Monthly Archives: June 2015

Nola returns to Omaha with Zephyrs

Austin Nola warms up with Marlins teammates prior to an exhibition game at Zephyr Field on March 30, 2013. Photo by: Parker Waters

Austin Nola warms up with Marlins teammates prior to an exhibition game at Zephyr Field on March 30, 2013. Photo by: Parker Waters

The last time New Orleans Zephyrs shortstop Austin Nola took the field in Omaha, Nebraska, he was suiting up for the LSU Tigers in the College World Series.

This week, Nola returns to the city of his most successful triumph, having earned a promotion to Triple-A for the first time as the Z’s open a four-game series against the Omaha Storm Chasers.

“I haven’t been back in Omaha since we won in 2009 so it’ll be a lot of fun,” Nola said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to run by the old Rosenblatt site where we had so many memories.”

It was in the 2009 College World Series where Nola, then a freshman for the Tigers, had his coming-out party, helping LSU win its sixth championship in the penultimate season at historic Rosenblatt Stadium. His defense at shortstop was perfect – no errors in 24 chances in Omaha – and his bat started to come around .250 (5-for-20 with a double, home run and four runs scored) ahead of three more seasons in the middle of the diamond for LSU.

Following a four-year run at LSU, Nola was chosen by Miami in the fifth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft and he worked his way to Double-A Jacksonville in 2014, where he was a member of the Southern League championship team that was headlined by a host of current Zephyrs.

But it was not an easy road for Nola once he got to Jacksonville, and even after tasting success for the Suns last season, he returned to Double-A this year and was tasked with playing some second base, a new position for him.

“I needed to learn how to play more second base and get used to playing all around the diamond, being a utility player. That was big for me to get some good reps at second base at Double-A,” Nola said. “I was just trying to refine my approach, that’s it. I want to be consistent and I’ve been able to hit in all counts and play good defense at some different positions, which is a big thing for me.”

Though he hit only .211 in 69 games for Jacksonville this year, Nola was called up to New Orleans last weekend when starting shortstop Miguel Rojas earned himself a promotion to Miami.

“It’s a change of scenery and I’m moving on up. That’s always what you want to do when you get into this line of business: move up the ladder,” he said.

Nola played 27 games at second base, making three errors in 101 chances, but knows he needs to show versatility to continue “climbing the ladder.”

“Reid [Brignac] and I talked about that in spring training,” Nola said. “We talked a little about he and I being Louisiana guys and he just told me to play everything like shortstop. A lot of people I have talked to about it say that if you play shortstop a lot, you’ll be able to adjust to any other position on the field.”

For now, Nola will have to adjust to playing close to home for the first time since graduating from LSU in 2012. But he knows that when he and the Zephyrs return home starting July 4, he’ll have plenty of ticket requests to deal with.

“I’ve got a lot of great family and friends that are all looking forward to getting to see me when we get home and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “I have a lot of family and friends and you can’t beat that.”

Zephyrs take finale in extras against Iowa

uan Diaz hit a sacrifice fly with one out in the top of the 12th inning to send the New Orleans Zephyrs to a 2-1 victory a salvage a split from the Iowa Cubs on Monday afternoon.

Pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin led off the 12th with a single and advanced to third when a sacrifice bunt by Jhonatan Solano was thrown up the first base line by catcher Kyle Schwarber. After an Austin Wates strikeout, Diaz hit a 1-1 pitch to right field to score Valdespin.

Nick Wittgren worked a perfect bottom of the 12th for his ninth save, just one day after allowing two runs on three hits to the Cubs, giving the Zephyrs their fourth win in nine tries in extra innings.

Grant Dayton (2-1) tossed a season-high three innings in relief to get the win for New Orleans, yielding one hit and one walk. It was his longest outing since August 10, 2013 for Double-A Jacksonville.

Vinny Rottino continued his torrid month of June with his seventh home run of the season, leading off the second inning. Rottino is now batting .413 in June to lead the Pacific Coast League, and his seven homers move him into a tie with Derek Dietrich for the team lead.

