On a day that 2022 Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara pitched a complete game shut out over the Minnesota Twins with exactly 100 pitches in one hour and fifty-seven minutes, the River Cats took to the field for their home opener and stayed there for three hours and nineteen minutes in a loss to the El Paso Chihuahuas.
The night was cold and overcast and yet 9,548 fans, one of the biggest I’ve seen at the park in years, showed up to cheer on the River Cats as they faced off against the El Paso Chihuahuas. Not only did baseball return to Sacramento for 2023, but it did so with a rush of excitement as Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and 2021 All Star, is on a rehab assignment with El Paso as he finishes off the last two weeks of his 80-game suspension after testing positive for the banned substance Clostebol. Tatis said at the time that he took medication for the treatment of ringworm without realizing that Clostebol was in the medication. Yes, it was dumb that a player with such good care could have made such a mistake, but I believe him because unlike most other players who get popped, he didn’t just leave it at the generic I don’t know how it happened, or that he “tried endlessly to find the answer”, no he just accepted it and said he messed up.
Game time was now upon and aside from Tatis, the biggest news of the day for San Francisco Giants fans was that Kyle Harrison, the Giants’ top prospect was making his Triple-A debut. Harrison had an amazing 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings last season, which was an increase from the year before. Harrison’s first pitch, ball one, to none other than Fernando Tatis Jr. Harrison would walk Tatis in that first at bat, which would be the first of twelve walks the River Cats gave up that evening on their way to losing the home opener by a score of 10-8 and would end his night pitching two-plus innings, striking out four and walking four. Tatis would end his night going 1-2, with and RBI, and two walks, which pale in comparison to the excitement Tatis would produce just twenty-four hours later.
The River Cats came out swinging in the second game of the series and scored five runs in the bottom of the second to take the early lead over El Paso. The Chihuahuas would start to fight their way back as soon as the top of the third when they scored their first run when Kade McClure came into the game to relieve Ryan Walker.
Fernando Tatis would lead off the fifth with a 406-foot home run to left centerfield. This was Tatis’ first home run in only his second game back after having not played in a game since 2021 due to injury and suspension. The game went all down hill from there as the Chihuahuas tacked on six more runs including a four run sixth inning that had ten batters come to the plate and scoring four more runs, and eventually the game would end by a score of 8-5 on a night where the River Cats pitching woes got worse as they walked fifteen on the night.
Social media was abuzz with highlights of Tatis’ homerun, and Kade McClure got a little annoyed to say the least. McClure decided that it was a good idea to tweet, **Cheater hits a home run on a rehab assignment during a steroid suspension** after seeing a Padres writer Darnay Tripp write, “Kade McClure will be telling people for years about the time he gave up an absolute nuke to Fernando Tatis Jr”. McClure would double down the next morning with “Man woke up to some juiced up Padres fans”. The irony is that the San Fransico Giants ace pitcher Logan Webb was suspended for 80 games for testing positive for steroids back in 2019. Kade’s tweets have since now been deleted but McClure was raked through the coals by not only fans but also his peers. Old tweets were found, reprimands were given, and he has not pitched for the River Cats since that night, which I can only imagine is a move to let this die down for a bit. This story blew up so much that even Tatis’ mom jumped in on the action and said, “A player with 7 years in minor league just wanted a minute of fame, that was the reason he use a super star player name to obtain visibility” on her Instagram story. No one involved in this craziness is in the wrong, but to use another one of McClure’s tweets, “If you don’t like it, do better”.
Joe Musgrove of the Padres was announced as the starting pitcher for Thursday night’s game for a rehab assignment. After training 4-2, the River Cats clawed their way back and knocked Musgrove out of the game in the fifth after going 4.1 innings, allowing five hits, two runs, and six strikeouts. The River Cats resorted to small ball and found themselves taking their first win of series by a final score of 10-5.
Friday night’s match up was the one I was looking forward to all week as the River Cats would send Tristen Beck to the mound and face Jay Groome for the Chihuahuas. Groome who is still one of San Diego’s Top 30 prospects was originally drafted in the first round by the Boston Red Sox but came to the Padres last season in the trade that sent Eric Hosmer to the Sox.
