Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Probables: Charlotte Knights vs. Durham Bulls

Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
CHA - RHP Chris Beck (0-1, 9.64)
DUR - RHP Merrill Kelly (6-2, 3.00)

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
CHA - RHP Shawn Hill (3-4, 5.11)
DUR - RHP Alex Colome (4-3, 3.55)

Thursday 7:05 p.m.
CHA - RHP Bobby Doran (2-1, 8.36)
DUR - LHP Mike Montgomery (9-3, 3.77)

Friday 7:05 p.m.
CHA - RHP Erik Johnson (5-6, 6.48)

Head to head: This is the fifth of six series between the Knights and Bulls. Durham leads the season series 9-5.

Briefly: On Monday, Andy Wilkins earned International League Batter of the Week honors for the second consecutive week. Wilkins hit .467 (14-for-30) with 10 runs scored, three doubles, five home runs, and 16 RBIs over eight games. He is hitting .538 since the All-Star Break. Wilkins’ 26 home runs are tops in the IL. … Jordan Danks (436) is just three hits shy of trying Joe Borchard (439) for the Knights' all-time mark. Danks is hitting .280 on the season with 14 home runs.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Charlotte Knights SS Tyler Saladino to have Tommy John surgery

Charlotte Knights All-Star shortstop / White Sox prospect Tyler Saladino will miss the remainder of this season after suffering a tear of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his throwing arm.

According to a source within the White Sox organization, Saladino, who turned 25 on July 20, is scheduled to have Tommy John surgery on August 14.

The injury occurred during the Knights’ final game in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just prior to the Triple-A All-Star break (July 9) in a game Saladino started in left field.

Saladino said that he felt something in his arm in the top of the fifth inning following a play where he threw out Railriders’ outfielder Taylor Dugas at home (off an Austin Romine single) to preserve a 2-1 Charlotte lead.

Saladino played in two games following the injury (as a DH) before being placed on the seven-day disabled list.

Saladino (.310/.367/.483) was voted to start the Triple-A All-Star Game for the International League at shortstop, but was forced to pull out after the injury. His .310 batting average remains tops among Knights players this season.

His .471 average with runners in scoring position had turned Saladino into a Charlotte fan favorite.

The same White Sox source that knew the date of the surgery also mentioned that, in their opinion, Saladino was on his way to making his Major League debut this season.

Baseball America listed Saladino as a "rising" prospect in its mid-season update, noting that he had "re-established himself as a future utility option with a strong first half at Triple-A." 

The injury raises some questions about the White Sox somewhat liberal practice of training infielders to play corner outfield positions. A throw from left field to home on the fly is a significantly more strenuous action on the arm than any throw an infielder might make.

There are two years remaining on Saladino’s contract. Position players tend to return from Tommy John surgery faster than pitchers, who typically require a full 12 months. Mid-April of 2015 is probably a safe estimate for Saladino, assuming all goes well.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Andy Wilkins' recent power surge and four other Charlotte Knights thoughts

Five thoughts on the Knights…

1. Without question the Knights (48-61) are playing their best baseball of the season right now. They set a season-high with five straight wins July 12-19, lost a game on the 20th, and then ripped off another five-game streak before dropping a 6-5 decision to Louisville on Saturday.

As a team, the Knights are hitting .323 in July to pace the International League, which they now lead in home runs (137), RBI (491) and runs (523). Before Sunday's Game 1 shutout loss to the Bats, they'd scored five or more runs in 15 straight games.

2. Although everyone’s been hot at the plate, Charlotte first baseman Andy Wilkins has been one of the top hitters in all of baseball over the course of his current 12-game hitting streak. Wilkins, who was named the IL’s Batter of the Week last week, is hitting .551 (27-for-49) with 10 home runs, 17 runs, five doubles, and 24 RBIs since the streak began.

Don’t think this has simply been a hot 12 games for Wilkins either, his 26 home runs are tops in the IL and so are his 70 RBIs. Wilkins has improved each month this season, hitting .183 in April, .212 in May, .306 in June, and .448 this July (entering Sunday).

“It’s just a timing thing,” said Wilkins towards the end of June. “I’d been struggling with getting my timing and keeping it consistently. I’ve had flashes of it here and there, but I’ve just been working on it, and it’s clicking right now.”