Adam Conley turned in another solid start for the Zephyrs, allowing just one run on three hits over six innings, but did not factor into the decision. The southpaw struck out seven and walked four. He lowered his ERA to 2.52, the fourth-lowest mark in the league.

Lay Batista hurled two scoreless innings of relief for New Orleans, which split the four-game set in Iowa and eight meetings this season at Principal Park.

Blake Cooper (5-3) was saddled with the loss after allowing the unearned run in the 12th, his third inning of relief for Iowa.

Cubs pitchers combined to limit the Zephyrs to three hits through the first 10 innings.

The Zephyrs continue their road trip on Tuesday night in Omaha against the Storm Chasers. The two teams will resume the suspended game from June 14 at Zephyr Field before playing a seven-inning contest afterward. The suspended game will resume at 4:35 p.m. from Werner Park.

Conley’s debut highlights “awesome week”

Adam Conley has ranked among the PCL leaders in wins and ERA en route to making his big league debut. Photo by: Parker Waters / New Orleans Zephyrs

Adam Conley has ranked among the PCL leaders in wins and ERA en route to making his big league debut. Photo by: Parker Waters / New Orleans Zephyrs

Pitching just an hour from his hometown, Adam Conley had more support than usual in the stands on June 5.

The 25-year-old left-hander was making his first professional start in his home state of Washington, with more than 30 friends and family in the stands as the Zephyrs took on the Tacoma Rainiers. Conley, who resides nearby in Olympia, Washington, gave his supporters plenty to cheer for.

Conley delivered his best start of the year, throwing 7 1/3 innings, scattering six hits and three runs, while striking out eight as the Z’s won 6-4. He threw 72 of his 107 pitches for strikes and turned in his longest start of the year.

“There was more adrenaline in that start than others. I just felt like the atmosphere there was a little more electric for me, knowing who was there and everything and just from the baseball side of it, it’s a great atmosphere there in Tacoma,” Conley said. “But on top of it, knowing there were so many friends and family there watching me put it over the edge.”

But the great feeling that Conley had following his best start of the season was only multiplied three days later when the Marlins called him up for his Major League debut.

“It was an awesome week for me, that’s for sure. It’s one I won’t forget,” Conley said. “When you go through professional baseball you wonder what that day is going to be like, and over the past few years, I was anticipating it more and was more anxious about that day coming. As I’ve gotten older, I understand better that when I was going to go up there, I needed to be ready and give myself the best chance to stay.”

Conley did his part, setting down the side in order on only six pitches on June 10 at Toronto. Although he was returned to New Orleans on June 12, Conley was able to take in the full experience of being in the bigs and pitching on a new mound, in a new stadium in front of all kinds of new fans.

“What I like to do, and I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, is when I get to a new stadium that I’ve never been to, I take a good look around then so when I go out there to pitch, it’s not going to be the first time I’ve been out there,” he said. “I had not only the early stretching and throwing program before the game, but I sat through two games from start to finish and it was actually the last defensive inning for us in the whole series, so I had a lot of time to take it in and be with the guys and learn the ropes.”

In two starts upon returning to Triple-A, Conley has earned a pair of victories, including Wednesday’s win over Round Rock when he limited the Express to one hit in six scoreless innings.

The win was Conley’s seventh of the year to move him into a tie for the Pacific Coast League lead, and he lowered his ERA to 2.61, putting him in consideration for the third All-Star nod of his career in his third different level of the Marlins organization.

But Conley said he’s just pitching more consistently to get more outs this season, after struggling in his first taste of Triple-A in 2014.

“I don’t think the things I am doing well right now are any better than they have been in the past when I do things well,” he said. “But I think it’s just limiting those mistakes and being more consistent. When I go out there I don’t do anything special. I just try and move my fastball to both sides of the plate and I try and get ahead and stay ahead.”

“When I can throw three pitches for a strike, on both sides of the plate, I like my chances. I think hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports and I try and keep that in mind when I’m on the mound.”

