The (Long) Week in Winston: Dash update, April 8-20

Baseball is back in full swing at every full-season level, and that includes the team that plays in Winston-Salem. The High-A Dash are nearing two weeks into the season and bearing a record of 5-6, the side of .500 they were woefully familiar with last year. This year, though, both the hitting and the pitching are significantly improved, and these first two or so weeks of play have seen impressive performances by exciting young players on the mound and at the plate. (Don’t ask about the field.)

The first of these was Sean Burke’s impressive debut on opening day, April 8. The big right-hander went four solid innings, walking four to go on top of the three hits allowed (all doubles), but also striking out five and giving up no runs. He didn’t get the win, and neither did Ty Madrigal, who pitched a scoreless inning after him; neither did Taylor Broadway, 2021’s sixth-round pick, who did earn a hold despite giving up three runs in 0.2 innings.

It was Theo Denlinger, drafted one round after Broadway, who picked up the vaunted Opening Day blown save/win combo by giving up a late-inning two-run double and then being very lucky. Gil Luna Jr. threw one scoreless inning for a hold and so did Zach Cable for the save, Dash bats able to overcome a total 12 walks issued by the pitching staff.

At (and, technically, behind) the plate, this one was all catcher Adam Hackenberg. Another 2021 draft pick (18th round), Hackenberg slashed .320/.382/.440 in the first 27 games of his career, the lion’s share of those in Kannapolis. After this game, he was batting .500/.500/2.000, his first dong a solo shot in the fourth inning, the second a three-run blast in his next at-bat the sixth.

Twenty-year-old wunderkind Bryan Ramos contributed a bomb of his own in the very first inning, and offseason waiver acquisition Moises Castillo chipped in as well in the third, both of those solo. Ramos had three hits; top prospect Oscar Colás, making his Sox system debut, had two, as did Tyler Osik, Hackenberg, and Castillo.

No good thing lasts forever, though, and despite a good start by 2019 second-rounder Matt Thompson, the bullpen and defense had a simultaneous meltdown that led to a six-run eighth inning for the Hickory Crawdads on April 9. Fraser Ellard was hung with the much less-vaunted Day After Opening Day blown save/loss combo after allowing five runs (three earned, two allowed to score after he exited). Cooper Bradford and Isaiah Carranza each gave up a run, Carranza’s unearned, and Edgar Navarro cruised through a two-strikeout ninth.

The best thing you could say about this game’s offense is that at least they got more hits than errors. All four Dash runs scored in the second, when things were full of hope; second baseman Shawn Goosenberg went deep to score Hackenberg from a single, then after a pair of walks, Colás hit his first Dash double to score both.

April 10 was, offensively at least, more of the same; six hits total, two apiece from Luis Mieses and DJ Burt, led to two runs, not enough to overcome the hated Crawdads. Bryan Ramos hit his second home run of the year; Colás had his first hitless game and committed an ultimately harmless error.

The team turned four double plays, three of those behind starter Chase Solesky, who gave up four runs on seven hits anyway. Trey Jeans gave up a run in his inaugural inning and Yoelvin Silven went three strong to finish it out, two baserunners coming on a single and a walk, but no runs scoring.

Monday is the designated Minor League Off-Day, so the Dash picked back up on Tuesday April 12 against the rival Greensboro Grasshoppers, who are just down the road on I-40. This was an important face-saving game, and save face they did, scoring two runs in the seventh to go ahead and eventually win 4-3. Drew Dalquist made his season debut; he allowed a solo home run in the first, a solo home run in the second, and a run-scoring single in the fourth, exiting trailing 3-2.

Behind him, the oft-maligned-by-nameless-minor-league-writers Dash bullpen was nearly perfect: Madrigal, Denlinger, Cable, and Luna Jr. combined for a line of 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K. They each struck out two per inning, Cable with four Ks over two (and the win).

