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Quarters in Change – Team Awards at the 25¢ mark

13701572164_aec0f95de8_bSaturday’s 5-1 loss to Corpus Christi marked the quarter point in the 2014 campaign. The ‘Riders ran through the first 35 games on the schedule with a 22-13 record, good for the best mark in the Texas League.

Extrapolate that start to the full season, and the RoughRiders are on pace to finish 88-52. It’s an ambitious clip to maintain, but an 88-win season would be the most in club history. The current benchmark is 85 wins, set in 2007.

Frisco took care of business in all fronts and venues. They posted positive records at Dr Pepper Ballpark (13-8) and on the road (9-5). The ‘Riders also went 14-9 within the south division and won 8-of-12 against teams from the Texas League North.

The roster was not placid, either. Thirty-three personnel moves have occurred since the Opening Day Roster dropped on March 28. Three players debuted at the major league level and another four moved on to the Triple-A ranks. The RoughRiders also received three players from Advanced-A and four from extended spring training.

This ability to maintain consistency in the face of roster upheaval is a testament to the cohesiveness of the core players and Jason Wood‘s skills as a manager of men. Even when Woody took his customary vacation (the Rangers organization allows the coaching staff a four-day break during the season), the team continued to gel. The Rangers Minor League Field Coordinator, who served as acting field manager in Wood’s absence, left a note for the skipper in which he praised the professional demeanor and positive attitude in the clubhouse.

Early returns are also strong on the squad’s performance sans its two top prospects, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas. The RoughRiders won five of their first six games without the tandem of Venezuelan middle infielders.

In short, a plethora of candidates can make a realistic argument for unofficial team awards as the season stands on first base. Here are the top four individual performers one-fourth of the way through the ‘Riders 2014 run. For a list of the top ten moments of the 2014 season to date, click here.

Hitter of the Quarter: #9 Ryan Rua – 3B/2B/DH

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Questions lingered around Ryan at the start of the season. The 24-year-old tore up the South Atlantic League in 2013 with the Hickory Crawdads (29 home runs, 24 doubles, 82 RBI, .914 OPS in 104 games). The All-Star campaign earned him a spot in Frisco for the final month of the season, but the righty batted .233 in 23 games with the ‘Riders and his OPS fell to an earthly .689. Was the barnstorming tour in Hickory an aberration?

After an 0-for-8 start to the season, the muscular infielder answered the above question with a resounding “no.” From April 5 to May 4, Ryan reached base safely in 27 consecutive games. He posted 12 multi-hit games during the streak, the second-longest of its kind in Minor League Baseball this season.

The 17th round draft choice in 2011 clubbed a .354/.441/.654 line in the month of April and his OPS soared to 1.095. The native of Ohio played 24 games in April, one more than he played for the ‘Riders a season ago. Over the same approximate span in 2014, Ryan cracked 29 hits (including six home runs and six doubles). He scored 12 runs and drove in 15 more. Equally impressive was the right-handed hitter’s ratio of strikeouts (11) to walks (13). Not bad for a player with some pop in the bat.

Ryan consistently draws the attention of his teammates, spectators and even the opposition with his display of power in batting practice. As the first quarter of the season proved, however, the 6-foot-2 180 pound slugger is far more than a B.P. warrior.

Pitcher of the Quarter: #7 Luke Jackson – RHP

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The term “staff ace” does not apply at the minor league level, but Luke has been the lead arm on a young unit with plenty of potential. He took home Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors for April 14-20 and became the first ‘Rider to earn a league award this season. It was the first Texas League distinction for Luke in his career. The Carolina League also recognized “LuJax” as its pitcher of the week in 2013.

The Texas League selected the 6-foot-2 185 pound righty on the heels of a six inning shut out performance against the Arkansas Travelers on April 15. Luke surrendered three hits, two walks and tossed eight strikeouts for his first win of the season.

The 2010 supplemental first round draft choice tossed a career outing on April 21. Luke retired the first 17 men he faced and held a perfect game with two outs in the sixth inning. San Antonio’s Jake Lemmerman broke up  the bid, but Luke still finished with no runs on three hits, no walks and eight strikeouts.

Luke owns a 4-1 record on the season with a 3.00 ERA through 42 innings pitched. He also earned his first career save when he relieved big league rehabber Joe Saunders on May 6.

Defender of the Quarter: #3 Jake Smolinski – LF/RF/DH

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Jake is in his first year with the Rangers organization, and on a roster in flux, “Smo” has provided stability and consistency both at the plate and in the field. Once he figured out his swing about three weeks into the season, Jake’s batting average has climbed to .299 with a .401 on-base percentage (his career trademark is a high OBP).

