Tagged: isotopes blog

Reliever Loop Moves to Rotation

Isotopes left-handed reliever Derrick Loop will return to his independent-ball roots by taking over as the fifth starter in the ‘Topes pitching rotation. The pitcher boasts a starter’s record already, 6-2, while posting a 3.82 ERA through 37.2 innings of work. He is set to make his first start tonight against the Memphis Redbirds at 6:05 PM.

“I’m comfortable with my role right now, but if my role changes, I’ll embrace it,” Loop said earlier this year when asked how the team can utilize his talent. “I wouldn’t mind starting, I’m comfortable in that position too.”

Loop has appeared in 20 games out of the bullpen this season for Albuquerque. The Isotopes have typically used him in short spans of two to three frames, with his longest outing a 4.0 inning performance where he allowed four runs on seven hits. The lefty hurler currently owns the second lowest ERA of all ‘Topes relievers who have pitched at least eight innings, and his 37.2 frames of work are the second most among all Isotopes relievers.

Pitching Coach Glenn Dishman has been impressed with what’s he’s seen from the Albuquerque pitcher, noting how well Loop has taken advantage of his chances on the mound.

“I’m really proud of what he’s done this season,” said Dishman.  “He’s gotten his opportunity and he’s done well.”

The move sends previous starter, lefty Michael Antonini, to the bullpen to fill in as a mid-to-long innings reliever. The left-hander has struggled as a starter through the first half of the season, going 1-6 with a 5.43 ERA through 66.1 innings.  Antonini has allowed 14 home runs in 2012, tied for second-most in the circuit as of June 26. His final outing as a starter resulted in a loss with the hurler giving up five runs on seven hits, three of which left the yard.

Derrick Loop moves into the rotation

Roster Returning to Form

Alex Castellanos is back tonight. And Scott Van Slyke. And Jerry Sands.

Hey, even Josh Fields, Luis Cruz, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle and Tim Federowicz are here too. It’s like a seven-game winning streak ‘Topes reunion. But instead of trading stories about how good they used to be, they’re going to make new ones about how good they actually are.

“The nucleus of our club looks pretty close to what he had at the start of the season right now, and that’s a good thing,” Isotopes Manager Lorenzo Bundy said.

You don’t say.

That was the team that had six different guys batting over .300. Actually, that was the team that, as a whole, was hitting almost .300 (.289). They ranked second in home runs (20), third in RBI (111) and third in runs (119). They ate Powerbars for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And now they’re back, and presumably, better than ever. With three of the everyday starters having seen time with the Dodgers already, PLUS a lineup that features the scorching hot Brian Cavazos-Galvez, the ‘Topes shouldn’t have any problems in the near future.

Except maybe fitting everyone into the lineup.

“That’s the time when your managerial skills come in as far as spreading time around,” Bundy said. “But at this level you don’t know who is going to be here one day and gone the next.”

Well, while they are here, I plan on thoroughly enjoying each and every day they crank up the bats. I plan on soaking in every box score that could easily belong to a football game: 7-3, 14-6, 21-0… A little too far? I think not.

“Obviously having everyone back here makes us strong again in a sense,” Isotopes Hitting Coach John Valentin said. “We hope to get back on a roll like we did early in the year and get back to first place.”

Go ahead and put us back on the fast track for the top rung. In the last week or so, the ‘Topes have moved from four and a half games back of first, to only one and a half. During the streak, as the big leaguers have begun to slowly trickle back to Albuquerque, the Isotopes have scored 10 or more runs in three of the four most recent victories.

“We’ve swung the bat really, really well the last few nights,” Valentin said. “Hopefully it’s a good sign that we’re going to start to get hot with the bats and help our pitching out.”

Oh yeah. I nearly forgot about the guys out on the mound for us, who, arguably, have been the biggest cause for the improved play. Between starters Fernando Nieve, Will Savage, Stephen Fife and John Ely, none of the hurlers have allowed more than four runs in their previous starts at home. And yes, that includes the rarefied air of Isotopes Park, which is not especially known for aiding pitching.

“We’ve been getting really good pitching, and that’s been a key point,” Valentin said.