“He’s seeing the ball well and using the whole field,” said Knights manager Joel Skinner of Wilkins. “He’s staying on the ball and every once in a while he catches a mistake and doesn’t miss it.”

A left-handed first baseman with power is one of the most sought after commodities in all of baseball. However, the knock on Wilkins, who is now 25, has always been his aggressive approach at the plate. His 19 walks in 347 ABs (5.5-percent) are the fewest among any of the Knights regulars.

IL pitchers might be wise to start pitching around Wilkins, who can get himself out more often than the White Sox would like.

For now though, Wilkins -- who is averaging a HR every 14.31 ABs -- is as hot as anyone on the planet and a reason to bring your glove if you’re planning on sitting in the BB&T BallPark outfield anytime soon.

3. Jordan Danks, who is in his fifth season with Charlotte, is now just four hits shy of tying Joe Borchard for the Knights’ all-time hits record (439). In Game 2 of Sunday’s double-header he drew even with Borchard in all-time games played as well.

Assuming Danks doesn’t set the hits mark before the Knights return to Charlotte on Tuesday, I’d hope he gets one heck of an ovation from the crowd at BB&T BallPark when it happens.

Danks is a career .269 hitter in Class AAA and has a million reasons to feel jaded about still being in the minors at age 27. However, he comes to the park everyday with an, “If I’m going to be here, I may as well have fun attitude," is always willing to talk with the media, and is good for one highlight-reel play in centerfield a week.

The Knights are handing out Danks bobble-heads on August 19. That’s great and all, but it sort of feels like he deserves more…

4. It’s a small sample size so don’t go crazy, but Erik Johnson seems to have turned things around since the All-Star Break. He’s added two miles per hour back to his fastball, which sat at 91-92 in his last start at BB&T, and his trademark slider has shown more depth and movement than it has all season.

Johnson entered the year as the White Sox No. 2 prospect, behind Jose Abreu, and collapsed under the weight of lofty expectations after making the Chicago rotation out of Spring Training.

He was sent to Charlotte to get his command and confidence back, and, for three months seemed to do the opposite.

Post All-Star break, Johnson has gone 2-0 with a 4.76 ERA (inflated by one tough inning on July 17). He’s allowed just one home run (in 11.1 innings) after surrendering long balls at a 1.05/9IP rate pre break and has nine Ks to go along with just two walks.

There’s more rotation/turn in Johnson's pitching motion than I saw the first half of the season and his command has gotten back to a place where it's allowing him to set up his slider with fastballs on the outside corner. If that continues, Charlotte may soon say goodbye to the right-hander.

Johnson’s next start is happening right now, and it’s worth keeping an eye on.

5. Myers Park High School graduate and former Charlotte pitcher Jake Robbins (@jakerobbins49) has joined the Knights broadcast team of Matt Sweirad and Michael Pacheco as a color analyst for WMYT My12’s Saturday games as well as an occasional fill-in during the week.

During his time with the Knights in 2007, Robbins so endeared himself to Sweirad and Pacheco that he was their first call when they learned of the impeding TV deal with WMYT.

Robbins had no prior experience calling games at any level, but has slid into the role well. His knowledge of the game and rapport with the players has added another element to an already top-notch broadcast team.

Emptying out the notebook: 

Micah Johnson is hitting .364 in July and is now fully healthy after a mid-season hamstring strain. If the White Sox move Gordon Beckham, he's ready to step right in. The one aspect of his game to keep an eye on is his defense. Johnson will make plays in the field no one else can because of his elite speed, but then misplay a routine ground ball. He's still only 23.   

- Asked the Knights strength and conditioning coach Chad Efron to name the strongest two guys (in terms of weight they're consistently putting up) on the team. One (Josh Phegley) wasn't a surprise. The other, (Micah Johnson) was. 

Michael Taylor has hit .302 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 30 games with Charlotte and has, by all accounts, been an excellent presence in the clubhouse. He was the No. 29 prospect in the game in 2009, but has never been able to fully put it together. That the Knights have gone 24-15 since adding the 28-year-old on June 17 from the Oakland Athletics Class AAA affiliate isn't mere coincidence. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Andy Wilkins makes it five home runs in four days; Justin Jirschele records first Class AAA hit, but Knights fall 16-5

Every winning streak eventually comes to an end.

On Sunday, the Charlotte Knights snapped their five-gamer in style, leaving nothing to chance in a 16-5 loss to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in front of 9,806 at BB&T BallPark.