The 5-foot-11 185 pound right-hander has been the club’s left fielder for 30 of the team’s first 39 games, and he also made two spot starts in right. Along with seven games as designated hitter, the 2nd round draft choice in 2007 is one of two players in the Texas League to play in every game through May 14. Jake has logged more innings in the pasture than anyone on the RoughRiders’ roster. Through 267 2/3 innings, the native of Rockford, Ill. has committed one error and leads the team in outfield assists (2). In addition, Jake has turned the only outfield double play for the ‘Riders thus far in 2014.

The 25-year-old has flashed his athleticism on several plays in left, most notably on April 27 in a game against Corpus Christi. The Hooks loaded the bases with no outs and brought one run home to tie the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With runners still on first and second with two outs, Jake made a great play on a deep fly ball from M.P. Cokinos that would have surely broken the dead heat had it escaped the glove of the left fielder. The ‘Riders went on to win the game 4-3.

Reliever of the Quarter: #35 Matt West – RHP

Healthy for the first time since the 2011, Matt sheared the long blonde locks and pitched with authority out of the bullpen. He posted a 2-0 record with three saves and a 0.68 ERA. At 25 years of age, Matt allowed one run with the ‘Riders through eight appearances and 13 1/3 innings pitched. The lone run charged to the native of Houston crossed in his final appearance with the ‘Riders on April 29. The numbers earned the 6-foot-1 200 pound hurler a promotion to Triple-A Round Rock on May 3.

Through 3 2/3 innings with the Express this month, Matt has allowed six runs (five earned) on 12 hits  with one walk and five strikeouts. However, no runs have crossed on Matt’s watch in his last two starts.

On May 15, the Rangers recognized the 2nd round draft choice in 2007 as its reliever of the month in April. Not bad for a former third baseman who converted to the mound three seasons ago.

The ‘Riders are off and running in 2014. Who will shine in the second quarter as the first half winds to a close? Stay tuned to find out!

-Chris V.

RoughRiders Top 10 Highlights: First Quarter

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We’re one quarter of the way through the 2014 campaign and that means it’s time to take a look at the moments and highlights that propelled Frisco to first place in the division standings, and at some other feel-good moments that are worth noting.

10) Jason Wood

Jason Wood showed his ability to make the most of the team he was given following the promotions of Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas. More importantly, however, he proved to his players that he has their back no matter what and that he’ll do what it takes to stand up for them. In a game that saw Jake Smolinski appear to beat out at play at first base, Smolinski was tossed for arguing. His skipper, Wood, was walking to the showers shortly after. The umpires have a tough job and they won’t always get it right, and arguing isn’t always the best tactic for success. In this case, Wood sent a message to his club and proved to them that he will do his best to back them up.

9) Professional debut of INF Michael De Leon

17-year-old Michael De Leon hits in his first professional game.

17-year-old Michael De Leon hits in his first professional game.

When I was 17 years old I was merely playing high school ball and taking it easy on Friday nights. I think it’s safe to say Michael De Leon has me beat. The young infielder was promoted straight to Double-A Frisco without playing any extended spring training or Rookie ball, and made his professional debut on Mother’s Day in a 7-5 win over the Corpus Christi Hooks. He executed every play when his number was called and made a spinning 360 play to complete a game-ending double play. This kid had the biggest smile on his face while boarding the charter bus to embark on his first team road trip and I can certainly understand why. He is the youngest player in history to take the field for Frisco.

8) Record in one-run games

The RoughRiders’ success in the first quarter of the season can be attributed to many factors, but one that stood out to me was their record in one-run games. Frisco recorded a 10-1 record in those games and that can mean the difference between sitting atop the standings and looking up at the competition.

7) Four ‘Riders promoted to Triple-A

Four RoughRiders earned promotions to Triple-A Round Rock. On May 3, RHP Matt West made the drive south to join OF Ryan Strausborger, INF Guilder Rodriguez and INF Jordan Brown at the next level towards the big leagues. Athletes know that, unfortunately, no day is guaranteed in the world of minor league baseball. Congratulations to these individuals as they continue their trek through the farm system.

6) Jake Smolinski

Every team features one player that is simply known as ‘the guy’. For Frisco Jake Smolinski proved to be that guy over the first quarter of the season. Smolinski is batting .295, has pounded out 38 hits, belted five homers and has 21 RBI. ‘Smo’ has been an important piece in the middle of this Frisco batting order and looks to keep it up as we make our way closer to the second half of the season.

5) Road woes? More like road ‘WOWS’

Home cooking is always preferred, but sometimes it’s nice to eat out. Frisco is 11-5 away from the friendly confines of Dr Pepper Ballpark and again, it’s a statistic that can make a huge difference in the standings. Just ask the other teams in the Texas League South. Midland (9-9 on the road), Corpus Christi (8-12 on the road), and San Antonio (10-12 on the road).

