MMLN – Bisons Rally Falls Short

Kirk Nieuwenhuis is off to a good start in 2011

PAWTUCKET, RI – The Bisons swung through Rhode Island for a brief two-game stint with the Red Sox' Triple-A squad. Josh Stinson took the mound for his first Triple-A start of 2011, while other notable prospects filled the middle of the Herd's order. Inside Pitch was there for Sunday's action and files this latest edition of Mets Minor League Notebook.

Josh Stinson surprisingly (in my opinion) started the year in Binghamton, but all it took was one promotion from Buffalo to New York for the right-hander to return to Triple-A. In place of Dillon Gee, Stinson tossed four embattled innings during which he gave up six earned runs on six hits with three walks and a home run allowed.

The word of the day for Stinson was command – or lack thereof. All six hits the right-hander allowed went for extra bases (five doubles, one home run) and that was the result of spotty fastball command. While he was at his expected 91-93 MPH (mostly 91-92 with about 10-12 93s mixed in) with movement, he had trouble keeping the ball down in the zone, where he is at his best. He especially had trouble keeping the ball down when behind in the count, which opened the door for hitters to sit on the fastball.

Stinson's breaking pitches were good, but not as sharp as they typically are. He only mixed in his curveball, while his slider had the good snap I've grown accustomed to seeing. His changeup was actually one of the stronger aspects of Sunday's start, but it often took a backseat because he found himself working from behind in the count, forcing him to throw more of a fastball/slider combination.

He maneuvered through some tough at-bats during two scoreless innings to begin the outing, but ran into trouble when – from my vantage point – hitters began adjusting to Stinson's spotty command of his secondary pitches. Overall, I don't see a negative pattern emerging here, just a bad start and a tough day for the right-hander.

Nick Evans had a solid day at the plate, going 2-for-4 (two singles) with 3 RBI, including a run-scoring hit off a right-hander. I emphasize this point because of Evans' inability to consistently hit right-handed pitching. More than anything, I think that is going to keep him in the minors for a longer period of time, especially considering he's bound to see far more right-handers than southpaws in the big leagues.

Consider the numbers: He's 2-for-28 v. RHP this year (.071) and 5-for-11 against lefties (5-for-11). Evans was never this futile or wide in his splits going back to 2008 and 2009. His timing does not appear so noticeably different right v. left, but it may be a matter of him seeing the ball differently. Either way, Evans has to find a solution to this gap in his offense (he also hasn't walked in 39 at-bats this year).

Conversely, Kirk Nieuwenhuis appears to be settling into Triple-A pitching. After hitting .225 in 30 games with the Bisons last year, Nieuwenhuis is 11-for-33 over his last 10 games and on Sunday I saw greater strike zone awareness from the outfielder. Yes, he has struck out 11 times in 37 at-bats, including one yesterday, but Nieuwenhuis is being more discerning at the plate – especially up in the zone where pitchers often got him to chase last year. So far, Nieuwenhuis is off to a .333 AVG/.444 OBP/.958 OPS start. A sign of more to come? I saw indicators that Nieuwenhuis is in for a good year.

Lucas Duda is off to a tough start since returning to Buffalo (and the season as a whole). He is 5-for-27 in seven games (after going 2-for-17 in New York). It looks like Duda is battling a slight timing issue. His leg kick was starting just a bit early, which filtered throughout the rest of his swing. Duda showed he could more than handle Triple-A last year. Once he gets back into his rhythm, I think he'll be fine.

Zach Lutz went 1-for-3 with a double, RBI and a walk, continuing what has been a very hot start for the third baseman. Lutz is hitting .344 (11-for-32) through his first nine games with one home run, 5 RBI and five doubles. Right now, Lutz is showing the bat speed and pitch recognition that make him such a productive if not proficient hitter. He showed very good balance and strength in his lower half, which as long as it remains, says to me he'll have a very god year barring any injuries.

Ruben Tejada had a tough sixth inning when he committed a fielding error and throwing error on consecutive plays. That gives him five errors in 11 games which is uncharacteristic of Tejada. This was my first real up close look at Tejada in 2011, and so far I do not see much change in his game from 2010. His ball-striking is marginally better, but overall he is the same, simple bat-on-ball hitter who uses his agility on the bases.

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