What a difference a year makes!
It’s April 12, 2017. Here’s the state of things on the path 400 miles to Toronto and beyond.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats have completed the first two series of their 2018 campaign and the buzz couldn’t be any different from last year’s team.
New Hampshire returns for their home opener with a four-game sweep in Hartford and two wins out of their three games in Trenton. Last year’s squad had three wins against Trenton all season.
Oh, the 2017 Fisher Cats didn’t post a single shutout. This year’s edition has already posted two.
The former Fisher Cats catcher and new Fisher Cats manager John Schneider came into this position with high expectations, bringing with him championships in the Northwest League and Florida State League. However, he figured those expectations would need to build up gradually over the first week as the team began to coalesce.
Instead, the lofty opinion he held of this club coming into the year has been quickly validated, with his players consistently performing and also learning from the few low moments, such as Tuesday’s loss to the Thunder.
Ultimately, there just seems to be a different atmosphere with Schneider at the helm, a sense of relaxation and confidence in the clubhouse with the superlative batting relieving pressure on the pitching and vice versa.
“It’s a young team, the guys who were here last year have helped keep things calm and set a real even keel for the first week here,” said Schneider. “My big belief is that you have to get along, you have to have fun. Guys want to want to be around each other. We’re always trying to find ways to keep that vibe going.”
If there was one thing to nitpick about the Fisher Cats near perfect start, it was the performance of Francisco Rios.
Rios, who missed much of last year to injury, was limited to 68 pitches in the first game of the road trip. There, Schneider had planned to bring him back out after four innings of work, but a long delay and cold weather made him decide to hand things over to the bullpen.
Five days later, he submitted what was easily the worst starting performance from any Fisher Cats pitcher during the road trip, getting the hook after allowing five runs in 3 1/3 innings, lasting just 67 pitches.
Schneider fully expects Rios to recover from last year’s injuries and put in higher pitch counts, but he isn’t going to keep him in for the sake of keeping him in, especially with the quality start New Hampshire’s bullpen has submitted so far.
“(On Tuesday) he just didn’t have it. A perfect example of us trying to put ourselves into a position to win. We had a full bullpen and Frankie would be the first one to admit he didn’t have his stuff,” said Schneider. “I made a decision he had enough. It’s still early, he still has plenty of time to build up to 100-105 pitches. It was best to get him out of there and do something offensively, which we almost did. What happened with (Rios) is going to happen to any pitcher at any level, it just wasn’t his night.”
Fisher Cats of the Week
Batters: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – In just about any week last year, this honor would have gone to anyone posting the weekly numbers put up this week by Bo Bichette (12-for-33, 6 runs, 3 stolen bases) , Cavan Biggio (6-for-19, 5 RBI and 4 doubles), or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (10-for-29, 8 RBI, 3 doubles), but as stated earlier, this is not last year.
With commentators already half-joking that he’s locked up a spot in Cooperstown like his father, Guerrero Jr. went 9-for-28 with a hit in every game except the April 6 matchup against Hartford.
He also contributed a pair of home runs, one making it onto Sportscenter, as well as a six RBI day on April 9 against Trenton.
Starting Pitching: (tie) Jordan Romano and Sean Reid-Foley – Romano couldn’t quite get the win on April 6, but he had a decent start and built on it against Trenton on April 11, allowing just two runs in his 12 innings of work over those two games.
However, Reid-Foley was almost perfect in his outing this week, allowing just one hit and three walks in his six innings of work, allaying some fears after a disappointing season last year.
Relief Pitching: Zach Jackson – Jackson picked up the win instead of Romano on April 6, and would add another strong performance on April 10 in the series opener against Trenton, not allowing any runs in 4 2/3 innings during those two games.
Who’s Here and Who’s Left
No transactions yet, as every pitcher on the roster outside of the injured Drew Muren and Tom Robson seeing work in at least one game during the road trip.
On the lineup card, it appears the only positional constant this year will be Guerrero at third.
However, Bichette and Gurriel were also present during every game, with Andrew Guillotte, Connor Panas and Harold Ramirez appearing in six of the seven games.
As expected, Patrick Cantwell and Max Pentecost are platooning behind the plate, with the catchers alternating rather than being assigned to particular starting pitchers.
The Fisher Cats’ home opening series begins on Friday with a three-game set against the Yard Goats, followed by a four-game set against Tim Tebow and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, set to begin on Monday.