Whatever you want to attribute our hot streak to lately, winning six of the last eight, it’s been vintage ‘Topes. Hitting. Scoring. Winning. It’s all coming together, much like the core of this season’s starting roster. However, the trick is going to be not chasing first place, just taking care of business day by day at the yard.

“We try not to look two or three days down the road, we just go for the day,” Bundy said. “I try to keep the guys focused on the moment and whatever happens tomorrow we’ll deal with it when we get there.”

He’s right. Who knows, maybe we’ll even get Elian Herrera back —

And have some real roster issues.

Scott Van Slyke is a key piece returning to the ‘Topes roster (Photo: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)

“Touching Base” with Trent Oeltjen

*Each homestand the ‘Topes Tattler will spotlight an individual on the Isotopes for the new segment, “Touching Base.” The blog will be checking in with various players and coaches to give fans an inside look at your 2012 ‘Topes. Make sure to keep checking back to see who is “touching base!”

Throw out your “Astrology Today” magazine, pause your “self-motivation book on tape” and tell your sports psychologist you’ll call him back. Just stop it all. These crazy things that help grasp this “complicated” game, throw it all out. There’s no need for any of that today. Today, we’re just going to play baseball.

And for ‘Topes outfielder Trent Oeltjen, the baseball that’s played between the ears is no longer important.

The Aussie outfielder has witnessed the drawbacks of over-thinking on the diamond during his career. Or, to put it more bluntly, he’s been a part of it. His season’s stat chart thus far in 2012 bares a strong resemblance to an earthquake on the Richter Scale, where the highs take your breath away, and the lows, you might just glance over.

“I had a bit of a slow start,” Oeltjen said. “But since then I’ve really felt like myself again and have been trying to have fun playing the game.”

So the question is; how does he take the mental side out of baseball?

“I think just relaxing, not trying to do too much and just enjoying the game,” Oeltjen said. “Sometimes you try too hard and it doesn’t quite work that way, so you have to relax and have fun and just trust that what you’ve got is going to show up.”

Which, lately, has been a guessing game for the ‘Topes outfielder. On the season Oeltjen is batting .257 with 13 extra-base hits and 14 RBI. The numbers are absolutely solid enough, but they’re merely a shadow compared to the end of May, when he collected 13 hits in eight contests, including five multi-hit games.

“I just need to be more consistent and believe in myself,” said Oeltjen, who spent nearly half of the 2011 season at the Major League level with the Dodgers. “I had a lot of experience up there (with Los Angeles) last year, so that gave me the confidence to know that I am a Major League player.”

But three hits a night or not, here in Albuquerque, he’s still a Minor League star.

The carefree, always smiling Oeltjen takes center stage every time he suits up for the Isotopes. This season marks his third consecutive year he’s played for Albuquerque, at least for part of the year, and from the “Aussie Aussie” chants to his “fan club” above the dugout, you’d think the fan favorite was born and raised right here in the Duke City (insert Brian Cavazos-Galvez).

“It’s awesome to play here with such great fans because they’re always behind me and it helps me out a lot,” Oeltjen said. “It can be like a home away from home for me.”

He also said that the rest of the guys in the locker room can sometimes get a little envious of the amount of attention he receives on the field.

“They wish they had it too,” Oeltjen joked.

Other voices in the locker room, namely the coaching staff, also like what they see in the Aussie player. Oeltjen said as long as ‘Topes Manager Lorenzo Bundy keeps penciling him in the lineup, the outfielder plans to continue to leave it all out on the field and attempt to make it back to the big leagues.

“I’ve played with them (‘Topes coaches) all before and they know what they’re getting in me,” Oeltjen said. “I hustle and play hard every game and good things happen when you do that. I want to take that and continue to have good at-bats and get back up there to Los Angeles.”

But even if he stays here with the Isotopes this season, he’ll still have local fans offering their support. When asked about eliminating the mental aspects of baseball, Oeltjen largely credited his fanbase’s support for his success.

“The fans help keep you up,” Oeltjen said. “They remind you how fun it is to run out there every day and put a jersey on and play baseball.”