4) Tomas Telis

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There are days where the top or middle portions of the lineup just can’t manage to get something going, and that’s when clubs rely on other guys to step up. Tomas Telis was one of those individuals who stepped up and he did so in a huge way. The switch-hitting catcher started the year slow, but quickly stepped it up. Telis is batting .337 with 28 hits on only 23 games, 15RBI, and has hit a couple of 3-run home runs to pad to his total.

3) Luke Jackson

They don’t give out the Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year award to just anyone and RHP Luke Jackson earned it in 2013. He’s continued the trend in 2014 as one of the top pitchers in the Texas League. Jackson is 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA and in 42 innings pitched his struck out 42 while only walking 13. He’s exciting to watch on the mound and on April 21 he took a perfect game deep into the sixth inning against the San Antonio Missions.

2) Big league debuts of Nick Martinez, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas 

Rougned Odor watches one fly at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

Rougned Odor watches one fly at Dr Pepper Ballpark.

The first quarter of the season also witnessed the birth of three more major league careers. RHP Nick Martinez was called up to make a spot-start due to the neck-stiffness of Texas’ ace Yu Darvish and made his major league debut on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays. After being sent back to the ‘Riders he was again recalled and has been with the big league club since. Luis Sardinas was promoted on April 19 and appeared in three games over a brief eight-day stint. Sardinas was sent back to Double-A Frisco for a short period of time, but was recalled for a second time on May 8. This time, however, he would be joined by his pal and double play partner Rougned Odor. Odor, the Rangers’ top prospect according to Baseball America, was Frisco’s everyday second baseman. It’s likely that the two are sent back down once the Rangers’ regain injured players such as Jurickson Profar and Donnie Murphy, but these two guys have earned their spot in the bigs.

1) Club-record ten game winning streak

We can’t recap the top highlights from the first quarter of play without paying tribute to the franchise-record ten game winning streak that propelled the RoughRiders into the top spot in the Texas League South division standings. Frisco outscored their opponents 55-22, outhit them 79-56, hit 13 home runs and had 3 multi-home run games, recorded a 1.99 staff ERA, and the club pushed out four comeback wins.

In conclusion:

The RoughRiders impressed over the first stretch of the long season and it’s been fun to watch and experience. It can be difficult for a team to find its identity with new players seemingly passing through the doors every other day but this is a fun squad that knows how to win, and they have fun doing it.

Writing to you from the corner of Hicks & Diamond Drive,

Cameron Varnau

Framing Pitches, Framing Minds

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The catcher touches the ball on nearly every play and influences the game in many aspects. Before every pitch, the man behind home plate helps determine the location and velocity of the throw. He can change the momentum of an inning with a strike to eliminate a would-be base stealer or a tag at the dish. A skilled backstop can even coax an umpire into calling a strike by “framing” a pitch over the plate.

As a catcher in the Rangers organization for over six years, Zach Zaneski understands the many different roles of his position, both on and off the diamond. He knows the catcher’s capacity to mold a game’s outcome. Whether starting behind the dish or warming up his hurlers in the bullpen, it is job that requires focus and determination.

Zaneski employs a similar skill set as a substitute teacher around his hometown of New London, Conn. The 27-year-old has spent parts of the last five winters in the classroom.

He first arrived at the idea when he realized the offseason could be a slow period of time for athletes.

“When I was in college I signed with the Rangers and after that first season I came home and realized I had to work,” said Zaneski.

“I figured that I could substitute teach, be done with work at 2 o’clock every day and that would hold me over for the winter until spring training rolls around.”

The seven-year veteran is prepared to teach in any subject. By now, he has instructed a variety of classes.

“For the first four winters it was kind of whatever they needed me to teach,” Zaneski said.

“I was doing physical education, automotive, history, you name it and I’ve done it. This winter it was mostly math, so it was more of a long-term position.”

“It is fun working with kids, and once they figure out that I play professional baseball with the Rangers, they get all excited.”

Zaneski’s career outside the classroom is unique from his co-workers, but he manages to blend both worlds and enjoys doing so.

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“It’s very convenient because once I’m done at 2 o’clock, I can lift, I can hit, I can do what I need to do for baseball as well. It works out well,” he said.

Zaneski has the leadership and poise to call a great game at the plate and he also guides his pitcher through the obstacles of a game. These are the experiences he relates to while working with some of his students.

“I mentored Jordan Reed who’s in the NFL with the Redskins my first couple of winters there and when he was looking at going to college for football I pretty much told him he had to get his grades straight or else he wouldn’t get accepted into the school,” said Zaneski.

