Matthews: Will Using Major-League Baseballs Help Or Hurt The Red Wings?

WILL USING MAJOR-LEAGUE BASEBALLS HELP OR HURT THE RED WINGS?

In a break from the past, the International League this season will use Major League Baseball baseballs.

Many observers, including savvy Rochester Red Wings broadcaster Josh Whetzel, are predicting an upturn in home runs this IL season because the baseballs will travel farther than the ones used in the league in recent past years.

Will the switch help or hurt Rochester? The Red Wings led the IL in pitching last season (3.39 earned-run average) for the first time since 1976. Pitching is supposed to be the strength of the team again this season. Flyouts turning into HRs will hurt a lot of pitchers.

The Red Wings do not appear to have a power-laden roster to start this season. Rochester ranked 13th in the 14-team with 97 HRs last season. Can the 2019 Wings at least match that?

Here are last season’s HR totals for the position players on Rochester’s Thursday Opening Day roster:

Catcher Wynston Sawyer – 2 total HRs in 36 games for AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester.

Catcher Tomas Telis – 4 HRs in 76 games for AAA New Orleans

1B Zander Wiel – 10 total HRs in 116 games for Chattanooga AA and Rochester AAA.

INF Adam Rosales – 18 HRs in 114 games for AAA Columbus. The 35-year-old veteran had 48 HRs in 651 MLB games in portions of 11 seasons, including 13 with San Diego in 2016. He hit well for Minnesota this spring (3 doubles, 4 HRs and 9 RBI in 36 at-bats) and the Twins signed him and sent him to Rochester for infield insurance.

INF/OF Jordany Valdespin – 12 HRs in 113 games for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League (worth nothing: he was chosen Independent Leagues Player of the Year after batting .338 and leading the Atlantic League in runs, hits and triples. He also was 30-for-35 in stolen bases. He had 15 HRs in 214 MLB games with the Mets and Marlins. He’s always had talent and could prove to be a very nice free-agent signing).

3B Randy Cesar – 10 HRs in 116 games for AA Corpus Christi. He had a Texas League-record 42-game hitting streak and batted .296.

INF Ronald Torreyes – 0 HRs in 30 games A and AAA. The ex-Yankee is listed at 5-8, 151. He’s a scrappy player and will be a fan favorite. Just don’t expect much pop. He has 4 HRs in 229 MLB games.

INF-DH Wilin Rosario – 13 HRs in 108 games in Japan.He had 71 HRs in 447 MLB games with Colorado (including 28 in his 2012 rookie season) and then 71 total HRs in Korea in 2016/2017.

INF Nick Gordon – 7 total HRs in 141 games for AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester.

OF John Andreoli – 3 HRs in 89 games for AAA Tacoma. Speed is his game.

OF LaMonte Wade Jr. -- 11 total HRs in 120 games for AA Charlotte and AAA Rochester.

OF Luke Raley – 20 total HRs in 130 games fora Tulsa and AA Chattanooga.

OF Brent Rooker – 22 total HRs in 130 games for AA Chattanooga.

Left-handed slugger Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota’s 21-year-old top hitting prospect, has a minor wrist injury and will start this season on the inactive list with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Double-A Southern League.He might be a Red Wing later this season.

A SUPER START FOR HARPER AND HIS PHILLIES

Bryce Harper is a streaky hitter and Philadelphia fans are fickle to say the least, but Harper and his Phillies are off to spectacular starts and having great fun – at least for now.

Harper, The $330 Million Man, was 3-for-5, with another tape-measure home run – capped by an epic bat flip – in an 8-2 victory Tuesday night in his return to Washington. The Phillies are 4-0 for the first time since 1915. Harper is 6-for-14, with 2 doubles, 3 HRs (458 and 465 feet), 5 RBI and a 1.770 OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage).

WELCOME BACK BOBBY BONNER

Bobby Bonner was a very popular player and a superb defensive shortstop for the Rochester Red Wings from 1979 through 1984. He was elected to the Red Wings Hall of Fame in 2000 (with Johnny Oates, Whitey Kurowski, baseball writer Bill Koenig and The Fans of Rochester Community Baseball...that was quite a group).

Bonner will visit Rochester next Thursday to participate in the ceremonial first pitch for the Red Wings 2019 home opener at Frontier Field. He’ll catch the first pitch from his granddaughter, Alayna Berry, of Spencerport High School. She was the inspiration for the first female player to be featured on a pack of Big League Chew in the shredded bubble gum company’s 40-year history.

Pete DuPre, “Harmonica Pete”, will perform the National Anthem. The Edison Tech and RIT product is an active member of Honor Flight Rochester at age 95. He was an Army Medic during the World War II Battle of the Bulge, working in a hospital in England.

Thursdays generally are reserved to honor Plates, but to keep the tradition of Opening Day, the home team will wear Red Wings uniforms. Thank you.

MY NEW FAVORITE MAJOR LEAGE BASEBALL PLAYER IS...

Oakland A’s slugger Khris Davis.

Here are a few reasons why:

He’s the MLB leaders in home runs since the start of the 2016 season: Khris Davis 138...Giancarlo Stanton 124...Nelson Cruz 120...Nolan Arenado 116...Edwin Encarnacion 113.

He has 335 RBIs in the past three seasons: 102 in 2016...110 in 2017...123 in 2018.

He’s incredibly consistent, with the exact same batting average -- .247 – in each of the past four seasons. What are the odds against that?

He isn’t a Gold Glove outfielder or a base-stealing threat. I don’t care. He’s adequate defensively and his home-run trot looks good.

He had a pretty good senior season at Deer Valley High School in Glendale, Ariz.: .592 batting average, 10 HRs, 50 RBI and led his team to the state title.