After all, it is just a kid’s game isn’t it?

‘Topes Outfielder Trent Oeltjen

Herrera’s Burst Onto Scene

For nearly a decade Elian Herrera had played minor league ball. He spent almost ten years slowly advancing through the ranks; the Dodgers’ facility in the Dominican Republic, Rookie Ball, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, BACK to Double-A. He’d seen pitches at every level of the game, except the majors.

Why should this season be any different?

“Elian’s been solid,” Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com after Herrera’s 17th game with the Dodgers, where he went 2-for-5 with two RBI. “It’s like you’re getting as close as you can to a grizzled veteran coming up from the Minors. Nine years of polish and learning to play the game. He’s been through a lot.”

But that still doesn’t explain it.

Why should the team with the best record in baseball find a spot for a guy that’s barely played a full season at Double-A? Why should he hit safely in 15 of 19 Major League contests? Why should he have three game-winning RBI already? Why should he, over five other players that were called up, make the cut instead of them?

“It’s (his success) from both sides of the plate,” Mattingly said. “He’s shown power, he’s had good at-bats, he’s shown awareness, he can steal a base, he can try to get a bunt down. He’s got a lot of different things to his game. It’s not like he’s a one-dimensional guy that came up and got hot. He looks like he belongs here.”

He also looked like he belonged with the Isotopes.

Before the call-up on May 14, Herrera was hitting .358 and on a 17-game hitting streak. He was a huge part of the ‘Topes’ winning ways, helping the team climb from the basement of the PCL American Southern Division to sole possession of first.

“It’s a great story,” Isotopes Manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Herrera. “He came here and worked his way into the lineup. He was part of the reason we turned our season around. He’s gone up there (to the Dodgers) and he’s definitely holding his own and doing a great job.”

Another thing that may have separated Herrera is his versatility. In 28 games with Albuquerque, he played six different positions on the diamond, and outside of catching or pitching, saw time everywhere except right field. At the plate, he mostly fit into the leadoff role but also had success batting in the bottom end of the lineup.

He’s the definition of utility player, and with consistent numbers at so many spots on the diamond and in the batting order, finding playing time with the Dodgers wasn’t the point of concern for Herrera or Bundy.

“The main question was could Elian handle the pressure,” Bundy said. “He’s played in pressure type situations before, but was it Dodger Stadium with 45,000 people? No. So I said the only way you find out is to give him a shot.”

In return, Herrera’s been ripping shots off any and all Major League pitching. Last night’s victim was none other than three-time All-Star and Cy-Young award winner Cliff Lee. The lefty held the first-place Dodgers to only two runs on the night. Herrera’s line? A hit with two RBI.

“He’s a baseball guy, he has great instincts,” said Isotopes Hitting Coach John Valentin of Herrera’s smooth transition to the Majors. “It especially shows when you see him have success in the big leagues, when he’s facing the best of the best when it comes to pitching.”

The greatest part of his story is that Herrera came out of nowhere and was picked up for almost nothing. When he signed with the Dodgers in 2003, he was inked with only a $15,000 bonus. As a catcher.

“I’d like to tell you that I studied the minor league system and knew this guy could play, but I can’t say that,” Mattingly said. “It’s a testament to him that he continued to work hard.”

And finally, it’s all paying off.

“In the Dominican they say, ‘Give 100 percent. What happens happens,'” Herrera said. “Even if you don’t reach your goal, you could always tell your children, ‘I gave the most I could give.'”

Here in America, we say, “Welcome to ‘The Show,’ Elian. You’ve earned it.”

Elian Herrera has become a consistent player for the Dodgers (Photo: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)

“Touching Base” with Alex Castellanos

*Each homestand the ‘Topes Tattler will spotlight an individual on the Isotopes for the new segment, “Touching Base.” The blog will be checking in with various players and coaches to give fans an inside look at your 2012 ‘Topes. Make sure to keep checking back to see who is “touching base!”

In a season that’s seen a handful of guys leave the ‘Topes, it feels good to have one back.

Especially when it’s Alex Castellanos.