There were two bursts of run-scoring for the Dash in this one, their first two runs coming in the fourth when Goosenberg knocked in Hackenberg (beautiful language) with a double, then Caberea Weaver hit a sac fly to score Harvin Mendoza from a single. The two big runs then came in the seventh, Castillo singling to open the frame, Colás hitting another double, and Bryan Ramos singling them both in.

It was Karan Patel with the start on April 13; in 2021, he was exclusively pitching out of the bullpen in the (lower) lower levels, but when he got to the Dash closer to the end of the season he did start to… start. For the first four innings, he allowed just one Grasshopper to reach—a walk—and then in the fifth inning, he allowed a walk, a double, two singles, another double, made a pickoff error, and walked another guy before being pulled for Isaiah Carranza (who immediately gave up a two-run double to put Patel at six earned runs on the day). A Hackenberg passed ball contributed to the madness, and poor defense and pitching continued to combine for the rest of the game as the Grasshoppers scored at least once in each inning from the fifth through the ninth, final score 12-5.

Those five runs came on just six hits, something in short supply in the early season, but they did draw eight walks as a team, something that didn’t happen much last year. Colás and Ramos both singled, walked, and knocked in a run; Castillo singled and walked; Luis Mieses was the only one to reach base three times, singling and walking twice. Mendoza knocked in a run and Goosenberg went 2-for-4. 

The Dash returned to the win column on April 14 by another razor-thin margin, emerging victorious 6-5 over the Grasshoppers despite some bullpen scaries. This was Sean Burke’s second start of the season and in High-A ball, and he put down some numbers: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K. It took him 75 pitches to do so, 51 of those going for strikes. He did not give up a hit through the first four innings.

Unfortunately, Trey Jeans in relief couldn’t pitch around a two-out error by third baseman Jason Matthews; he allowed the runner to steal second and third, walked the next batter, gave up an RBI single to the next, then had to turn and watch a ball sail out of the park for a three-run blast. All four runs were unearned in the box score, but Jeans still got the BS. Yoelvin Silven ended up with the win with two scoreless innings and Taylor Broadway saved it with one.

Luis Mieses came away from this game with two big RBI hits, a first-inning single that scored Colás and a fourth-inning double that scored Matthews and Castillo. An error led to another run in the fifth, the Dash leading 4-1 at that time. Then in the seventh, they got just enough: Terrell Tatum and Jason Matthews both walked and advanced on a Colás groundout, then Castillo brought in Tatum with a single and Ramos did the same for Matthews to seal the deal.

April 15 was Dance Night at the ballpark and will probably remain one of the most exciting games of the year, unless it’s about to be a really exciting year. The Dash led 2-1 after one, 4-1 after two, were tied 4-4 after three and then at 7-7 after four; they entered the seventh down 9-7 but ended it tied 9-9; entered the ninth trailing 10-9, tied it at 10, then walked it off in the 10th. Final score, 11-10 Dash.

How could such a thing have happened? It helps when the top four in the lineup go 8-for-19 with two walks, six runs scored, and seven RBI. It also helps when one guy—DJ Burt, in this instance—has three stolen bases; one of those stolen bases helped generate enough chaos to cover for Jason Matthews stealing home (Burt was nailed at third on the same play, but it would turn out to be an important run, just like every other run in this game). Goosenberg also swiped two bags of his own, adding up to six total steals for the team.

Colás went 3-for-6 with a double and two RBI, including the walk-off single in the 10th to score ghost runner Castillo. Bryan Ramos went 2-for-5, both doubles, thriving in the three-spot and knocking in two. Mieses also went 2-for-5, driving in two runs with a dinger in the seventh.

Back in distant memory, Matt Thompson started for the second time, this one a 3.1-inning, 7-run (5 earned) debacle. Madrigal stopped the bleeding for a bit with three strikeouts over 1.2 innings, then Denlinger’s rocky season start continued with two more runs coming over his two innings of work (four strikeouts though, including three after a seventh-inning lead-off triple). Even Zach Cable gave up a run for the first time all season, hurting his own cause with a wild pitch. Gil Luna Jr., though, had no such struggles, earning the win with two perfect innings, striking out three. This extended his season scoreless innings streak to four and his career scoreless innings streak to 19.1.

