The first homestand of 2017 is over and it looks like the New Hampshire Fisher Cats will have some work to do moving forward.
New Hampshire will take a 2-4 record out of their first six games of the season, losing their opening series against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies and the Reading Fightin’ Phils.
After dropping both games of their Opening Day doubleheader, the Fisher Cats topped Binghamton 8-3 on Sunday before a Monday 9-7 loss and a Tuesday 10-5 loss to Reading.
Manchester Schools Day marked the final game of the homestand, with thousands of local area students descending upon Northeast Delta Dental Stadium for a special 10:35 a.m. first pitch.
The Fisher Cats sent the children home happy, winning the late morning contest 5-3 on the strength of home runs from Raffy Lopez and Gunnar Heidt, bringing both players’ homer totals to a pair each so far.
Heidt was just short of the cycle as well, adding a single and a double on what was a 3-for-4 day. However, that feat was far from his mind.
“I had no idea until I told (Fisher Cats pitcher) Connor Greene to go get a different bat and he said, ‘only if you hit a triple’,” said Heidt. “I wondered why he said that and I just realized it (before my final at-bat), but it didn’t affect me any.”
That three-hit day brought Heidt’s batting average above .300 for the first six games of the year, joining Anthony Alford and Ryan McBroom as the only Fisher Cats that can currently claim that distinction in what was a difficult homestand for New Hampshire’s offense.
Fisher Cats’ pitching has also struggled for the most part. The staff has seen some bright spots, with Chris Rowley (5 IP), Jose Fernandez (4 IP) and Carlos Ramirez (3.1 IP) holding opponents without a run during their stints over the first three games. Francisco Rios also won his Double-A debut on Sunday, allowing just one run in five innings pitched.
However, Rios is New Hampshire’s only starting pitcher with a quality performance over the opening homestand, with the Fisher Cats’ other four starters posting ERAs over 6.00. Five pitchers, including all of the starters except for Rios and Greene, hold an ERA over 10.00 at the cusp of the team’s first road trip.
In particular, staff ace Sean Reid-Foley was forced out of the game in the second inning in both his starts, escaping with a no-decision on Wednesday.
“That wasn’t Sean out there, he was throwing, he wasn’t pitching. He’s the guy who’s going to get us over the top and he was just trying too hard,” said Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson on Wednesday.
It still may be too soon to tell what to take out of these first few games as the team slowly comes together and begins to adapt to the regular season, but Allenson was proud of his bullpen’s performance in the wake of his starting rotation’s collapse.
For now, the Fisher Cats will head on the road to face the Hartford Yard Goats on Thursday, Friday and Saturday before facing the Trenton Thunder on a four-game series. Allenson believes that his squad can fare well against both teams.
“Home field advantage isn’t as important in baseball, especially outside of the majors, 90 feet down the base paths, 60 feet, six inches to the pitcher’s mound,” he said. “We just have to get this first road trip out of the way, get things rolling.”
The Fisher Cats return to Manchester on Friday, April 21 for another set of series with the Yard Goats and Thunder, celebrating the birthday of Fisher Cat mascot Fungo with a “Kids Run the Bases” night on Sunday, April 23 and an “Uncle Sam Hat Giveaway” promotion on Wednesday, April 26.
New Hampshire native Andrew Sylvia began covering the Fisher Cats in 2010 and 2011 and has reported on a wide variety of other sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Nashua Telegraph and Patch.com in addition to thousands of other non-sports articles for over two-dozen outlets throughout New England and beyond.
He also has a Australian Rules Football fantasy team and he thinks they’re finally going to win it all this year, if only because he’s an optimistic kind of guy.