There couldn’t possibly be enough water at Louisville Slugger Field on Tuesday night to extinguish the fire that is Scott Schebler. Rounding off an out-of-this world month of July, the ultimate “cherry on top” performance came on Tuesday night as his double in the 10th inning completed the cycle, the first for a Bats player since 2007. It was also his first career five hit game.
Having time to reflect after the game, Schebler put his night at the plate near the top of his baseball memory list. “Doing something in the big leagues is obviously going to top this, but something like this is extremely special,” Schebler said.
It’s easy to claim that Schebler is seeing the pitches coming in like a beach ball but he’ll be the first to admit that this year hasn’t always been like that. “About a month and a half ago, I definitely didn’t see myself getting here to this point. But hard work with (Bats manager) Delino (Deshields) and our hitting coaches, getting those everyday at-bats and grinding through the hard times, when you get hot you want to stay hot as long as possible so I’m hoping I can keep this going,” he said.
Just how good has Schebler been at the dish? In his last five games (entering play Wednesday), Schebler is 14-for-22 including four doubles, two triples, and three home runs. With July coming to a close, Schebler has collected an OPS mark of over 1.000 for the second consecutive month.
Even with the staggering stats and recent success, Schebler couldn’t have predicted the night he had. “That’s the weird thing about baseball, sometimes you come to the ballpark and say ‘man I just want to scratch one across today.’ That’s how this game is.” Schebler said. “It can be humbling at times and times where you aren’t feeling very good and you go there and you’re in the zone after the first at-bat. It’s just a day-to-day grind.”
With a two-bagger away from the cycle and his fourth four-hit game of the season already locked up, Schebler was just trying to put himself in position for the Bats to win the game. “If you’re playing to win the game, stuff like that is going to happen. I definitely wasn’t going out there tonight saying, ‘Hey I’m going to hit for the cycle.’ It takes four at-bats to get to it, so it’s a long developing thing. I went out in the 10th and said, ‘Hey I need to get into scoring position.'” he said.
The Bats have now won two in a row and will go for the sweep tonight at 7:05 PM against the Charlotte Knights. Schebler? He’ll attempt to get his fifth multi-hit game in a row.
The 2016 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place on Sunday, July 24. Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., who received a record 99.3% of the vote, and catcher Mike Piazza, make up the 2016 class that will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York.
However, there are many people around baseball: fans, former players, sportswriters on social media, or anyone who has been on this player’s Baseball-Reference/FanGraphs page, who will tell you there’s someone missing from the 2016 Hall of Fame class, and that’s former outfielder Tim “Rock” Raines.
He played 23 seasons from 1979-2002, stealing bases in four different decades. In the 2016 Hall of Fame vote, he received 69.8% of the vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, falling 27 votes short of the 75% mark that would get him enshrined into Cooperstown.
Raines was a teammate of current Louisville Bats manager and a great player in his own right, Delino DeShields, with the 1990 Montreal Expos.
“He [Raines] was a dominant player for more than a decade,” says DeShields. “It was Rickey Henderson in the American League and it was Tim ‘Rock’ Raines in the National League.”
In the 1980s, that was definitely the case. Henderson totaled 838 stolen bases in the decade, while Raines stole 583, with no other player eclipsing the 500-mark in the ‘80s.
“I was very blessed to come into the game as a young player and learn from guys like Raines, Otis Nixon, and a coach like Tommy Harper,” says DeShields.
DeShields stole 42 bases as a rookie in 1990, the 13th-highest total for a first-year player in the MLB since 1913. He was part of a team with Raines, who stole 49 bases that season, and Nixon, who led the club with 50 steals. 26 years later, they’re still the last three teammates to each steal 40+ bases in the same season.
“Those kind of [stolen base] numbers don’t happen today,” says DeShields. “I had a lot of tutelage as a young player and it really helped me a lot.”
When it comes to the Hall of Fame, DeShields, like many others close to the game of baseball, doesn’t hesitate to call Tim Raines a Hall of Famer.