Almost exactly a month to the day (April 24) since the utility fielder went on the DL with a left hamstring strain, Castellanos says everything is back 100 percent and he’s ready to suit up for the Isotopes.

“It feels good,” says Castellanos of his hamstring. “I’m still a little bit scared to push it, but I’ll get over it after I start playing a couple games.”

If anyone should be scared it’s opposing pitching.  Before the injury, Castellanos ranked in the tops of nearly every offensive category including runs scored, triples, extra-base hits, total bases, walks, torn-up pitching charts, slugging percentage and opponent’s headaches.

He even led the PCL in hit by pitches (wonder if there’s a correlation).

When asked about what he’s looking to do in his return, Castellanos said, “Just right where I left off, just doing what I was doing.”

Better get the record books ready.

While on the Disabled List, Castellanos was slowly rehabbing his way back to Albuquerque in Extended Spring Training. His routine in Glendale AZ. was a little different than everyday professional baseball, and he said that all the down time can really wear on your mental composure.

“That whole month was tough,” says Castellanos. “Especially (when) I wake up early in the morning, get my stuff done, and then I have the whole day just to think.”

Think about what exactly?

What pose to strike after a clutch base hit? How fast to jog around the bases after a home run? What walk-up song really says Alex Castellanos is back?

Anything else in Extended Spring Training?

“I played about 10 games down there, got a couple at-bats, got a couple hits,” says Castellanos.  “I think I hit a couple home runs, stuff like that.”

Jeez. How fast can we get this guy back in the box?

Unfortunately it’s unlikely that he’ll have a perfectly smooth transition back to Triple-A. Injuries like his can have a nagging, lingering effect, and it’s not something the infielder can just forget.

“I don’t really feel it (the injury),” says Castellanos. “But I’m just kind of scared to leg it out and have something happen. Just over time it’s going to have to get out of my head.”

Luckily he won’t have as much time to think about it anymore. With Castellanos penciled in the lineup tonight, the first time since April 24, he definitely has more important things on his mind.

“I want to get my timing back, see pitches, just things like that,” he says. “I’m just going to work my way up, little by little.”

“I just want to get back to the way I was playing.”

No need to think twice about that.

‘Topes infielder, Alex Castellanos

‘Topes Could Bolster Bullpen

Here we go again.

Just as the roster battle in the Dodgers infield came to a conclusion with Luis Cruz and Josh Fields heading to the ‘Topes, another competition heats up out of the bullpen.

Starting pitcher Ted Lilly, who has been on the Disabled List since the beginning of the season with neck stiffness, is set to start against the Padres on Saturday night. This means the crowded bullpen in Los Angeles will be forced to make a decision between relievers Jamey Wright and Josh Lindblom, and factoring in a number of variables, may send one down to Albuquerque.

Trust me, we welcome the extra pitching.

As far as stats go, Lindblom holds a quiet advantage over Wright after pitching four scoreless innings without allowing a single hit. The hurler also picked up his first Major League win on Opening Day for the Dodgers, and hasn’t slowed down since.

“It’s been an awesome 48 hours,” Lindblom told the LA Times after making the LAD roster and earning his first win. “I couldn’t even imagine making my first opening-day roster. And now having that win on opening day and being able to pitch and a part of all of this. It’s a special, special experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

As for Jamey Wright, the advantage may lie in the fact that  his counterpart, Lindblom, still has two years of minor-league options. Otherwise, on paper the two pitchers are nearly indiscernible, posting almost identical stats through all of Spring Training and six regular-season contests.

Same position. Same stats. Same first letter of their first name. It’s made for a daunting task for Dodgers skipper, Don Mattingly.

When was asked about keeping one pitcher over the other, Mattingly responded, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

More like, thanks, but no thanks.

If Josh Wright, excuse me, Jamey Lindblom, (I did it again)… Josh Lindblom is sent to Albuquerque, the ‘Topes will fortify their shaky pitching rotation with a consistent right-hander out of the pen. Lindblom has appeared in 134 innings with Albuquerque since the 2009 season, collecting a 5.37 ERA in the pitching obstacle of Isotopes Park.

Not necessarily a dream job for the 24 year-old on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster.