“I’m kind of guiding and mentoring some of the kids and it’s fun. I try to explain that just because they’re good at football or baseball or whatever the case may be, they can’t just get into college. They’ve got to get accepted with their grades first. Trying to help them through that process because I’ve done it is a good thing.”

Life can be related to a game in which there are highs and lows. A pitcher can wind up in a bases-loaded and no one out jam, similarly to how students can find themselves without focus, drive or determination. This is when it takes the leadership and influence of a catcher, or a substitute teacher named Mr. Zaneski, on the other hand, to slow the game down and re-find much needed focus.

For Zaneski it doesn’t matter if it’s guiding his pitcher through a mid-summer afternoon game or giving advice to students back at home. Zaneski enjoys framing pitches to get a call from the umpire at home plate, and framing minds so one day his students can get a call bringing them their notice of academic acceptance.

-Cameron Varnau

‘Riders on the Record – Road Weary

‘Riders on the Record is a weekly rundown of the pregame interviews recorded by broadcasters Alex Vispoli and Chris Vosters with RoughRiders players and coaches and occasionally a special guest. You can find all previous editions by clicking here.

The RoughRiders reopened Dr Pepper Ballpark for the first time in nine days on May 3. The team wrapped up its second road trip with a 3-5 record, which on paper seems like a stark contrast to the 6-0 record posted on the first venture outside the Metroplex.

The ‘Riders split a four-game set with Corpus Christi at Whataburger Field and then dropped a four-gamer with San Antonio three games to one. The Missions have the lowest team batting average in the eight-team Texas League and as of May 4, had the second-worst record. At one point, immediately prior the series with Frisco, San Antonio ripped off 40 straight innings without scoring a run.

For the first time this season, the pitching staff ran into a few bumps along the road. Luke Jackson suffered his first loss in 2014, while Kyle Lotzkar, Alec Asher and Edwar Cabrera each struggled in respective outings. Even the bullpen blinked a couple times on the road, giving up four runs in a in 9-7 loss to the Missions on April 29. Matt West allowed his first run of the season in nine appearances, and Jon Edwards gave up six runs in 3 2/3 innings of work. That’s not to take anything away from Jerad Eickhoff, who pitched brilliantly in the lone win of the series against San Antonio.

But the staff certainly doesn’t assume complete responsibility. Far from it, in fact. Against the Missions, the ‘Riders scored first in every game, but scored a total of one run after the fourth inning. It puts a lot of pressure on the ‘pen when a team only scores runs in the first half of each game. Rougned Odor went 2-for-16 against the Hooks, before turning it on against San Antonio. Drew Robinson donned the infamous “golden sombrero” with a four-strikeout night on April 29.

And yet, the ‘Riders battled in every game, save the 11-2 whitewashing from Corpus Christi on a getaway day. They rallied for three runs over the final two innings in a 6-4 loss to the Hooks on April 25. In the three losses to San Antonio, Frisco took one game to extras, and even in an 8-3 loss on May 2, the ‘Riders trailed by three in the fourth inning when a double-play opportunity went awry and allowed the Missions to pull away.

The horsemen have a chance to regain control of the Texas League South with a series win against the Midland RockHounds. They took a solid first step in that regard with a 3-1 win on Saturday night.

It is in this vein we present the latest edition of ‘Riders on the Record, featuring highlights from the eight-game road swing. Hitting coach Jason Hart makes his first appearance on the program to talk Ryan Rua (on-base streak at 26 games through this publication). Former major league shortstop Tony Fernandez, now a special assistant to Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels, joined the team on the trip and also makes an appearance. He lends an interesting anecdote about a young shortstop for the New York Yankees named Derek Jeter, with whom Fernandez played at the end of his career. Enjoy!

Hitting coach and former RoughRider (class of ’05), Jason Wyatt Hart:

 

Special Assistant to General Manager Jon Daniels, Tony Fernandez, talks about the organization’s top prospects with the ‘Riders:

 

Catcher Tomas Telis, who will surprise you with his speed around the bases:

 

Rougned Odor makes his debut on ‘Riders on the Record. Thanks, Roogie!

 

Edwar Cabrera reflects on his last two starts on the mound and his recovery road following shoulder surgery in 2013:

 

 

As always, thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

Homestand Preview: May 3-11

The ‘Riders open their third homestand of the season against the Midland RockHounds on Saturday. After four games against the Double-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s, the team will enjoy its first day off since April 16. Frisco closes out the stretch with a four-game set against the Corpus Christi Hooks. The team cruised to a 6-2 mark during its last homestand and now sits 8-6 overall at Dr Pepper Ballpark this season.