“Tim Raines should be in the Hall of Fame, he’s a Hall of Famer to me and a lot of other people, and I hope he gets in,” says DeShields. When asked about which of his former teammates are deserving of the Hall of Fame, DeShields says Raines is at the top of the list.
Raines will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the final time in 2017, his 10th year on the ballot. If he doesn’t garner 75% of the vote needed for induction, he’ll move to the Era Committee system where he’d be eligible for induction through a Baseball Veteran’s Committee.
Some Tim Raines statistics, collected via Baseball-Reference:
Raines had 978 stolen bases and home runs combined, which ranks eighth all-time. The seven ahead of him: five players in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.
Raines is the only player in MLB history to have at least 100 career triples, 150 home runs, and 600 stolen bases.
For the 1983 Expos, Raines stole a career-high 90 bases (was only caught 14 times) and had 51 extra-base hits. He’s the only player since 1901 with a 90 stolen base, 50 extra-base hit season.
Raines collected 69.1 career Wins Above Replacement, more than Hall of Famers like Tony Gwynn (68.8), Ryne Sandberg (67.5), Willie Stargell (57.5), and many more.
Raines stole 808 bases (5th all-time) and was only caught 146 times. His 84.7% stolen base success rate ranks is the highest rate all-time for players who had at least 400 stolen bases.
A serviceable weapon makes for a serviceable soldier. For baseball players, once they are in that batter’s box, they are on their battle ground and they rely on their weapon to complete the mission: get a hit. For any player, it is about comfort, strength, ability, and bat speed. Jermaine Curtis and Brandon Allen are the ultimate professionals and understand that having the perfect weapon makes your life as a hitter much simpler. Both guys agree, your skill level is important, but having the right bat, the right wood type, and the right weight will help make the difference between a hitting double and a home run.
Now, neither guy has a bat close to the 39 oz. bat that Hall of Famer Ty Cobb would lug around because they simply don’t feel comfortable with that weight. “It’s all about feel”, Allen said. “I like the bat to be balanced, but it’s really just a personal preference.” Curtis had very similar remarks when discussing how he pinpointed what felt right. “I just messed around with other people’s bat” to find what was the perfect fit. The comment sounds inappropriate in nature, but the results coming from these actions are worth it once you are on your way to the big leagues.
Many times, there are little things players do to make themselves better that the common eye would not pin point, one of which is that players often times use two different bat sizes. Curtis uses a 34 inch/32 oz. bat and a 34 inch/31.5 oz. bat, while Allen, who uses the largest bat on the team, a 35 inch/32 oz. bat and a 34 inch/31oz. bat. The reason for the different sized bats really is not all that complicated. Allen says he uses his lighter bat to combat fatigue. He said, “it all depends on if your body is a little tired or your arms are a little heavy”. Curtis had very similar things to say, but also mentioned that there is a little strategy involved saying, “if the guy is throwing hard, I will use the heavier bat because all I need to do is make solid contact and the ball is going to go and if a guy is throwing slower, I will use a lighter bat to generate more bat speed.”
Their bat sizes have evolved, however, along with their game, throughout their journey through the minor leagues. “When I first started in pro-ball, I was swinging a very light bat. I would literally barrel balls and the bat would break”, Curtis exclaimed. After continuously having this issue, fellow UCLA alumni Troy Glaus sat down with Curtis and told him to use a bigger bat. Glaus informed Curtis that using that bigger bat will help the ball travel further and keep the bat from breaking. Allen also came up using a smaller bat. “I got a different barrel and different handle. As you come up through the minor leagues you use pro-stock… Once you make the big leagues or get 40-man status, you get free bats. I’ve been with Old Hickory for a while”, Allen said of his journey with his bats throughout professional baseball.
The art of picking your bat is pretty simple: it is trial and error. It is all about trying different bats, finding what feels right, and delivering at the plate. Allen and Curtis have been in the business a while and have had great success. Choosing the right bat is less of an art or craft, more of luck and repetition.
