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: / 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.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chien-Ming Wang makes solid debut in 8-4 Knights win over RailRiders

There was a time when the news of the Chicago White Sox signing Taiwanese pitcher Chien-Ming Wang would have been front-page, above the fold, material.

On Thursday, a website known for being on top of trade rumors and potential signings, listed Wang’s signing and subsequent assignment to the Class AAA Charlotte Knights under a subhead that read: “Minor Moves.”

Players also mentioned in the “Minor Moves” post included former Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis (he’s thinking about coaching) and former NBA star Tracy McGrady (who has retired from baseball…wait, what?)

So it was with little fanfare that Wang made his Knights debut on Friday in an 8-4 Charlotte win over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in front of 10,240 at BB&T BallPark.

The 34-year-old, who led the American League in wins with 19 when he was a member of the New York Yankees in 2006, tossed six innings and allowed four runs on seven hits to pick up the win.

True to form, Wang recorded 11 of his 18 outs via the groundball. He also struck out two and walked three, while touching an encouraging 91 mph on the stadium radar gun.

Wang went 8-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 19 games this season with the Class AAA Louisville Bats (a Cincinnati Reds minor league affiliate) before exercising an opt-out option in his contract to pursue an opportunity to find a Major League job.

“I tried to get a better chance to get back to the majors,” said Wang about the decision to sign with Chicago. “Other teams talked to me, but to have a chance to be a Major League fifth starter, I thought this was my best choice.”

After retiring the first two RailRiders batters he faced in the first inning, Wang allowed a double and a run-scoring single before recording a strikeout to end the inning.

The next four frames were vintage Wang, who entered the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead and having thrown just 72 pitches. 

The RailRiders touched the 6-foot-4-inch right-hander up for three runs in the sixth on four hits. Nevertheless, Knights fans gave him a nice ovation as he headed for the dugout following a debut that lived up to expectations.

“They just told me to keep working and being consistent,” said Wang when asked what the White Sox had told him about his chances to earn a quick promotion back to the big leagues.

In the top of the seventh, Charlotte took a 6-4 edge thanks to a two-run single from Josh Phegley (3-for-4, three RBI) to ensure that Wang would be credited with the win, Charlotte’s fourth in a row.

Andy Wilkins (3-for-4, 2B, HR), who finished the night 3-for-4, added two more insurance runs in the eighth inning with his International League-leading 19th home run of the season.

“It's just a matter (of) having depth so that if something should happen in Chicago, we've got another option to come give us a professional outing," White Sox General Manger Rick Hahn told after Wang’s signing.

"You sort of know what you're going to get there; (Wang’s) going to throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground. It is conceivable that, if there's a need here, we would turn to him."

Game 100: Charlotte Knights vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders

Here are the lineups:

Knights (41-58)
Micah Johnson 2B
Marcus Semien SS
Josh Phegley C
Jordan Danks CF
Matt Davidson 3B
Andy Wilkins 1B
Matt Tuiasosopo LF
Blake Tekotte RF
Michael Taylor DH
Pitching: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (8-5, 3.70 ERA w/ LOU)

RailRiders (46-52)
Jose Pirela RF
Rob Refsynder 2B
Zoilo Almonte LF
Adonis Garcia 3B
Kyle Roller 1B
John Ryan Murphy C
Corban Joseph DH
Carmen Angelini SS
Taylor Dugas CF
Pitching: RHP Chris Leroux (2-2, 4.44 ERA)

Game time: 7:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: / ESPN 730

Notes: Chien-Ming Wang, who signed with the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, is making his Knights debut tonight. He was 8-5 with a 3.70 ERA in 19 games before opting out of his contract with the Cincinnati Reds last week. Wang won 19 games in back-to-back seasons (2006-07) with the New York Yankees. … On June 26, Wang allowed two unearned runs on three hits in 7.2 innings against Charlotte while pitching for the Louisville Bats. … Andy Wilkins (two HR last night) and Matt Davidson (HR last night) are tied atop the International League with 18 home runs. They’ve been battling back-and-forth for the team lead for the last two months. They have homered on the same day five times and a day apart from each other another five times. … With two runs scored on Thursday night, Jordan Danks moved into a tie with Joe Borchard for first all-time in runs scored (237) for the Knights.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Erik Johnson sharp as Knights pound six home runs in 9-5 win over RailRiders