Highlights from the last homestand include Luke Jackson, who earned Texas League Pitcher of the Week honors for April 14-20. The right-hander pitched a seven-inning shut-out performance against the San Antonio Missions on April 21 in which he took a perfect game into the sixth inning. The 22-year-old finished the night with eight strikeouts, no walks and three hits allowed for his second win of the season.

Center fielder Jake Skole bopped a pair of walk-off hits in the previous homestand. His RBI single off Brady Rogers scored Trever Adams from third base and pushed Frisco to a 3-2 win over Corpus Christi on April 17. Five nights later on April 22, Skole struck again with a monster two-run home run to right field in the bottom of the ninth off San Antonio’s Luis De La Cruz. The ‘Riders took that game 7-5 over the Missions.

Much like Frisco’s series against Corpus Christi at Dr Pepper Ballpark from April 17-20, the four-game set with Midland May 3-6 will be a battle for supremacy in the Texas League South Division. The RockHounds have won six of their last seven games and have the chance to sweep the Corpus Christi Hooks tonight in west Texas. A half game separates the ‘Riders and the RockHounds in the standings as of May 2 (the RockHounds had a game against the Missions postponed until May 10), and the dogs assumed sole possession of first place after Frisco’s 4-2 loss on May 1. It marked the first time Frisco fell out of the top spot since April 14.

The Hooks return to Dr Pepper Ballpark on May 8 for the second time in 2014. The ‘Riders won the first series 3-1. During that meeting, the Hooks snapped an 0-for-46 stretch at the plate in the seventh inning or later. Frisco holds a 5-3 edge in the season series after the teams split a four-game set in Corpus Christi April 25-28. The ‘Riders have defeated the Hooks by one run in four of their five wins this season. Astonishingly, 12 of the Hooks’ 13 losses have come by a one-run margin.

We hope you can join us for the next homestand, either in person or over the air. Four games will be televised in the Metroplex on KTXD 47, and as always, you can head to www.ridersbaseball.com and click on the “Multimedia” tab for a list of audio/video options.

 

Thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

When ‘The Show’ Calls

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be called into the skipper’s office and be told that you’re going on your first major league assignment. This is the first step for guys who are ready to fulfill a life long dream of making it to their dream job. The place they’ve dedicated their lives to reaching. The Show.

The harsh reality that must be understood is that the chance to make it to the major leagues might not come. It might only happen once on a cool September day, and before you know it, you’re back on the farm. These calls from Arlington may be few and far between.Lets face it, this is the world of baseball. It’s a business. This means when the phone does start to ring that it’s time to make the most of it. It’s time to make every second last. Every pinch-hit at bat. Every opportunity to trot the bases on a big league diamond. Every do-or-die sliding catch. Most importantly, however, it’s time to remember to have fun up there, kid.

Let’s take a look at a few RoughRiders who were given the opportunity to chase a dream and make it a reality.

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1) INF Luis Sardinas

20-year-old Luis Sardinas was called up on Saturday April 19, 2014 and made his major league debut with the Texas Rangers the following day, which was an Easter Sunday afternoon contest against the Chicago White Sox. In the top of the eighth the switch-hitter was a defensive substitution for shortstop Elvis Andrus, another ‘Rider alum. Sardinas, batting with two-on and two-out, hit the first pitch he faced as a big leaguer up the middle to move over both runners, and hustled out the play at first for an infield single and his fist major league hit. He would play in three more games for the Rangers before returning to the RoughRiders in a move that brought Adrian Beltre off of the disabled list.

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2) RHP Nick Martinez

Nick Martinez made his major league debut in a spot start against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 5, 2014. An injured Yu Darvish was scratched from his Opening Day start and moved everyone in the rotation up one day, which opened up the door for Martinez. The 6-1 righty went toe-to-toe with 2012 Cy Young Award Winner David Price to begin his service in the big leagues and impressed by giving Texas a quality start. Martinez was sent back down to Frisco, but the trip was short as he was recalled by the Rangers one minor league start later. He’s pitched in 16 major league innings, made two starts and has a 2.81 ERA.

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3) RHP Neil Ramirez (Chicago Cubs)

Neil Ramirez was sent to the Chicago Cubs in last season’s trade to add RHP Matt Garza to the Rangers’ starting rotation and made his major league debut on April 25, 2014 against, oddly enough, Garza and the Milwaukee Brewers. Funny how baseball works out sometimes, right? Ramirez has only pitched two major league innings, but his results look positive as he has yet to give up a hit against seven batters faced. His fist major league strike out was of slugger Ryan Braun.

Ramirez is the 110th RoughRider to earn a promotion to the ‘The Show’. Congratulations to these three men and I wish them the best of luck as they continue their careers. Arlington (or in the case of Neil Ramirez, Chicago) put in a call, and they’ve made the most of it.

