In the comments of last week’s Tourists column, Doug S. pointed out that the T’s had to cover some ground quickly if they were going to catch Savannah in the South Atlantic League’s (SAL) Southern Division.
As of May 29, Asheville was seven games behind the Sand Gnats for first place in the division. With 19 games remaining to be played in the season’s first half, that didn’t give the Tourists much time to catch Savannah for the Southern Division title. But the team is doing what it can to make the division race interesting.
The Tourists finished their seven-game road trip with six wins and one loss, sweeping Charleston in three games and taking two of three from Savannah. Asheville clinched a series win with a 12-6 victory over the Sand Gnats on Wednesday night.
Every batter in the Tourists’ lineup got at least one hit. Outfielders David Dahl and Jordan Patterson both went 3-for-4 at the plate. Second baseman Zach Osborne, catcher Wilfredo Rodriguez, designated hitter Ashley Graeter and third baseman Alec Mehrten each got two hits in the game. Starting pitcher Johendi Jiminian threw six innings, striking out eight batters while allowing three runs and five hits. His record is now 7-2 for the season.
With that successful road trip, Asheville reduced its second-place deficit to a five-game margin. There are 12 games to play before the first half of the season ends with the SAL’s All-Star break. That still doesn’t give the Tourists much time to make up ground. But their chances look better than they did a week ago.
The T’s begin a four-game set at McCormick Field with Kannapolis on Thursday June 5 (a Thirsty Thursday!), then head to Lexington for three games. Asheville returns home on June 12 to finish the season’s first half with a four-game series versus Rome. The SAL then takes a three-day hiatus for the All-Star break.
Three Tourists are All-Stars
A trio of Tourists players won’t get as much of a break as their teammates, but they probably won’t mind the extra work as it’s a reward for their first-half accomplishments. Dahl, third baseman Ryan McMahon and first baseman Correlle Prime were named to the Southern Division roster for the SAL All-Star Game, to be played in Hickory, N.C. on June 17.
Prime, who will start at designated hitter, is currently second in the SAL with 11 home runs. As we told you last week, the 20-year-old slugger hit eight of those homers during the month of May. McMahon is right behind Prime with 10 home runs, also ranking among the league’s top five batters with 21 doubles, 44 RBI and a .533 slugging percentage. He’ll start at third base. Dahl gets the starting nod in center field and ranks fourth in the SAL with nine homers.
Also going to the All-Star Game is head athletic trainer Billy Whitehead. He’ll be the trainer for the Southern Division team.
Tourists alum Eddie Butler starts for Rockies on Friday
Pitcher Eddie Butler was a shining star for the Tourists last season, compiling a 5-1 record and 1.66 ERA in nine starts. That success got him quickly promoted to the Colorado Rockies’ high Class A team in Modesto. Butler finished the season in Double-A Tulsa, where he began this year, and was viewed as one of the Rockies’ top pitching prospects going into 2014.
(More specifically, Baseball America ranked Butler as the No. 2 minor leaguer in the Colorado organization.)
It didn’t take long for the right-hander to move on from Asheville and progress through the Rockies’ organization. And after 11 starts with Tulsa, Butler is getting the call to the big leagues.
The 23-year-old will start for Colorado on Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. MLB.com’s Thomas Harding first reported the news on Tuesday night. Butler replaces Franklin Morales — who had a brutal May with a 7.59 ERA in six starts — in the Rockies’ starting rotation. In his 11 Double-A starts, Butler went 4-4 with a 2.49 ERA and 40 strikeouts (versus 19 walks) in 68 2/3 innings.
Watching a guy play in Asheville one year, then make it to the majors the next season is exciting. It’s one of the most gratifying parts of following a minor league team. As Seth Stewart, the McCormick Field scoreboard operator, said on Twitter, Butler was pitching for the Tourists 380 days ago. On Friday, he’ll be wearing a Rockies uniform.
*** The Asheville Tourists return to McCormick Field on Thursday June 5 for a four-game series with Kannapolis. On Friday, stick around for post-game fireworks. The first 1,000 fans in attendance for Saturday’s game will receive a free portable dog bowl. Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.
Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:40 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter.