By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
In making his Triple-A debut on Thursday night with the Rochester Red Wings, Andrew Vasquez found himself in a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the eighth inning.
The left-handed reliever escaped with just one run scoring, however, wiggling out of major danger thanks to a fine defensive snare at first base by Zander Weil that led to a force out, and then a strike out of Kyle Wren to end the inning.
But when plate umpire Blake Carnahan called the third strike on Wren, there seemed to be great confusion regarding the number of outs. Were there two? Or were there three? No one was moving.
“I knew it was three,” Vasquez said, “but everybody was kind of standing there.”
Not until the umpiring crew assured the Wings there were indeed three outs did they head off the diamond.
Inning over, lead still in place, and after a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the inning, the Wings were 5-1 winners over Pawtucket in front of a new-Plates logo crowd of 10,027.
Maybe the confusion on the number of outs was all a result of how many pitches Vasquez needed to throw in the inning (26).
He has been the master of efficiency in coming up through the Minnesota Twins organization, going from unheralded late-round draft pick out of an NAIA school, to bonafide prospect.
Such as his last Double-A outing on Monday, when he pitched two innings and recorded every out by strikeout — yet he threw only 22 pitches (20 for strikes).
Vasquez has advanced at level every year, from rookie ball Elizabethton to low A Cedar Rapids in 2016, from Cedar Rapids to high-A Fort Myers in 2017, and from Fort Myers to Double-A Chattanooga in 2018.
Only now he’s added another jump this summer, getting the promotion to Triple-A on Wednesday night after the Lookouts game in Montgomery, Ala.
He was told on the bus after the game, flew out of Montgomery today at 6:20 a.m., and after a connection in Chicago arrived at Frontier Field around 3 p.m.
By 9:25 p.m. he was on the mound in front of 10,000 fans and striking out the first batter he faced, Tzu-Wei Lin, a .316 hitter, with a nasty slider.
“When you bring a guy up, you don’t want him sitting around too long,” Wings manager Joel Skinner said. “He came in and got a big out.”
The eighth was a little more of an adventure. Tony Renda lined out to center to start the inning but then three-time MLB All-Star Brandon Phillips singled on the first pitch he saw, and Rusney Castillo followed with an infield single, beating a good 3-2 slider into the infield grass that was too hit too softly for an out to be made.
So how rare was that walk to Travis? In 31 innings of relief at Chattanooga, Vasquez had walked just four batters while striking out 59. His walk-to-K ratio this year is 5.85. Last year it was 4.05.
That’s called doing what he’s told. In his professional debut summer of 2015 with the Gulf Coast Twins, he walked 15 batters in just 12 innings (with 22 K’s).
“My walks were a little too high so that’s what I’ve tried to limit,” Vasquez said. “That’s been my focus the last few years.”
But if his K-to-walk ratio is impressive, and if his ERA is dynamic, then his home-runs-to-innings-pitched is downright silly: 0.10.
In 172 1/3 innings in his pro career, he has allowed just two homers. Two. The first came on June 6 while with Fort Myers. The other was July 11 while with Chattanooga.
His slider is a big reason why he has been so effective. “My slider’s my pitch,” he said. “It’s a pitch I tend to rely on — maybe a little bit too much.”
But on nights when the fastball isn’t quite as sharp as usual, like Thursday at Frontier Field, then he needs to throw his slider for outs. Which is why he is now in Triple-A.
“When guys have success and are putting up numbers, they get rewarded,” Skinner said. “He’s earned it.”
Jon Kemmer hit a solo homer in the second inning and left fielder Lamonte Wade then threw out the potential tying run at home in the top of the third to keep it 1-0. The Wings scored a pair in the bottom of the third on a Kennys Vargas RBI double and Kemmer single. Vargas was 2-for-4, boosting his average to .235.
Willians Astudillo was called up to the Twins after the game.