Thursday night I headed down to Springfield to catch our NW Arkansas Naturals in action against the Springfield Cardinals. This is a much easier trip for me than to Springdale as it's only an hour and 15 minutes. It was a fun night and here's a write up on the evening. I got to see guys such as Jeff Bianchi, Kurt Mertins, David Lough, Jarrod Dyson, and RoyalsReview.com favorite, Rowdy Hardy.
I had a few errands to run in Springfield so I postponed them all a day or two until I could see the Naturals come to Springfield. So, after I did everything and got my vehicle serviced at Reliable Imports, I headed over to Hammons Field. I got there an hour before game time when the gates opened at 6:10. I paid $6 to sit in the GA section which in Springfield consists of green benches around the park or somewhere in the grass berms. You can actually sit directly behind homeplate on one of the benches but I wasn't lucky enough to get there in time as some one had already snatched it. So I suggest, if you go to a game here, as soon as you get in the gate (opens 1 hour before gametime most times) you go straight there and either deposit a spouse or someone there to sit while you walk around and chase after whatever you're doing.
I wandered down to the tunnel the Naturals would be coming out of on the thirdbase side. I bought a program so that I could keep score (don't be making fun of me) and take notes. First guy out of the tunnel was Cody Straight. He was already joggin when I got down there. But next was Jeff Bianchi who graciously signed my program. In all, most of the guys signed, there were a few that didn't and it kind of irritated me. There were two of us down there wanting autographs so it wasn't a big deal. Josh Johnson and Jose Duarte snubbed us as they talked in Spanish to each other and didn't respond to Jose/Josh calls. I was also irritated to see these two isolate themselves with Jarrod Dyson. Dyson interacted with the rest of the team, but Jose and Josh did not. Between innings Jose or Josh would come out to play catch with the odd man out in the outfield. Normally the CF and the corner OF opposite of the dugout play catch while the closest corner OF plays catch with someone from the dugout. This was different. Josh and Jose took turns playing catch with Dyson. It really irritated me.
Anyway, Cory Smith uses Trinity bats. I'd never heard of them and mentioned that to him as he signed my program. He just laughed and said they're good bats. That was it.
It was an interesting game with everything happening early. Jarrod Dyson lead off the game with a line drive single to center that caught the CF in an awkward position. He tried to dive and it skipped past him and rolled to the CF wall. It was deemed a single with a 3 base error, but I was pretty sure it was an inside the parker. So Dyson got jipped of his HR by the biast scorekeeper. Overall, Dyson looked good at the plate. He was 2-3 with his HR* and a line drive double to right center. He hit the ball hard and looked like he had a short compact stroke. It won't produce much power, but he hits the ball hard. As he gets older and stronger, I think he'll be lucky to hit double digit homers. But I think he'd hit 4 or 5 every season. His last AB he struck out on a slider to the outer edge. It fooled him bad. He looked great on defense except for one play. A deep flyball hit to dead center. He got back to the wall before the ball but was turned around and the ball fell for a triple just behind and to his left. It looked as though he thought he was going to have to try to rob the HR but it didn't make it that far. Duarte came in to hit for him in the 7th and looked very comfortable in CF.
Bianchi went 0-3 with a K and a BB. He looked very smooth on D with a strong arm. He made a play running in and a play in the hole. The play Batencourt made yesterday where the 3B missed the ball and he fielded it in the hole was a carbon copy of the play Bianchi made. I think he can stick at the position. He did pull a 97 mph fastball foul down the line. He hit the ball hard both ABs he made contact.
David Lough didn't quite have a spectacular night. He played RF and hit 5th. 0-4 with a K looking. He hit two lazers that where both caught. One to the RF in the 9th against a 96 mph fastball. The ball was hit so hard that the RF had to jump to catch it while playing no-doubles D at the track. It probably would have hit the top of the wall. But, just a long and loud out. He also lined out to LF on a sinking liner that the LF made a webgem diving backhanded catch on. Very nice play. I don't remember seeing him make any throws that I could have judged his arm on.
RR favorite Rowdy Hardy made the start. I watched him in the pen before the game and he seemed to be struggling with his command. He couldn't quite find his release on the curve/slider but it got better during the game. I believe he got the loss. Rowdy labored through 5.0 innings giving up 8 hits. He was credited with 4 ER's but he had some really bad luck. For example... the 3rd inning. The first batter walked on what I though was a strike. The next batter hit a groundball up the middle which should have been a double play ball and Bianchi was in position and reaching for it when it hit the bag. Turned into a single as it bounced away. The next batter hit a little chopper swining bunt which rolled all the way to the 3B bag. So two batters, two hit bags in a row. I've never seen that in my life. The next batter hit into a FC for at the plate. Anyway, Rowdy looked a little nervous and frustrated at the beginning of the game. He never really settled down. I think he can be successful out of the pen in the majors, but probably not a starter. He has to hit the corners and keep the ball down. The change was good and the curve got better. He topped out at 86 once but mostly worked 82-83.
Chris Nicoll threw the 6th, 7th, and 8th. He looked much better this night than the last night I saw him pitch. Three perfect innings with 4 Ks. He hit his spots well and changed speeds with location.
The Cards had two guys that impressed me on the mound. Eduardo Sanchez is 5'11" and his first pitch was 100 mph on the gun. His next 3 were 99. He stayed there the rest of his inning. Then their closer Fransisco Samuel also hit 99 on the gun. The Naturals nearly came back on him with two runners in the 9th, but lost a 4-3 game.
It was fun and I hope to see the Naturals play again soon.