Daniel McCutchen got the start for Charlotte and allowed 11 runs over four and 1/3 innings of work, departing with the Knights trailing 9-1.

Shawn Hill, who was activated off the disabled list prior to the game, came on in relief and proceeded to allow two inherited runners to score and then five more of his own accord over the game’s next three innings.

“Those kinds of games are going to happen,” said Andy Wilkins, who homered twice in the loss. “You just need to limit the amount of times. It was a rough one though.”

The two home runs extended Wilkins’ International League-leading total to 21 on the season. He finished the game 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs and is now hitting .444 over his last 11 games with seven home runs (five this series).

The RailRiders (47-54), who avoided a four-game sweep with the win, finished the night with 17 hits. The 16-runs allowed tied a season-high for the Knights (43-59) and the 11-run loss was one less than a 14-2 drubbing at the hands of Columbus back on June 10. 

The game was, however, not without a silver lining.

With the knowledge that Justin Jirschele’s time with Charlotte was up (with the pending arrival of Carlos Sanchez from the Chicago White Sox), Knights manager Joel Skinner sent the 24-year-old up to pinch hit for Micah Johnson in the eighth inning in search of his first Class AAA hit.

“I wanted him to get a base hit because I knew he was going down,” Skinner said. “The game was out of hand and that gave me a chance to get him an at-bat. He’d already had a sacrifice fly and he had a good game when he played here once earlier this season.”

Jirschele, who had been with the Knights since being called up from Class A+ Winston-Salem where he had been hitting .343, fell behind in the count no balls and two strikes, before sending a ball just inches wide of the foul line.

On the ensuing pitch, Jirschele sliced a line drive to left center for his first hit and second RBI.

"We were all hoping the ball down the line was going to be a hit," Wilkins said. "But he struck that next pitch well. We all like 'Jersch', so it was good to see."  

After signing with the White Sox as an undrafted free agent back in 2012 and never playing above the Class A+ level prior to last week, the hit was a special one for Jirschele, who received the ball when he returned to the dugout.  

“It was a good feeling,” he said. “It’s always a bummer coming in when you’re down and the game’s kind of out of whack, but I was happy that Skinns (Skinner) got me in there for an AB and I just wanted to put the bat on the ball and see what would happen.

“This is a great team,” he continued. “They kind of took me under their wing and treated me really well. Playing in a ballpark like this and seeing what these guys go out and do every day and their approach, just (makes me want to) work my tail off to try to get back here for good someday."  

NotesFollowing the game Justin Jirschele was called into Skinner's office and told he'd be heading back to Winston-Salem. ... Carlos Sanchez is expected to be available on Monday. ... Taylor Thompson, 27, who was promoted to the White Sox this morning tossed 1.2 scoreless innings with two strikeouts in his Major League debut. 

Game 102: Charlotte Knights vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Here are the lineups:

Knights (43-58)
Micah Johnson 2B
Marcus Semien SS
Jordan Danks CF
Matt Davidson 3B
Andy Wilkins DH
Matt Tuiasosopo LF
Michael Taylor RF
Dan Black 1B
Miguel Gonzalez C
Pitching: RHP Daniel McCutchen (0-0, 7.20 ERA)

RailRiders (46-54)
Jose Pirela 2B
Rob Refsynder RF
Zoilo Almonte LF
Adonis Garcia 3B
Kyle Roller DH
Austin Romine 1B
John Ryan Murphy C
Antoan Richardson CF
Carmen Angelini SS
Pitching: LHP Matt Tracy (0-2, 3.12 ERA)

Game time: 5:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: MiLB.tv / ESPN 730 / WNOW 10 (in Spanish)

Notes: Today the White Sox purchased the contract of Charlotte Knights’ 27-year-old RHP Taylor Thompson. He’s gone 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA and six saves in Charlotte this season, while striking out 9.9 per nine innings. … The White Sox also optioned infielder Carlos Sanchez back to Charlotte. The 22-year-old is scheduled to report to the Knights on Monday. … Shawn Hill has been activated from the disabled list. ... The Knights have won a season-high five straight games. Josh Phegley is currently riding a 14-game hitting streak. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chat with Mr. October helps Dan Black lead Knights to fifth-straight win

Dan Black was just another awestruck fan on Friday when he walked across the BB&T BallPark infield in the direction of Reggie Jackson, fresh baseball and pen in hand.

