn how to do that. It's different for everybody, different personalities and whatnot. Some of my buddies did real well out of college, some didn't. Some of my buddies did real well out of high school, some didn't. It takes a learning curve for everybody."
Walla's goals for his first year in full-season ball are simple.
"I just want to be a guy they can count on every day. Hopefully be a grinder, someone who is thrown out there every day and puts his best out on the field every day. Honestly, you've got to just control the thinks you can control. You can't control your average, or anything like that. So I'm just trying to be a good teammate and a team player every day."
Through five innings tonight Walla was 1-for-3 with a single.
Follow the jump for stories on 2011 third round pick Drew Gagnon, who will pitch for Wisconsin at Miller Park tomorrow, and preparations for the game in Milwaukee.
Gagnon on tap for tomorrow
When the Timber Rattlers take the field at Miller Park tomorrow 2011 third round pick Drew Gagnon will be on the mound. Gagnon has allowed just two earned runs in 20.1 innings (a 0.89 ERA) over four starts this season, striking out 21 and walking just five. He said he's looking forward to pitching in a warmer environment after some cold nights in Appleton.
"I don't know if the dome's going to be open or not, but hopefully there's heat blowing or something to get switched up between the cold weather and warm weather," Gagnon said.
Gagnon was born and went to college in California, so he surprised some people by making all of his starts this April in short sleeves. As it turns out, the decision came from a purchasing mistake.
"I went to go buy sleeves but I got the wrong color, so that's probably the reason why," Gagnon said. "But I've pitched with 3/4 sleeves the entire time, just past the elbow. I've done that and honestly can't feel the cold when I'm out there, but obviously my body tightens up. My body can tell when it's cold but adrenaline kicks in, your focus is on other things. So I just sit by the heater anyways in the dugout."
Most of the fans coming to tomorrow's game probably won't have seen Gagnon pitch before, so he offered this scouting report: "Attacker on the mound, easy throwing pitcher, trying to get ground balls, working the count, keeping my pitch count low so I can get into the later innings. I'm a bulldog competitor."
Getting ready for a big day
While the Timber Rattlers and Dragons play tonight, the Timber Rattlers are getting ready for one of their biggest home games of the season tomorrow night when these two teams play at Miller Park. The event is the culmination of months of planning between the team and Brewer Enterprises, the arm of the Brewer organization that's responsible for hosting the game.
"What happens is when our schedule comes out we take a look, find a game where the Brewers are on the road," Timber Rattlers President Rob Zerjav said, "We try to make it when we have a getaway day with the team that's here, in this case Dayton is going to be leaving town so it makes it a lot easier for them on their way out of town. It's kind of strange to think how hard it is to line those things up. We play a lot of similar home dates, so there's only a select number of dates to choose from where we're not playing at the same time and then you narrow it down to the games that is a getaway day for somebody and the Brewers, at the same time, find a good date for them."
Zerjav said that by the time all the criteria are met, the team is usually left with 2-3 options for days when the game could be held. An April day works well, though, because of the relative uncertainly regarding the weather in Appleton.
"We're losing a date, and you never know what kind of weather you're going to get," Zerjav said. "One year we played down there and it was 75 and beautiful, we probably would have had a really nice crowd, and there was a game, I believe it was last year, where it was raining and 40 degrees and we probably would have drawn nobody."
Brewer Enterprises buys the right to host the game from the Timber Rattlers, and also provides most of the staffing. "The Brewers really take over the whole event, they staff everything," Zerjav said. "So in a lot of ways it's a nice opportunity for our staff to relax a bit and just enjoy the game. From a customer service standpoint we'll be around, saying hi. There will be a lot of our fans, so just talking to our fans and making sure they're having a good time."
Chris Mehring will still be in attendance calling the game for AM 1280 WNAM, and public address announcer Joey D will be on the Miller Park microphone. On Wednesday he told me the event is the highlight of his 20 years in broadcasting.
Meanwhile, the Timber Rattlers clubhouse staff will pack up tonight like they're headed out on the road, with a couple of exceptions.
"It's gonna be a lot of the same stuff we take on a regular road trip, but probably not to the same extent," clubhouse manager Travis Voss said. "We're still going to take our medical trunks, laundry bags to bring that stuff back here. We've got to take game balls down there, which we don't usually do because the home team usually provides it, but because it's our home game we're going to take game balls down there. We'll still take stuff for the on deck circle, pine tar, rosin bat, batting donut."
The game will be played at 7 pm at Miller Park and can be seen on Time Warner Cable Sports 32. Tickets are still available, and all seats are $10.
Here's the audio from some of my interviews from today: