What Lies Ahead, Needy Gets Noticed, The Rocket Returns

After putting up seven runs in the series opener against Lansing on Saturday night, the TinCaps lost, 4-0, on Sunday afternoon. It was just the fifth time all season Fort Wayne has been held without a run. They were 0-7 with runners in scoring position and picked up just five hits.

I talked with Manager Jose Valentin before the game and the first thing I asked him about was what he thinks has ailed the team lately, with just two wins in the last eight days:

“The success that we’ve had in the second half is because of the running game. We get guys on base, steal some bases, put the ball in play and that’s how we score some runs. But now they’re getting away from that. They’re swinging away too much, trying to get the home runs and that’s something that we haven’t had success with all year. I think we’ve got to forget that and go back to playing the little game and I think that’s how we play best.”

Notably, the TinCaps have not hit a home run in the last nine games. Jace Peterson has gone the same amount of time without a stolen base. He attempted to steal in Sunday’s game, but was thrown out at second base. Despite the team’s recent troubles, they would still qualify as a playoff team with eight games remaining in the regular season. West Michigan, with its win over Dayton on Sunday, now trails Lake County and Fort Wayne by two games.

Valentin also said given the two possible playoff opponents, he’s sure of who he would rather face.

“I think right now we’d like to face Lansing and not Bowling Green. We know that Lansing has got better pitching, but we pretty much have beaten their best three pitchers (Syndergaard, Nicolino, Sanchez). Bowling Green’s pitching staff is not the same as Lansing, but their offense is great. To compare both teams against us, our offense is not good enough and our pitching has kept us in it this season.To beat (Bowling Green), you’ve got to be able to score some runs. I’ll take my chances with Lansing. In a short series like that anything can happen.”

One of the joys of working with a manager like Jose Valentin is his willingness to give a clear outlook on the situation with his team. Never this season has he shied away from criticizing his team after a rough loss, or has he not given praise to a player who was particularly deserving of it. At this point in the season, with a week left, most managers or coaches in any sport tell you that they’re focused on the next day’s game and whatever lies instantly ahead. Well, look, we’re all human and it’s only instinctual to look to the future and wonder what might be next. Jose said his guys are thinking about winning it all.

“I think the guys have started looking and paying attention to the scoreboard and numbers, and I don’t blame them. I think they want to get to the postseason and win the championship. I’ve told them to be able to be a championship team, we’ve got to play team baseball and forget about numbers.”

He’s a manager that wants to win, and his players want to win, too.

To hear our full Sunday conversation, listen to today’s TinCaps Report Podcats:

NEEDY GETS NOTICED

Pitcher James Needy has had a great season for the TinCaps ever since he arrived on May 4. He worked in 28 games out of the bullpen, and just earned a win in his third start of the year since joining Fort Wayne’s rotation. Bill Center of UT-San Diego has put together a nice writeup on Needy:

“The left arm of San Diego native James Needy prominently sports a tattoo of the downtown skyline of his hometown.

All that’s missing is Petco Park.

Perhaps that would be too presumptuous for Needy, who after missing most of his first two professional seasons seems to have his career back on track.

This has been quite a rebound season for the 21-year-old Needy, who missed most of the last two seasons due to knee injury.

On the third day of his first spring training camp, Needy was participating in a pitcher’s fielding drill on a backfield at the Padres Peoria (Ariz.) complex when he slipped on the infield grass.

“At the time, I thought it was a simple strain,” said Needy, who, in fact, had pulled the tendon off the knee. Surgery in June of 2010 included burning off some nerve endings to reduce the pain.

Needy did not play in 2010. He returned after an extended rehab in 2011 to make 13 starts in rookie ball and short-season Single-A.

“I lost a lot of strength from the surgery,” said Needy. “I couldn’t walk for a month. Going into the last off-season, I decided I would work really hard to get into peak shape. And it was the hardest I’ve ever worked.”

If you’d like to hear more about his San Diego tattoo, and about the other one he has as a tribute to his family, you can listen to the clip of our recent interview:

ROCKET RETURNS

Upon scanning a Midwest League roster if you come across a player who is 25 years old, it definitely causes you to raise your eyebrows a bit. The age of players in the league generally ranges from 18 at the youngest (Joe Ross was the 5th youngest MWL player on opening day) to about 21 or 22 at the higher end. There are some 23 and 24-year-olds scattered around, too.

Now at a whopping 50 years old, Roger Clemens just took the mound again for the first time in five years, as he pitched for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters on Saturday night. He’s not coming through the Midwest League, but, hey, 50 is 50 when it comes to sports. That’s old.

Clemens hasn’t committed to more than the one start that he made for the Skeeters, but that hasn’t stopped the stream of speculation that he might be trying to make it back to the major leagues. Here was the take from a Sports Illustrated reporter at the game:

“That was a great deal of fun for me,” he told the reporters crammed into the Texas Embassy Room, upstairs by the luxury suite. Someone asked him if he would be attending tomorrow’s game.

“No,” he said.

“Does your success make you think about returning to the majors?” someone asked.

“No, it doesn’t,” he said, although it was hard to believe him.

Someone asked whether he had achieved his goals for the evening, and he said yes, if he had made even one person smile.

When it was over he walked out of the room and into the adjoining luxury suite, where children held up various objects for him to autograph. He complied graciously. As he crossed the room, flanked by three police officers, fans broke into a spontaneous cheer. Clemens got in the elevator, where he could be seen drinking water from a clear plastic bottle. He waved as the doors slid shut. But it was not goodbye. With Clemens it never is.”

MUSICAL GUEST

The Black Keys…take it away!

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

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