He has a history of being underrated. He was the 226th pick in the 2009 June amateur draft by Milwaukee...On February 12, 2016, the Brewers traded him to Oakland for left-handed pitcher Bubba Derby and catcher Jacob Nottingham. Have you ever heard of them? They’re currently teammates on the San Antonio Missions (Pacific Coast League).

He has yet to play in a MLB All-Star Game. Maybe this year.

He’s relatively underpaid: 1 year for $16.5 million. He’ll be a free agent in 2020 and figures to cash in.

Another Davis -- Baltimore’s fading slugger/whiffer Chris Davis -- has four years left on a seven-year/$161 million contract. In the past three seasons, he has 80 HRs, 194 RBI and a .202 batting average. Khris Davis had 133 HRs, 335 RBI and a .247 batting average.

Chris Davis’ nickname is Crush. I prefer Khris Davis’ Khrush.

ASTUDILLO WILL HAVE A SPECIAL NIGHT IN MINNESOTA APRIL 26

Willians Astudillo, last season’s Rochester Red Wings MVP and Most Popular Player, is already a hero with fans of the Minnesota Twins.

The chubby, always hustling, free-swinging 27-year-old Astudillo entered Tuesday night’s game at Kansas City with Major League Baseball’s all-time highest batting average by a player with a minimum of 100 plate appearances. That .368 average dropped to .365 Tuesday night after a pinch-hit flyout – but he remained in the game, singled to lead off the top of the 10th inning, and scored the game-winning run on Nelson Cruz’s two-out RBI single. So Astudillo is 3-for-4 this season to boost his career batting average to .371 (36-for-97). He has 2 career walks, 3 strikeouts, 2 sacrifice flies and 2 hit-by-pitches.

Astudillo might eventually return to the Red Wings, but probably not before April 26. That date will be An Evening With La Tortuga (turtle) at Minnesota’s Target Field. The promotion will include an Astudillo T-shirt giveaway.

COLLAPSE OF THE CANADIAN HOCKEY LEAGUE WILL HELP THE NWHL

The Pegulas-owned Buffalo Beauts and the rest of the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League will benefit from the surprising collapse of the Canada-based CWHL.

The NWHL expects to expand from the current five teams to at least seven teams -- including Montreal and Toronto – for next season and lengthen the regular season from 16 to 24 games.

The NWHL will receive a $100,000 contribution from the NHL and the players’ salaries are expected to increase.

No word on the fate of the CWHL Worcester Blades, who were 0-28 and outscored 155-22 in the league’s final season.

SHORT SHOTS

The only plus regarding the collapse of this season’s Buffalo Sabres is the possibility of striking gold with a prime pick in the NHL draft – again. The Sabres have the fourth-fewest points in the NHL standings (and the fourth-worst goal differential (-54).

xxxSabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is last in the NHL in plus/minus rating (goals scored and allowed by a team at even strength when that player is on the ice) at minus-43. The second-worst is minus-32 by Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.

xxxFormer University of Buffalo Bulls basketball coach’s Nate Oats’ deal with Alabama includes a $2.462-million base salary, two cars, a country club membership and NCAA Tournament bonuses. How could he pass up that package?

xxxOdds for the NCAA women’s Final Four Friday in Tampa: Baylor favored by 4 ½ points versus Oregon, 7 p.m., on ESPN....defending champion Notre Dame favored by 2 ½ points versus Connecticut, 9 p.m., on ESPN2. It is the 12th straight Final Four appearance for coach Geno Auriemma’s Huskies...The championship game will be Sunday, 6 p.m., on ESPN.

xxxLatest projected top two picks by the Buffalo Bills in the NFL draft: By Mel Kiper, No. 9 overall DT Ed Oliver (Houston) and No. 40 WR N’Keal Harry (Arizona State)...By Todd McShay, No. 9 overall DE Rashan Gary (Michigan) and No. 40 OL Tytus Howard *Alabama State).

xxxCongratulations to Barry Vee, the new president-elect of the Rochester chapter of the United States Bowling Congress. He has one of the most familiar voices in this city’s radio history and has been an excellent bowler in fast leagues for a long time.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, April 3

Blake Swihart 27...Jason Kipnis 28...John Brown 29..Kam Chancellor 31....Jay Bruce 32...Picabo Street 48...Rodney Hampton 49...Pervis Ellison 52...Shane Conlan 55...Chris Bosio 56...Steve Ludzik 58...Leslie Frazier 60...Russ Francis 66. Alec Baldwin 61, Tony Orlando 75 and Doris Day 95 are invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, April 4

Frank Kaminsky 26...Landry Jones 30...Sean May 35...Ben Gordon 36...Roberto Luongo 40...Keith Bulluck 42...Scott Rolen 44...Chad Eaton 47...Yanik Perreault 48...Jessie Tuggle 54...Dale Hawerchuk 56...Jack Del Rio 56...John Hannah 68...Mike Epstein 76...JoAnne Carner 80. Robert Downey 54 is invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

April 3

57 years ago (1962), jockey Eddie Arcaro retired with 24,092 wins in 31 years...43 years ago (1976), the Philadelphia Flyers won their NHL record-tying 20th straight home game... 37 years ago (1982), Buffalo’s Gil Perreault scored his 1,000th NHL point...31 years ago (1988), Mario Lemieux won the NHL scoring title, stopping Wayne Gretzky’s seven-year streak.

April 4

45 years ago (1974), Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s record with his 714th career home run...33 years ago (1986), Wayne Gretzky set an NHL record with his 213th point of the season...25 years ago (1994), Arkansas beat Duke 76-72 for the 56th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

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