After posting a 6.89 ERA in his nine appearances for the Cincinnati Reds last season, right hander Josh Smith knew something needed to change. Change he did as Smith has established himself this season as a reliable arm that Reds’ manager Bryan Price can call upon.
“I just went back and watched a lot film in the offseason, wrote down a little bit of things to tweak, tried to have a different mindset of challenging guys and it seems to be working for me,” Smith told TheBatsSignal.com in a recent interview.
Smith began the year in Louisville by starting eight games for the Bats. In the eight games, he posted a record of 3-4 and had an earned runs average of 3.86. That performance was enough for Smith to be called back up to show, but this time in a bullpen role. Before the call-up on May 22nd, Smith had started 142 out of the 170 games he appeared in during his seven-year professional career.
“It’s just different, when you come into relief. It’s tough because there’s situations like in Houston (June 18) when I’m in my fourth inning and every inning it’s one run and we lose. But it’s good, you love the competition. That’s the tough part but the good part is you can come in and throw all four pitches anytime. When you’re a starter, you like to get in there and establish a fastball, out of the ‘pen everything is established. It’s just different.”Smith said.
Through 11 games and 17 and one-third innings in relief for the Reds this season, Smith has already shown improvement with a 2.08 ERA and he has thrown at least 2.0 innings in 5 of his last 6 appearances. Not only does his stats page have a nicer look to it, but according to CBSSports.com, Smith’s throwing 2 MPH harder and getting to fewer three-ball counts than he did last season with the Reds.
Smith’s improvements over the past year has not gone unnoticed by his skipper. “He (Smith) is taking advantage of some opportunities and competing well. He is kind of establishing himself as a guy we can rely on in the bullpen.” Price told Cincinnati.com
Paul and Alex are back for Episode 4 of the Podcast. They chat about Cody Reed, Jermaine Curtis, and Jesse Winker. Also, they pick their Bats All-Stars and discuss who should represent the club in Charlotte next month.
Finally, Alex tries to stump Paul with another edition of ‘Over/Under’!
We will share a series of posts that highlight those who don’t make the highlight reel. These individuals put in the work off the field. These are their stories:
A seasoned veteran in the baseball world, Evan Rowe is the man behind the computer. He holds all the top secret information and keeps the records. Well, kind of. Evan operates the Trackman, a radar system that helps track the spin rate of the ball, the velocity of the pitch and several other statistics. The data he collects throughout the game is top secret, but no secret double-agent spy is out for his head. Another MLB executive may text him, which might be equally as scary.
In 2008 and 2009, Rowe got his start in sports as a media relations intern with the University of Louisville in the Sports Information Director office. He dabbled a little in all sports at Louisville, before finishing his season doing video work for the baseball team. This internship took him to the MLB Winter Meetings, where he found himself assisting in the public relations department in the St. Louis Cardinals system in Spring Training. Rowe brought his talents to the Reds organization this spring, when he was fortunate to land his current gig in Louisville.
Even though Rowe is a vet, the Trackman is making its debut, which means he is new on the track. “Learning the pitch type” is what seemed to stump him at first. But after his keen eye read the ball, keeping up with with the game became the challenge. “The hardest part is to mark the single, a fastball, and the pitch.” The sequence must be recorded quickly before the next pitch is thrown.
Evan Rowe has a job that very few are aware of, but a job that most baseball fans should take notice of. The data he collects is vital for the success of a player and the advancement of an organization. His role is pivotal, making his attention to detail and accuracy very important. “I’m having the time of my life” and he is potentially changing the organization.
Steve Delabar is an accomplished major league pitcher, with 190 appearances in six seasons of MLB experience under his belt. He was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays, and struck out MVP Buster Posey in the 2013 MLB All-Star Game. But even an esteemed pitcher like Delabar could use some luck in the sometimes overwhelming world of minor league baseball.