You could see the anger starting to boil over for Erik Johnson in the sixth inning of Thursday’s 9-5 Charlotte Knights win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders when the right-hander failed to get the call on a two-strike fastball that looked to catch the inside corner of the plate.

Knights’ catcher Josh Phegley held the ball in place for a couple extra seconds, Charlotte players barked from the bench, and Johnson took a jab at the return throw from Phegley that would have made Ali look twice.

It wasn’t so much the umpiring that had Johnson on edge, as much as it was the four-run inning by the RailRiders in front of 10,255 at BB&T BallPark that he just couldn’t escape.

“That’s baseball and that’s how it goes down sometimes,” said Johnson (3-6), who had cruised through the game’s first five innings, allowing one run on two hits with five strikeouts.

“You’ve got to go with the punches and remember that you get the ball again in five days," he continued. "There are frustrating parts, but you’ve got to take away the positives and keep building and working.”  

In a season that’s seemingly been a never-ending series of one step forward followed by two steps back for Johnson, whose ERA now stands at 6.80, the All-Star break was a chance to hit reset and his first five innings were exactly what he’d hoped they would be.

“You could tell I had my command and I was hitting the glove and working ahead and punching guys out,” said Johnson, whose final line read: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R (4ER), 5K. 

“My hits were down and there were no walks tonight," Johnson said. "It was one of the sharpest outings I’ve had. I’ve been working on a few things and I thought they all came together tonight.”

The Knights (41-58), who won for the third consecutive game, pounded out a season-high six home runs in support of Johnson, with two coming from Andy Wilkins (3-for-4) and Matt Davidson, Marcus Semien, Phegley and Jordan Danks all joining in the fun.

Davidson (1-for-4) and Wilkins are now tied atop the International League with 18 home runs each. Charlotte entered the day leading the IL in home runs (117), 32 more than second-placed Toledo (85). 

“It’s a lot easier when guys all over the lineup are working the counts, getting on, and putting pressure on the pitcher,” said Davidson. “With (Wilkins and I) having the team lead, we may as well battle back and forth. If I hit one, he seems to hit one and the other way around. We’ve got a good little competition going on."

Johnson’s pitch immediately following the one in the sixth where he didn’t get the call was laced back up the middle for the RailRiders' fifth hit of the inning and led to Knights manager Joel Skinner turning the game over to the bullpen.

The inning had gotten away from Johnson, but the Knights defense had also made an error, failed to turn a double play and allowed an infield single.

“He went through the lineup and had the one inning where it seemed like we couldn’t make a play,” said Skinner of Johnson’s performance. “We expanded that inning on Erik.

“I though that the first three innings he went right through the lineup and faced the minimum,” Skinner continued. “He was just pitching tonight and that’s what we’ve seen from him in the past and that’s what he did tonight.”

You could see Johnson talking to himself as he walked off the mound, but as soon as he reached the dugout, the pats on the back began.

“That’s the sharpest I’ve seen (Johnson) all year,” said Wilkins, who is hitting .405 (17-for-42) over his last 10 games with four home runs. “He was pounding the zone and throwing strikes. He did a good job and wasn’t behind too many hitters. He just came out and attacked and it was good to see.”

Notes: Prior to the game, the Chicago White Sox announced the signing of Chien-Ming Wang and his subsequent assignment to the Charlotte Knights. Wang, who recently opted out of his contract with Cincinnati, posted an 8-5 record with a 3.70 ERA in 19 games for the Triple-A Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Reds organization) this season. He is scheduled to start on Friday. … In a separate move, the team also traded starter Dylan Axelrod to the Cincinnati organization.