TimberRattlers Notebook: Andy Moye callup, Matt Erickson and aggressive baserunning

Andy Moye has had a tremendous start to the season with the TimberRattlers and was rewarded with a call up to Brevard County last night.

He was the Pitcher of the Week last week in the Midwest League.

He's 3-0 in his seven starts and also had a clean relief appearance. He had one rough outing in late April, but has managed to keep his ERA down to 1.45. The solo home run he gave up in the sixth inning last night ended a streak of 17 2/3 scoreless innings for Moye.

Manager Matt Erickson says Moye has been the most solid starter on the team and certainly deserves the shot he's getting with the Manatees.

"He’s been probably our most consistent starter here in the last few weeks. Another good outing tonight. A lot of early count outs and commanding the strike zone and he’s definitely deserving of the call up and there’s a need there right now as they’ve had an injury to one of their starters. So he’ll get his opportunity."

As for Moye, he says he's just been trying to stay steady. I asked him what's been working for him:

I just kind of learned to trust myself. You know last year, I gave up kind of a lot of home runs so I worked in the off season developing a two-seamer and just keeping hitters off balance. We’ve got great catchers back there that have really worked with me. I’ve just been able to keep a lot of hitters off balance this and I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing...Once you get in the groove of things you just gotta keep rolling with it and that’s kind of what Ive done. I started pretty good, I had one rough outing but you know after that you have to keep the same mindset. Just keep the ball down and keep hitters off balance. That’s the name of the game."

He said he tries not to look at numbers, so he had no idea that the scoreless streak was so long, but kind of laughed and said it was pretty cool that we was able to take it for so many innings.

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The return of Nick Ramirez and his bat have been a hot topic around the TRats this week, but in the meantime, Jason Rogers is kind of quietly putting together a solid season at the plate. Erickson disagreed when I said it was quietly - but since no one's really talking about it, I think the description is apt.

Had Ramirez not walked-off last night, Rogers would have been the player of game. He was 2-for-4 with a home run, a walk and two runs scored. He's hitting .296/.386/.458 thus far in the season with four home runs and 28 RBI and Erickson thinks that might improve now that Ramirez is in the lineup to protect him.

"I don’t know how quietly it’s been. He’s – no doubt about it, he’s been our most consistent hitter so far, day in and day out. If there’s one guy on our team that you want at the plate right now to drive in a run, he’s the guy. You know, before Ramirez we were struggling to find someone to hit behind Rogers and then (Greg) Hopkins really had a nice stretch. So now (Ben) McMahan swinging the bat pretty good. So you have Hopkins and McMahan in the middle of the lineup and now you add Ramirez and hopefully that middle of the lineup can produce some runs."

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Maybe it's just because I'm paying more attention this season, but it's certainly felt like the TimberRattlers have been more aggressive on the base paths - and not just in the Ron Roenicke sort of way.

We're not just talking stolen bases, but going from first to third and forcing their opponents to make plays.The whole thing has felt a bit more cerebral than I'm used to seeing from a single-A team. The players are learning, but sometimes it feels like the only tenets at A ball are "pitch well, hit well, field well." Focusing on more complex reading of plays isn't something I felt like we've seen in years past.

Is it better scouting? Players with better instincts?

I asked Erickson if this was something they talked about during the game and whether his players were making these decisions on their own, or if there was in-game coaching.

"We talk a lot about pre-pitch thought process and anticipation of balls in the dirt and base running is such a huge part of what we try to teach from instructional league with the young players and then into Spring Training especially at the lower levels. We want them to be aggressive on the bases – we kind of give them the keys to the Corvette, so to speak.

We don’t get after them too bad if they make mistakes, aggressive mistakes on the bases. We want them to find out at the early levels what they’re capable of on the bases. And if they’re over-aggressive, we can pull them back. But we want them to find out their limitations.

And when we do that, we put a lot of pressure on the defense. And when the defense knows you’re going to take every extra base you can, that sometimes forces them into mistakes. And that’s something we do day-in, day-out, we constantly preach. Every day, a daily part of our routine is some sort of base running. It’s something that we’ve worked on and something they’ve executed pretty good in competition.

Daily we’re looking for secondary leads. We try to read ball flight from the pitcher to home plate. As soon as they see balls in the dirt from first base, I want them taking off. Whether the catcher goes to his knees and picks it or if he blocks it. If we can get good reads immediately, more often then not we’re going to get into second base and into scoring position. That’s really, no matter how good or bad we think the catcher is.

But there may be times when the third baseman might be struggling or something that we might want to make sure that we’re showing bunt or bunt for base hit more than we normally do, but yeah, there’s a pre-game plan each and every day and we try to execute it."

The way Erickson answered certainly sounds like it's not new philosophy, so maybe I've just been missing it in years past. The follow-up I should have asked, but didn't, was whether the fact that Roenicke is aggressive trickles down to the minor leaguers.

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The TimberRattlers are, I think, exceeding expectations. They haven't been very good in year's past. They were atop the standings last week and those was the latest date in the season they'd ever held the top spot - in May. So any success from here on out is an improvement. At the moment they're one game back of Beloit.

With the success Rogers and Ramirez are having, it will be interesting to see if they get call ups in the second half of the year, as other guys move up and players sign after the draft. Appleton could be a very different team in August than they are now.

Either way, they've had a penchant for late inning heroics at home and they've been a lot of fun to watch. If you haven't made it up to Appleton yet for a game, make sure you get one on your schedule.

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