The Kentucky native started 2016 with the Louisville Bats after the Cincinnati Reds signed him to a minor league contract on April 2. He was in Indianapolis for a three-game series against the Indians when a Crock-Pot changed the course of his season.
“I was actually in the clubhouse in Indy, talking to one of the clubhouse guys,” says Delabar. “He makes these ‘Crock-dogs’, like Crock-Pot hot dogs and just cooks them. I don’t know if they’re streamed or what he does.”
Delabar was referring to the Indianapolis Indians’ visiting clubhouse manager, Jeremy Martin.
“I walked in [to the clubhouse] and guys were talking about [the hot dogs] the day before saying ‘hey they’re good luck’ and all this stuff,” says Delabar. “So I went in on the second day, and I’m like ‘Hey, I heard that these Crock-dogs will get you to the show.’”
Jeremy Martin told Delabar that the Crock-dogs were popular among several visiting players, and that the ones who ate them usually ran into some good luck.
“The Crock-dog thing started with the year Mike Hessman was with Louisville,” says Martin, referring to the 2013 season. “Got him a couple Crock-dogs—and he went out and hit a couple homers.”
On the day Delabar was in the clubhouse, he and Martin talked about how current Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart had a couple big hits and was called up to the Majors within a week after eating a few of the lucky Indianapolis Crock-dogs.
“I’ve got to have them. Maybe they’ll turn something around. So I eat two of them,” says Delabar. “And after I finished them up, I went over to [trainer] Steve Gober’s office and I was just sitting in there, then Delino [DeShields] walked in.”
“I’m not even kidding, this was not even ten minutes after, the hot dogs are like mid-chest at this point and Delino goes ‘Hey, you’re going up’,” says Delabar.
He couldn’t believe it. ‘No way!’ ‘No way the Crock-dogs works like that’ thought Delabar. “I couldn’t believe it. As I was packing my stuff up, the other guys were just coming in. I’m like ‘Guys, you better get on those hot dogs right now!’ ‘Y’all better go tear them up!’”
Delabar says he got into Cincinnati that night and that he still can’t believe what the Crock-dogs did for him.
The legend behind the Indianapolis Crock-dogs continues to grow. Martin says Hessman, who effectively started the Crock-dog superstitions, told Toledo’s Casey McGehee to eat a couple before his game at Indianapolis. He listened, and according to Martin, McGehee had a two-hit performance afterward.
Martin says he usually makes one Crock-Pot full of hot dogs for most visiting teams, but when the Louisville Bats come to town, he’s making two or three. When asked if he does anything special in preparing the Crock-dogs, Martin says all he does is throw the hot dogs in the Crock-Pot.
“Baseball players are like that,” says Martin. “It’s all about believing in [the Crock-dogs]. If the players believe they bring luck, then they’ll bring luck.”
Photo: Bill Streicher – USA TODAY Sports
Hernan Iribarren, a 31-year-old from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, is one of the most versatile players on the Bats roster. Just through the first 46 games of the 2016 season, Iribarren has played six out of the nine field positions. It’s safe to say that Iribarren has a wide range of talents up his sleeve.
On Friday, May 20th, Iribarren started as the center fielder when the Bats took on the Columbus Clippers for the first game of a three-game series. He made several catches and impressive throws that helped slow the Clippers throughout the game. But the most impressive feat of the night came when the new pitcher walked up to the mound in the ninth inning, and it was Iribarren warming up.
Before taking the mound on Friday, Iribarren had pitched for the Bats eight other times during his first two years in Louisville. He pitched in six games in 2014, allowing only one hit and one hit batter and in two games in 2015 allowing three hits, one run, one walk and another hit batter. He earned his first strikeout on September 1st, 2015 against Toledo when he fanned Josh Wilson.
Iribarren took the mound against three Columbus Clippers- Collin Cowgill, Guillermo Quiroz and Ronny Rodriguez. The trio had combined for three runs scored, a home run, and three RBI during Fridays game. To the crowd’s delight, Iribarren pitched a perfect inning, striking out Cowgill in the process.