-Cameron Varnau

Lotzkar hopes to re-establish himself with RoughRiders

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The Texas Rangers are willing to do whatever it takes to win. It’s clear that the organization has put emphasis on turning over every rock to find talent capable of propelling the club to higher levels, and that comes with having a certain attitude. This “low-risk and high-reward” mindset is responsible for finding players who are motivated to win and are ready to prove doubters wrong. One of those players is right-handed pitcher Kyle Lotzkar.

Lotzkar, 24, was selected by the Reds in the supplemental first round (53rd overall) in the June 2007 first-year player draft. He was rated as the 13th-best prospect in the Gulf Coast League and in 2008 he was rated by Baseball America as the sixth-best prospect in the Reds organization. The 2009 season delivered bad luck for the six-foot, five-inch Delta, British Columbia native, as he missed the entire campaign with a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. He rebounded in 2010 by combining to finish 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA in ten starts and two relief appearances in the Rookie Arizona League and at Billings, holding his opponents to a .182 average. Injuries again plagued Lotzkar as he found himself back on the disabled list in 2011 and 2012.

Through everything, he says it’s been wonderful to be welcomed into the Rangers’ organization and that a fresh start has been key for his return to success. On moving on to this new opportunity Lotzkar says, “I have no bad things to say about the Reds. They gave me plenty of opportunities to make it to the big leagues. They drafted me and put me on the 40-man roster, sent me to big league camp two times…I just couldn’t stay healthy. I think a fresh start was a big part of it and I get along with a lot of the staff and the players here as well, it’s been a refreshing change.”

Lotzkar credits changing his routine and delivery for his return to health and hopes to keep a positive trend going as he continues his road to the majors.  “I haven’t felt this healthy in a long time. They asked me about what my program was and about if I had a routine, we went over the strength stuff and the rehab stuff, and they added some things to the routine. I had to change the way I threw, specifically my arm action, and in the offseason I do a lot of drills to correct that.”

The righty also knows that pure velocity isn’t enough to get by in the major leagues and hinted that throwing more correctly located two-seam fastballs can add to his success. “I went to the Futures Game in 2012 and everyone there was throwing 100. I realized all those guys were throwing 100 but they were throwing straight,” Lotzkar said. “At the end of the day, the elite level hitters can time rocket ships.  They’ll time anything so you need to have something that’s going to miss the barrel a little bit.”

These are the adjustments that Lotzkar is making to regain the control he seeks and that can ultimately put his career back on track. The Rangers understand his potential and have invested in that, with the hope that they can restore the luster on this onetime can’t-miss prospect.

-Cameron Varnau

‘Riders on the Record – Bullpen Edition

‘Riders on the Record is a weekly rundown of the pregame interviews recorded by broadcasters Alex Vispoli and Chris Vosters with RoughRiders players and coaches and occasionally a special guest. You can find all previous editions by clicking here.

The RoughRiders have shown no signs of a hangover in the aftermath of their ten-game win streak, which set a new franchise watermark. The Corpus Christi Hooks ended the run on Easter Sunday, but Frisco still finished the week 4-3 and have not lost a series since a doubleheader sweep at the bats of the Arkansas Travelers on April 7.

The offense has certainly provided its share of highlights. As of April 27, Frisco has belted more home runs (23), which trails only the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in the Southern League for the most in Double-A. Yet, the team bats a paltry .227 remains stuck in seventh place in the Texas League. The ‘Riders have scored runs when necessary, but outside of Ryan Rua, most of the batters in the order have yet to find their swing.

On the flip side, the pitching has been second-to-none even with the departure of Nick Martinez to the big league rotation. The staff has posted four shutouts already this season and the collective 2.74 ERA is the sixth-lowest in all of Minor League Baseball. Over a 13-game stretch the relievers allowed a paucity of runs (4), posted a 0.80 ERA and held opponents to a .140 batting average.

It is in this vein we present the latest edition of ‘Riders on the Record. Pitching is the focus with Matt West, Jimmy Reyes and Kyle Lotzkar featured as well as catcher Patrick Cantwell. This week’s rundown includes two episodes of “Sunday with the Skipper,” Alex Vispoli’s weekly chat with field manager Jason Wood. Chris Grayson rounds out the slate with an extended, but insightful discussion. Enjoy!

Jason Wood and Alex Vispoli touch on the ‘Riders ten-game win streak on the Easter edition of “Sunday with the Skipper.”

 

Outfielder Chris Grayson takes pride in the energy he brings to ballgames. The Louisiana native is excited to play about four hours from his home town. A lefty batter, Chris is working on his opposite field power at the plate. Hear how Chris stays sharp physically and mentally on the days he is out of the lineup.