Dietrich’s game rounding into form

Derek Dietrich has hit .424 over his last nine games with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBI. Photo by: Parker Waters / New Orleans Zephyrs

Derek Dietrich has hit .424 over his last nine games with five doubles, two home runs and nine RBI. Photo by: Parker Waters / New Orleans Zephyrs

After getting off to a hot start in the season’s first three weeks, Derek Dietrich cooled off significantly and saw his average dip into the low .200’s. For a player with 106 games and 373 at-bats under his belt in the major leagues, Dietrich knew that he needed to just stay the course and his bat would come back to him.

He closed May with a bang, racking up five extra-base hits and seven RBI over the final week of the month, getting his average back near his career minor league mark of .280.

“I think I’m usually a pretty good starter into the season and I got off to a good start here, but I just had to battle there for a few weeks,” Dietrich said. “I never panicked once and I trusted my ability to hit and I’ve just been a little bit more aggressive and really looking to drive the ball and use the opposite field.”

From May 23-27, Dietrich went on a tear, picking up three straight two-hit games, with five of those hits being doubles. He sprayed the ball to left field helped lengthen a lineup that dipped as the month went on. But when the club went on its first West Coast trip of the season, Dietrich’s bat exploded even more, culminating with a 3-for-4 night in Reno, in which he homered and drove in five runs as part of a 14-3 Zephyrs victory.

“Some days you get 10, 12, 15 hits and the runs come easy and other nights you get two or three and win or lose by one,” he said. “Those are tough games, but the defense has been huge for us and our pitching as well, but I don’t think anyone is worried about our lineup. We’ve shuffled around, but when we get the guys in there, everyone trusts we’re going to get it done at the plate.”

New Orleans finished the month of May with the Pacific Coast League’s best ERA at 2.73 and has committed a PCL-low 27 errors on the season, with Dietrich at the center of the defensive renaissance.

He has been involved in the most double plays at second base and leads all PCL second basemen with a .994 fielding percentage (one error in 160 chances), despite playing seven games at third base and one in left field. Dietrich said that shifting around with his glove isn’t too much of an adjustment.

“Third base comes naturally to me, just being an infielder in general, but I also played third a little bit for the USA team in college and in summer baseball, so I played a little bit on that side of the diamond and it’s always been a spot that I feel comfortable at,” he said.

But he knows that showing flexibility and playing multiple positions is a good way to get his resurgent bat into the lineup and show the Marlins that he is more than a one-trick pony in an effort to get back to the big leagues.

After hitting his team-high sixth home run in Tuesday’s loss at Tacoma, Dietrich is batting .276 and has moved into a tie for the club lead with 24 RBI. He has 10 doubles to equal his season total from all of last year.

“I’m just playing anywhere I can to get my bat in the lineup and give our club here and the Marlins an opportunity to use my bat,” he said.

NOLA burned by late Romak double in Reno

Jamie Romak doubled home the go-ahead runs off of Greg Nappo in the seventh inning to push Reno past New Orleans 4-3 on Sunday at Aces Ballpark. Romak finished the game 3-for-4 with three RBI for the Aces, and came up with the back-breaking double for the third hit in the inning off of Nappo.

Nick Buss singled and Peter O’Brien doubled with one out off of Nappo before the left-hander got Nick Evans to strike out swinging. But three pitches later, Romak clubbed a two-bagger past Austin Wates in left field to put the hosts ahead for good.

New Orleans rallied in the ninth, getting a run when Cole Gillespie walked with the bases loaded, but Vinny Rottino struck out swinging one batter later to end it.

Adam Conley turned in another solid start for the Zephyrs, allowing only one earned run over five innings, scattering five hits. The southpaw threw 54 of 92 pitches for strikes, but did walk four Aces’ batters. Fabian Williamson worked around a single for a scoreless sixth, before Nappo entered and allowed three hits and two runs in two innings out of the New Orleans bullpen.

Gillespie plated Miguel Rojas with a third-inning single and Conley executed a sacrifice bunt to plate Isaac Galloway one frame later for the other Zephyrs runs.

Galloway went 3-for-4 with a run scored and Wates was 2-for-3 with a run for New Orleans, which failed to make up ground on first-place Round Rock which lost for a third straight day on Sunday.

The two clubs will wrap up the series with an 9:05 p.m. CT start on Monday, with right-hander Robert Morey scheduled to oppose Allen Webster.