“(Jackson) kind of looked at me like, ‘Why are you coming over here kid?’” joked Black upon his return to the Knights dugout. “But he still signed my ball!”

On Saturday, Black again found himself face-to-face with the New York Yankees Hall of Famer turned special assistant, who was in town working with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

This time, however, their meeting came in the batting cage with Black receiving advice and stories in lieu of autographs.

“It was neat,” said Black, who added that White Sox special assistant Jim Thome was also present. “I got to sit in on a conversation with a couple of Hall of Famers about hitting, about the eras in which they played in, hear about a whole bunch of different guys, and soak up a good baseball moment for my personal life.”

Black went on to make what would have already been a good day even better by finishing 2-for-3 with a home run, two runs knocked in and two runs scored in a 7-0 Knights victory over the RailRiders in front of 9,665 at BB&T BallPark.

The win was the fifth in a row for the Knights (43-58), who will conclude their four-game set with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday.

Black’s big night came in support of Andre Rienzo (1-2), who shutout the RailRiders for five innings, while striking out six and surrendering only one hit.

The start was Rienzo’s first since being reassigned to Charlotte by the Chicago White Sox on June 13. The native of Brazil went 4-5 with a 5.87 ERA in 11 starts in the Majors.

In Black’s first trip to the plate in Saturday's win he laced a single back up the middle.

On attempt No. 2, Black deposited a 2-1 fastball into the bleacher seats for a two-run home run to put the Knights on top 4-0 in the fourth inning. The home run was his sixth of the season in Class AAA play.

The game was Black’s first with the Knights since he suffered a rib injury that led to a strained oblique during a three-home-run seven-RBI game in Columbus back on May 29.

“That was a rough couple of months,” said Black. “I took a few weeks off to just rehab it and get everything healthy and now that I’m back everything seems to be going well. It’s nice to not be worried about how my body is going to feel day-to-day.”  

Andy Wilkins (2-for-4) and Josh Phegley (2-for-4) also turned in multi-hit games for the Knights, who touched up Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching for eight hits on the night.

The five-game winning streak is the Knights longest since they put together an eight-game set back in August of 2012, but it was the sit down with Mr. October that will stay with Black long after the specifics of Saturday’s game are forgotten.  

“It was just really cool to see a Hall of Famer come around some Minor League guys and treat them with respect,” said Black. “He knows the struggles that we’ve gone through. I just really like those moments where you can just sit down with those guys and talk to them candidly.”

Notes: With Saturday’s attendance of 9,665, the Knights have now drawn over 500,000 fans (501,262) to BB&T BallPark this season. They’ve averaged a MiLB-best 9,640 fans per game through 52 home openings this season.

Game 101: Charlotte Knights vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Here are the lineups:

Knights (42-58)
Micah Johnson 2B
Marcus Semien SS
Josh Phegley C
Jordan Danks CF
Matt Davidson 3B
Andy Wilkins 1B
Matt Tuiasosopo LF
Michael Taylor RF
Dan Black DH
Pitching: RHP Andre Rienzo (0-2, 4.80 ERA)

RailRiders (46-53)
Jose Pirela 2B
Rob Refsynder RF
Zoilo Almonte DH
Adonis Garcia 3B
Kyle Roller 1B
Austin Romine C
Taylor Dugas LF
Antoan Richardson CF
Carmen Angelini SS
Pitching: LHP Nik Turley (0-1, 5.82 ERA)

Game time: 7:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: WMYT My12 / ESPN 730 

Notes: Andre Rienzo is making his fourth start of the season for the Charlotte Knights, and first since returning to Class AAA from the Chicago White Sox on July 13. In 14 games in the Major Leagues this season, Rienzo went 4-5 with a 5.87 ERA. … Andy Wilkins and Josh Phegley have feasted on Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching this season. Wilkins is 16-for-25 (.640) with 10 runs scored, four doubles, a triple and five home runs. Phegley is 11-for-21 (.524) with two home runs. Phegley is currently in the midst of a 13-game hitting streak, the longest this season by any Knights player. … With a HR last night, Wilkins took over the IL-lead with 19, one ahead of teammate Matt Davidson. … The Knights are expecting to surpass 500,000 in attendance tonight. They’re averaging a MiLB-best 9,639 fans per game.