 

In his own words, Matt West says he “sees red” when he steps on the mound. One of the more expressive arms out of the bullpen, Matt transitioned to the mound as a member of the Rangers organization before the 2011 season. His confidence has never wavered, even in the face of injuries and a Tommy John operation.

 

Jimmy Reyes threw four straight scoreless outings and retired 15-of-17 batters faced over that span. He passes the long Texas League bus trips playing “Clash of Clans” and will raid you unless you’re careful.

 

Patrick Cantwell is the battery mate of many pitchers on the RoughRiders’ staff. “Patches” talks about catching Luke Jackson on April 21 when the righty took a perfect game into the sixth inning.

 

Kyle Lotzkar is another pitcher in search of an injury-free campaign. Along with Edwar Cabrera, the ‘Riders are trying to stretch Lotzkar’s work load into that of a starting hurler. Kyle shares some of the lessons he has learned in rehab with Alex Vispoli.

 

‘Riders on the Record concludes the way it began. The most recent episode of “Sunday with the Skipper” covers a tense moment in Saturday’s game with Corpus Christi and the hot hitting of Ryan Rua.

 

As always, thanks for tuning in.

-Chris V.

RoughRiders ride their way to 10 consecutive victories

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A winning streak. Fans love them. Players love them. Jason Wood and his coaching staff love them even more. This RoughRiders club has been organized in such fashion to where Wood and his players know they have a chance to win every night, but over the course of the franchise-record ten game winning streak, the team simply refused to lose. It’s difficult to explain how and why a winning streak happens because, well, it just happens. It happens with preparation, focus and a consistent approach while at the plate and playing the field. Let’s take a look at how the streak came to be and propelled Frisco to the top of the division standings.

April 8, 2014: Arkansas (2) @ Frisco (4)

The game that kicked things off. It was Matt Harrison’s first start after the opening day rain-out where he was only able to throw 42 pitches of his desired 60, and the Rangers’ hurler was ready to put a nice outing together. Harrison pitched 4 2/3 innings, gave up one run on three hits and struck out three. The final game of the home stand was an efficient one and it sent the club on the road with momentum.

April 10, 2014: Frisco (11) @ NW Arkansas (7)

Frisco used the long ball to open up the road trip by hitting four two-run homers in one game. Drew Robinson, Jordan Brown, Ryan Rua and Trever Adams each hit their first home run of the season and each bomb occurred with one man on base. That’s eight runs on four total pitches if you’re counting at home. The ‘Riders went 4-8 with runners in scoring position and only stranded two.

April 11, 2014: Frisco (2) @ NW Arkansas (1)

Game two of the series turned out to be a pitchers duel and was a polar-opposite outing from the previous evening at Arvest Ballpark. Nick Martinez pitched five strong innings by only giving up one run on five hits and the ‘Riders could only give him one run of support. In the top of the ninth with Adams on third, Jake Skole hit a sacrifice fly to score what would be the game-winning run. This was a gritty road win to make it two straight.

April 12, 2014: Frisco (15) @ NW Arkansas (2)

The RoughRiders used the long ball once again to stun the Naturals. Rougned Odor hit two home runs in the game (one was a two-run shot), Jake Smolinski hit a solo homer in the eighth and Brown hit a two-run dinger in the ninth. The club tallied 35 total bases on 17 hits and went 8-15 with runners in scoring position.

April 14, 2014: Frisco (5) @ Arkansas (4)

Following the sweep of the Naturals, the club focused its attention on the Arkansas Travelers. The two teams were scheduled to open the series on Sunday afternoon but rain forced a double-header with two seven-inning contests on Monday. The scoring began quickly in game one as both teams scored one run in the first. Harrison made his second rehab start of the spring and pitched 3 1/3 innings allowing two earned runs on six hits. The game was tied in the sixth when a pair of singles and a walk loaded the bags. Smolinski and Robinson drew back-to-back walks to score Patrick Cantwell and Luis Sardinas, and the RoughRiders held on for the 5-4 win after the Travs scored one run in the bottom of the sixth.

April 14, 2014: Frisco (2) @ Arkansas (1)

This was game two of the double-header and featured Jerad Eickhoff opposing Mark Sappington. Arkansas drew first blood in the first on an Alex Yarbrough sacrifice fly scoring Kyle Hudson. The ‘Riders weren’t shaken and answered quickly by loading the bases for Tomas Telis in the second. Telis hit a two RBI line drive double and Frisco pulled ahead. Those would be the only runs of the game and the win was Frisco’s third one-run game of the winning streak.

April 15, 2014: Frisco (3) @ Arkansas (0)

The RoughRiders were looking to finish the road trip on a high note and they did just that. Brown hit a two-run homer in the first, Sardinas singled in the second to score Adams, and the ‘Riders cruised to a 3-0 shutout. Luke Jackson pitched six innings of three-hit baseball and struck out eight, which sent the club back to Frisco with the winning streak at seven.

April 17, 2014: Corpus Christi (2) @ Frisco (3)

Frisco welcomed the Corpus Christi Hooks to town for the first of a four-game set and did so in exciting fashion. It was a 2-2 game in the ninth when Adams got things started with a lead off single to right. Rua was hit by a pitch and Telis bunted the runners over to set the situation for Skole. The ‘Rider hero answered the bell again and sent a pitch right back up the middle. In doing so Skole sent everyone home with a walk-off win to keep the streak alive and open the home stand with an exclamation point.

April 18, 2014: Corpus Christi (3) @ Frisco (4)

Game two of the series didn’t see much action until Corpus’ big sixth inning. Joe Sclafani led off the action with a triple to deep center and scored on Andrew Aplin’s line-drive single to right. Aplin later scored on Preston Tucker’s fly ball to right field. The Hooks extended the lead to 3-0 on Nolan Fontana’s sacrifice bunt scoring Tucker. Frisco quickly answered on a lead off homer hit by Robinson to make it 3-1 and a two-run Skole homer to tie it at three. Cantwell scored the go-ahead run on a fielding error by first baseman M.P. Cokinos and that proved to be enough for the RoughRiders as they tied the club-record win streak at nine games.

April 19, 2014: Corpus Christi (0) @ Frisco (6)

We’ve arrived at game ten of the record. Ranger All-Star hurler Matt Harrison took the mound for Frisco in what was his final tune up start before being recalled to join Texas. He did it in style. Harrison tossed eight shutout innings and gave up five hits while striking out five. He seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game as Frisco scored four runs for him in the first inning. The ‘Riders tacked on two more in the fifth on a Robinson two-run homer to right field.

Frisco would lose to Corpus 7-5 in the fourth and final game of the series, which ended the club-record ten game winning streak. It was quite the ride for your ‘Riders and they did it with power, stellar pitching and tight defense; and they had fun while they were at it.

Writing to you from the corner of Hicks & Diamond Drive,

Cameron Varnau

‘Riders on the Record – Riding into the Record Book

Welcome back to the first full edition of ‘Riders on the Record in 2014.  ‘Riders on the Record is a weekly rundown of the pregame interviews recorded by broadcasters Alex Vispoli and Chris Vosters with RoughRiders players and coaches and occasionally a special guest. You can find all previous editions by clicking here.

It’s an exciting time to be a ‘Riders fan. After a 1-4 start, the team has won ten straight since April 8 and paces the Texas League with an 11-4 mark overall. The RoughRiders have won in a variety of ways, from doubleheaders in the cold to slug fests, walk-offs and late-inning rallies.

With a dominating performance on April 19 from Matt Harrison, the ‘Riders stamped their collective name in team annals with their tenth straight victory. It is the first time in program history the RoughRiders have ripped off ten in a row. The previous mark was nine consecutive set from July 28-Aug. 6, 2006.

Here are a few more notables about the historic run:

  • Five one-run victories
  • Outscored opponents 55-22
  • Outhit opponents 79-56
  • 13 home runs and 3 multi-home run games
  • Six road wins, two series sweeps, one doubleheader sweep
  • Four comeback wins
  • 1.99 team ERA

This week’s ‘Riders on the Record features some of the best interviews during the streak. Happy Easter and enjoy!

 

Jason Wood – The second episode of “Sunday with the Skipper” comes four wins into Frisco’s streak and immediately after a sweep of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

 

Matt Harrison – The Texas Rangers All-Star pitcher is back in Frisco where he pitched as a regular in 2008. The southpaw has made three appearances with the ‘Riders this season and none as impressive as his last on April 19. Harrison tossed eight shutout innings and allowed just three hits with five strikeouts. This interview aired on the RoughRiders Pregame Show on April 8 before Harrison’s start against the Arkansas Travelers.

 

Nick Martinez – Alex Vispoli catches up with Nick on the heels of his Major League debut with the Texas Rangers, perhaps a harbinger of things to come for the right-hander.

 

Drew Robinson – Drew celebrates a birthday today (April 20). With his dad in the stands from Las Vegas, Drew belted home runs in consecutive games. Both were towering shots to right field. His solo home run on April 18 came in the seventh inning with the ‘Riders down 3-0. The ‘Riders rallied to knock off the Corpus Christi Hooks 4-3.

 

Ryan Rua – No has exemplified the ‘Riders resurgence at the plate better than Ryan, who seems to have regained the form he displayed in Hickory last season.

 

As always, thanks for tuning in,

-Chris V.

 

 

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