Groome did not fair to well giving up six runs off five hits in five innings and walking four including a 385-foot to Will Wilson for his first homerun of the year. I’m superstition so I feel like I should be taking some of the blame for this one. The first time I ever saw Groome pitch was in the Pacific Coast League Championship game against the Reno Aces last fall in Las Vegas. Groome was lit up that night giving up four runs in 1.2 innings pitched which gave Reno the Pacific Coast League title. Tristen Beck picked up his first win of the season going five innings, giving up two runs, and leading the River Cats to their second win in a row as they defeated the Chihuahuas by a score of 9-4.
Melvin Adon, who is pitching for the River Cats for the first time since 2019, and the last remaining player from the team that won the Triple-A National Championship that year, closed out the game for the Cats. Adon looked typical to say the least, 100 miles an hour rockets coming out of his hand, but you never know where they’re going to end up.
This homestand has to be one the most star-studded series I’ve seen at Sutter Health Park in recent memory. Outside of Tatis, we’ve seen Joe Musgrove, and now tonight you can add Joey Bart who is on a rehab assignment, and former Yankees and Twins catcher Gary Sanchez to the mix who will be making his debut for the Giants organization after signing a Minor League deal last week. I wonder if that “I jus’ wanted to see a Yankee” guy from last year has come to these games? This is a very weird situation in my eyes. Bart, a former number two pick overall by the Giants, has seemed to lose favor with the team as they continue to bring in catchers looking for the right fit. While both of these players realize that this is a business, and that there is someone always looking to take away your job, I can only imagine how taxing it is when your bosses’ every word in reported on, and the guy looking to take your job is more experienced and sitting right next to you in the dugout. Don’t get me wrong, Bart is the guy for now, but those breathing down his neck are right there waiting for their chance. In Sanchez, a two time All Star, also has a stipulation in his contract that states if he is not promoted to the Majors by May 1, 2023, he can walk and sign elsewhere. That too is an interesting situation as Sanchez was sitting there with no other offers when the Giants came knocking so we will see what happens come May 1st.
The River Cats would roll over the Chihuahuas by a score of 12-4 for their third straight win with help from a big bottom of the third inning the team would bust out seven runs which started when Michael Gigliotti doubled down the right field line scoring two. Bart and Sanchez would also add to the excitement by knocking in a combined three RBI in the inning. River Cats pitching would have their most dominant night of this young season as Walker, Waites, Marciano, Hildenberger, Guzman, and Dabovich would only give up two walks on the night, a far cry from earlier this week.
The River Cats had won three straight coming into Sunday’s final game of the series and they would be looking to Kyle Harrison on the mound once again to keep the winning streak alive. The Chihuahuas started Julio Teheran on the mound who made quick work of the River Cats as he looked like the Teheran of old allowing one run in six innings while striking out eight.
Harrison started the game with ten straight balls and would not make it out of the first inning throwing thirty-five pitches of which only twelve were thrown for strikes. Harrison couldn’t help but look amused at himself in disbelief as Dave Brundage came out to take the ball from him.
That look pretty much sums up the final game of the series, but the cherry on top was when right fielder Clint Coulter came into to pitch to Taylor Kohlwey in the top of the ninth with two outs and the River Cats trailing by a score of 8-1. Kohlwey would fly out to Coulter’s replacement in right, Shane Matheny, on the first pitch to end the inning. This would be Coulter’s professional pitching debut after having played in the Minor Leagues for eleven years as he became the first position player to pitch for the River Cats in 2023.
While the two teams split the six-game series evenly, it was not pretty and I’m writing that off as still being early spring. Ryan Walker has quietly been the pitcher to watch early on this season as he has not allowed a run in his three appearances and has six strikeouts and two walks in 6.1 innings of work. On the other side of the coin, Will Wilson finds himself struggling to start as he is dwelling in the cellar with a .138 batting average with 11 strikeouts in 29 at bats. The River Cats look to bounce back from it all as they start a series against the Aces tonight in Reno.