While the offense has received most of the praise and attention for the ValleyCats so far in 2013, the pitching staff has not been too far behind in terms of importance in each win. No pitcher better exemplifies this phenomena than RHP Michael Feliz, who delivered his third consecutive impressive outing on Sunday, receiving the win in the Tri-City 6-2 win over Connecticut.
During his longest start of 2013, six innings, the Dominican right-hander allowed just three hits and one run, coming on a solo home run from Connecticut C Austin Green leading off the third. Feliz (2-1, 1.13) worked efficiently through his six frames, throwing just 62 pitches, while still amassing a strikeout an inning. Feliz retired the last eight Tigers he faced Sunday night, and never put more than one runner on in the same inning. Manager Ed Romero could not speak any higher of Feliz in his post-game comments to the media.
"Our pitching has been outstanding, and once again today, Feliz was outstanding," said Romero of Feliz, who he managed last year with the Gulf Coast League Astros. "Six strong inning, one ball up in the zone, other than that he was outstanding."
Feliz said that his 2-seam fastball was his strongest pitch on Sunday, and gave much credit to ValleyCats catcher Jake Rodriguez, who in addition to calling all nine innings, was 2-2 with 2 RBI, and reached base four times. With the bases loaded in the third inning, and the ValleyCats already up 3-1, Rodriguez pulled a ground ball through the left side of the diamond into left field, plating two runners and giving the 'Cats all the insurance they would need.
In addition to the offense supplied by Rodriguez, Dan Gulbransen continued his career-best hitting streak with a two-run home run in the 1st. With Conrad Gregor aboard, Gulbransen took a 2-0 offering from Tigers starter Preston Jamison (0-2) and launched it off of the second row of signage beyond the right field fence. That home run extended Gulbransen's hitting streak to nine games, and increased his streak of consecutive games with an RBI to six. He added another single in the 7th to boost his average to .415, which is officially first in the New York-Penn League. The second-year 'Cats outfielder is also tied for the league lead in RBI's and runs scored, with 13 and 14, respectively.
"When we were in Connecticut, we struggled giving Feliz some run support, and I got to a positive count, I tried to swing at one pitch in zone, and got it, and put the barrel on it," said Gulbransen, who has recorded multi-hit games in six of his past eight games. "The Joe is a comfy place to hit, no doubt."
After Feliz departed, Andrew Thurman came on in relief. The 2nd round pick of the Astros in this year's draft went three innings to close out the win and pick up his first career save. He gave up one run and struck out six hitters in his outing, the first appearance for the righty from Orange, CA at home.
The start of the game was delayed one hour and 36 minutes by rain, pushing a 5:00 pm start back until 6:36. The win for Tri-City improved their record to 11-3, the best in the New York-Penn League. The 'Cats also went to 7-1 at home, another league-best total. Connecticut dropped to 4-9, which leaves them dead last in the Stedler Division standings, and is the worst record thus far in the league. The ValleyCats won their 5th consecutive series to begin the series with the win in the rubber match Sunday, while Connecticut is still in search of their first series win. In the win, 'Cats second basemen Tony Kemp added three hits and two stolen bases, which gave him the NYPL-lead for steals with seven.
The 'Cats return back home on July 4th after a three-game series in Vermont. The 6:30 start on the 4th begins a six-game homestand for Tri-City, which through 14 games in 2013 already has a four-game lead in the Stedler Division standings.