When asked about his time on the mound, Iribarren said, “I enjoy the experience. I go out there to have fun. I don’t think about our situation, I just focus on doing what I can.”
His teammates find the fun in the matter as well, pointing out that his fastest pitch is coming in the mid-to-high 50s where as the rest of the bullpen is known to pitch steady speeds in the 90s. On that subject, Iribarren was all smiles. “Everyone gets a good laugh. I don’t have the top speeds, but that’s ok.”
Looking back at Iribarren’s stats, he is having a great start to the season. In the homestand finale on Sunday afternoon, Iribarren had five at bats, with three hits, one walk and two runs scored. He was on fire. Entering play tonight (5/27), Iribarren has the highest batting average for the Bats, a solid .384 .
With about 100 games remaining in the season, it will be a treat to see what all Iribarren has left to show the fans.
Paul and Alex are back with Episode 3 of this season’s Podcast and they were joined by Bats’ Media Relations Director Ryan Ritchey.
They chatted about the Bats and their road success, and introduced Ryan to the Over/Under game from last time. Let’s just say Paul wasn’t thrilled with the results.
Also, Alex introduced a new game: “Alex, Paul, or Ryan”, giving Paul and Ryan a question about a Major League stat and the answer is a player with the first name of either Alex, Paul or Ryan.
The press box at Louisville Slugger Field is a busy place after four o’clock for a standard 7:05 p.m. game. There, staff set up the scoreboard, head shots, computer systems, and anything and everything in between. The media arrives and finds their spot, but during the last homestand, there was an extra guest observing the game. Tom Lepperd, who is in his 30th season working for the Officer of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, was there to watch the umpires.
Lepperd’s job is simple- observe every single Triple-A umpire work at least one game as the home plate umpire. The Des Moines, Iowa resident gets to see just about every Pacific Coast League umpire when they come to Des Moines, home of the Iowa Cubs. However, seeing the International League involves some travel, hence the trip to Louisville.
He meets with the umpires after every game and discusses the good and bad that happened during the game that night. “After the game, we will go over that game in detail for each umpire. I keep a set of notes for plate, first, third, or if there are four umpires, second base,” Lepperd said. “They don’t get to see themselves work, so they can’t critique themselves.”
An ejection can be an exciting thing for fans to watch and cheer on. But for an umpire, it’s not as easy as swinging his arm to toss someone and then moving on. After an ejection, there is paperwork and a discussion. When Lepperd sees an ejection, he talks about it with his umpires. “What we do is talk through it, what happened, and in particular is there anything as an umpire you could have done differently to avoid it,” he said. “We always say try to work out of a bad situation, instead of [taking] the easy way out and getting rid of a ball player.” In the end, there’s an opportunity for learning and growth. “But it’s important that they review it in their own mind. ‘Was there something I said that caused it?’, ‘Was there something I could have done differently that would have had a different outcome?’”
One thing that has changed baseball in the last few years is the advent of on field replay. According to Lepperd, it hasn’t changed how umpires work their games. “We instruct the umpires to go out and umpire the same way they always have and not to be concerned about what the replay is going to show,” he commented. “What we’ve found is that some of these plays are so close, that they cannot be seen by the human eye.”
Working for 42 years in the game of baseball, including 12 on the field, Lepperd has seen some interesting things. In one Major League city, something he saw in the stands caught his attention. “When I first went up to the big leagues, an umpire had to sit in the stands and watch for fraternization between players,” he said. “I looked down and there were cob webs in the seats from not having been put down as the attendance was so bad.” He added that the Major League team turned it around and Lepperd was there when the team set a double-header attendance record not too long after the cob web visit.
Lepperd moved on to another city following his three days in Louisville. He gets to see many different ball parks and told The Bats Signal he hopes to get back to Louisville Slugger Field before the end of the season.