Spring is finally coming to northeastern Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers' bats are heating up with it. Tonight they rode a seven-run second inning to a 7-4 win over West Michigan, their second consecutive victory. Wisconsin has now scored 16 runs in their last two games after managing just eleven in their previous five contests.
Second baseman Chris McFarland kicked off the scoring tonight with a two-run home run, his second of the young season. He went deep to left on a 2-0 pitch, and noted that working the count helped him get a pitch he could handle.
"The first two pitches were way out of the zone, so I figured he'd throw something over the plate," McFarland said. "And he threw a fastball down the middle so I took a hack. I wasn't trying to hit a home run, just trying to drive the ball but, lucky enough, I hit a homer."
McFarland also doubled tonight to push his slugging percentage to .533 in his first 12 games for Wisconsin.
"I'm just picking my pitches wisely early in the count, seeing stuff over the plate," McFarland said. "I like to stay up the middle of the field, when I'm at my best."
Later in the inning, designated hitter Jose Sermo also went deep. His homer went to the deepest part of the ballpark in right center and plated three runs, and was the result of a simiilar situation.
"He threw me two balls, I already knew he was coming fastball, so I was ready to get hacking," Sermo said. "Luckily, I had a homer. I didn't expect it was gone so I started running, and when I looked up the ball was already gone and it was pretty impressive. I feel great after that. "
Sermo already has five extra base hits for Wisconsin, but a big piece of his value has come from his versatility. Since being drafted in the 35th round last season he's played three infield positions, a game in the outfield and spent some time as the DH. He said moving around between positions doesn't impact his offensive game.
"It's a little complicated defense-wise, but hitting it doesn't mess up anything because when you play a lot of positions you've got to split what is defense and what is hitting," Sermo said. "When I'm hitting it's all about hitting. When I'm playing defense it's all about defense."
Sermo and McFarland may have had the big blasts, but they anchored a pretty solid night all around offensively for their team. Wisconsin was on base 15 times as a team tonight, and all but one member of their startling lineup reached safely at least once.
"At times, we can be pretty competitive with the bat all the way through one through nine," manager Matt Erickson said. "Obviously, you've seen it early in the season where we haven't been competitive anywhere. But I think in time, I think if we can get on the field and get in a consistent daily routine we have a good chance of making some improvements as a ballclub this year."
Two hits and a pair of walks in tonight's game came from two recent additions to Wisconsin's roster, outfielder Victor Roache and first baseman Adam Giacalone. The two add some much-needed power potential and versatility to the roster.
"It kind of solidifies the middle of our lineup," Erickson said. "Giacalone brings a left handed bat, which aside from Sermo being a switch hitter we don't have a single left handed bat. So that helps us a bit, gives us some versatility in what we can do with the lineup and how we match up. Roache has obviously got plus power, and watching him take batting practice is impressive but obviously it's a little different in the game. If he can get himself in good counts and they have to attack the zone he can do some damage. So it'll be interesting to see how they progress along with the rest of this team."
Wisconsin also got some good news tonight when outfielder Tyrone Taylor returned to action for the first time since fouling a ball off his knee on Tuesday. Taylor was used as a pinch runner for Giacalone in the eighth, and Erickson said the 2012 second round pick will be back in the lineup tomorrow.
"I wanted to give him another day. He felt pretty good, he went through all of our pregame workouts and I asked him afterwards, 'how're you feeling?' and he said 'good,' and he said he could play," Erickson said. "He'll be back in the lineup tomorrow but I wasn't going to use him today unless a situation like that presented itself."
Tonight's win improved Wisconsin to 7-9 on the season. Their nine-game homestand will continue through Tuesday with two more games against West Michigan and three against South Bend.
Roache's new routine
Tonight's game was just the fourth professional contest for outfielder Victor Roache, one of the Brewers' two first round picks in the 2012 draft. Roache has had hits in each of his first three Wisconsin games after spending most of last season rehabbing a wrist injury, then had to wait for a hamstring injury to heal before he could play in 2013.
"Just sitting out seven months with the wrist injury, that was a long rehab process," Roache said, "Then getting my hamstring kind of injured the last two weeks of spring training so I couldn't make the trip with the team, that was pretty frustrating too. But I'm glad I'm here now, glad to be back with the team, glad I'm playing."
Despite losing a full season in 2012, Roache is still only 21 and won't turn 22 until September. He said it's "kind of hard" not to try to make up for lost time now that he's healthy.
"You go out there and try to do the best you can every day, but you've just got to understand that you can't get that time back," Roache said. "Sitting out that long kind of makes you appreciate the game a little more, when the game you love is taken away from you."
If Roache continues to hit the way he has to this point, it wouldn't be surprising if he's moved up to Brevard County before long. In the meantime, though, he's putting the team first with the Timber Rattlers.
"We want to win, we want to try to get another championship," Roache said. "We've got a lot of eyes on us this year, and we've got a good team too. So first and foremost is getting wins for the team, and if you get wins for the team all the individual stats will fall into place."
Magnifico keeping it under control
Even if he didn't have one of the greatest names in minor league baseball, 2012 fifth round pick Damien Magnifico would have no problem drawing attention. His fastball has been clocked around 100 mph on multiple occasions. Magnifico knows, though, that his velocity is only an asset when he can control it.
"If it's a strike it's an advantage, but the control isn't always there," Magnifico said. "That's why I'm down here. What I'm working on is control and command. If I can control it and command it, it's there."
He said he's working on both his mindset and mechanics to help improve his control. That's not the only thing he's working on, though: He's also adjusting to life in professional ball in his first full season after playing college ball at Oklahoma. Magnifico said the biggest change is adjusting to the differences in the pro schedule.
"In college it's seven days, here it's five days, and you've just got to get your routine down and stay healthy," Magnifico said.
Through three outings this season Magnifico has a 2.57 ERA over 14 innings. He's scheduled to start again on Saturday.
Gibbard going deeper
Wisconsin picked up a win on Tuesday behind six innings of work from 2012 14th round pick Ryan Gibbard, who allowed a single run on three hits. It was Gibbard's first start of the season, but he's allowed just two earned runs over 15.2 innings in three appearances.
Gibbard said his goal for 2013 is to become a quality starter.
"I know in Helena I played that role a little bit, I usually went five innings and gave up some runs, but I'd like to go further into the game and give up less runs, and start getting the W or at least keeping the team in the game," Gibbard said.
Gibbard throws four pitches: A fastball, curve, changeup and slider. He said he tends to stick to one breaking pitch, though, if it's working. Throwing his breaking pitches for strikes is one of Gibbard's biggest goals.
"There's a lot of things I need to work on, but mostly throwing my off speed for strikes better," Gibbard said.