Still, knowing he’s on a day-to-day basis in the Dodgers rotation, Lindblom has taken the meaning of “team player” to a whole new level.

“Whatever role I have to fill on this team – whether it’s long, short, one batter, whatever it is – I’m just going to come out and compete,” Lindblom said. “I want to give the team a chance to win.”

That’s the Wright mentality.

Lindblom pitched in 134 innings with the 'Topes from 2009-10

The Final Countdown

*Cue “The Final Countdown” by Europe*

I’m not really sure how many times I can stress this, because it still doesn’t feel quite real to me just yet.

I know the team has been playing; I’ve printed box scores from each game. I know ticket sales are in full swing; I’ve seen the influx of fans at the box office. I know the grounds staff is making the field look top-notch; I’ve walked around the diamond hundreds of times. But finally, if I stop and let it sink in —

I know the Home Opener is actually here; we’ve finally made it.

The entire front office staff has been all-hands-on-deck as we prepare to draw the curtain for Friday’s Home Opener. Finishing touches are being applied throughout Isotopes Park, from the fourth floor suites to the depths of the dugouts.

And Armed with hours of pre-season meetings and a corny, though insightful, inspirational video about giving our fans “the pickle” (http://bit.ly/HhbHw4), the Albuquerque Isotopes are ready to welcome everyone to The Lab for the 2012 season.

As you first approach the ballpark this year, you’ll see the famous Isotopes logo stenciled in the walkway. Maintenance has been hard at work to re-buff and re-paint this iconic mark of the team as we begin our 10th season.

Upon entry to Isotopes Park, aside from seeing the field, you’ll notice the always popular vending stations are set to be stocked for Friday’s game. Of course, the food and face paint stands will be back like usual, but featured here, thanks to numerous requests on the Facebook post about Opening Day, are the beer vendors. First round is on me! (Don’t hold me to that)

Professional baseball is officially back in Albuquerque when the lineup boards are up-to-date and set for the day’s game. As you can see from the picture, the standings aren’t ideal as of yet, but like the old adage says, “the season is a marathon not a sprint.” I’m sure the boys will bring their “A” game in front of 16,000 strong on Opening Night.

In case the free scarves and beanies aren’t enough to fill out your ‘Topes wardrobe, the Pro Shop is fully loaded to meet all of your shopping needs. Let me restate that, and as the picture clearly shows, the Pro Shop is F-U-L-L-Y L-O-A-D-E-D. Trust me, it took an entire day just to unload and stock the hats, so you can imagine the amount of great merchandise waiting on our shelves.

As you make your way around the concourse you might notice our huge statue of Captain Morgan. The Captain’s there as a friendly reminder about the incredible deal in our new “small group” section, the Captain’s Corner. This seating area is perfect for friends and family to enjoy the game in their own “VIP” section of Isotopes Park. Saying the view from here is incredible would only be an understatement.

Now that Media Day has come and gone, our Creative Services staff is well equipped with “fascinating” information on this year’s ‘Topes roster. We have the inside scoop on all the players’ preferences for topics like “favorite superhero,”  “least favorite animal” and my personal favorite, “what actor would play YOU in a movie about your life.” Stay tuned to the video board throughout the game to find out these entertaining (and sometimes revealing) answers.

A trip to The Lab wouldn’t be complete without venturing out to the Fun Zone. Our Stadium Operations department has left no stone unturned in their pre-season upkeep, and as the picture shows, have recently finished adding a fresh coat of paint to the ticket booth. It’s perfectly acceptable to be a kid again (at least at heart) and spend an hour or two in the Fun Zone this year.

Last, but definitely not least, the centerpiece of baseball, our home field diamond. Pretty ain’t she. While it’s a 365-days-a-year job to maintain this piece of artwork, the past two weeks have been the icing on the cake to ensure the field looks picture perfect. And judging by the image below, it does.

So let the final countdown begin! Roughly 32 hours until the soothing voice of the PA announcer welcomes you back for another season of the greatest sport on the planet. The ballpark. Isotopes Park. The Lab. Whatever you call it, we guarantee our 10th season here as the ‘Topes will be the best.

Pickle included.