Then the next day, April 16, they gave up 21 hits as a pitching staff, falling to the Grasshoppers 10-5. Chase Solesky fell to 0-2 with the loss, but honestly, he allowed 12 hits (two for extra bases) and one walk and only came away down five runs, which is impressive in its own way. Cooper Bradford and Isaiah Carranza both struggled again, multiple runs scored off both of them, then Navarro and Jeans finished it out without further damage.

The Colás/Ramos show continued at leadoff and the three-spot. Colás went 2-for-5 with a double; Ramo went 2-for-4 with a double. Mieses and Matthews both singled in runs and Colás scored on a wild pitch, but they just didn’t have enough to beat the bugs.

On the Lord’s day, Sunday April 17, the Dash were three-hit. Colás did not play, and you get no money for correctly guessing that Bryan Ramos hit a double. Tyler Osik and Keegan Fish provided the other two hits, Osik’s also a double. Impressively, DJ Burt drew all three walks issued by the Grasshoppers, including one to lead off the ninth, where he scored the team’s only run when Mieses reached on an error.

Dalquist wasn’t terrible (drawn out first syllable) in his second start, but he did get the L, and he did give up four runs (three earned) in four innings. Ellard gave up two runs in one inning, but Jesus Valles pitched three scoreless in his Dash debut after one appearance for the Ballers, and Broadway lowered his ERA to 10.13 with a scoreless ninth.

Then, on April 19, the Dash came to Greenville, as we all must in the end. They also lost 5-4, as we all must in the end. Karan Patel’s second start was better than his first, but he still walked four and gave up four hits (three for extra bases, two dingers) en route to allowing three runs over 4.2 innings (seven strikeouts). Cable also gave up another run. Denlinger came through with two scoreless innings, striking out four, and then, tied 4-4 in the ninth, the eyes of the world turned to Gil Luna Jr., he of the 19.1-inning scoreless streak to start his career. He threw one pitch. It was a walk-off home run.

Zero points for guessing that Colás and Ramos combined for three of the six Dash hits. At least one point for guessing how they scored their four runs: all off the bat of Luis Mieses, who hit a go-ahead grand slam in the sixth, scoring Colás, Castillo, and Ramos.

Finally, the Dash wrapped up an April 20 win handily, somehow getting 21 hits and going 11-for-20 with runners in scoring position but “only” scoring nine runs (enough to win it, at least). An astounding three Dash batters had four-hit days: Mieses, who hit a double as well; Duke Ellis, speedy center fielder who hit two doubles and stole a base; and Jason Matthews, who not only also hit a double but drove in four runs from the ninth slot in the lineup.

Sean Burke wrapped up his third start of the year and it was totally fine, 4.2 innings, 4 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 WP. Madrigal allowed an inherited runner to score, but he, Jordan Mikel, Ellard, and Navarro gave up no runs of their own over 3.2 innings. Wilber Perez made his season debut and was welcomed back with a two-run homer.

Tragically but hilariously, the Drive did score a run (credited to Burke) on a Ty Madrigal balk, then were balk-bit as both Goosenberg and Duke Ellis advanced on balks and eventually scored in the eighth inning.

Top performers:

It’s hard to believe Oscar Colás will be here much longer. The center fielder is 23 and is batting .310/.396/.405 in 10 games (although he has yet to go deep, he has amassed four doubles).

Bryan Ramos really impressed last year in Kannapolis despite the struggles that came with being a teenager playing full-season ball for the first time after an entire season off. Through 11 games so far, he’s blown his 2021 out of the water with a .370/.408/.587 line, four doubles and two home runs included in there.

Moises Castillo has played 600 games in the minor leagues, and this is likely the best start he’s ever had, batting .321/.486/.464 over 10 games with just one double and one home run, but eight walks to five strikeouts.

Last year, Luis Mieses struggled at times in High-A but sometimes looked like he had it figured out. So far, he’s had it figured out, batting .298/.327/.489 in 11 games with three doubles, two home runs, and 12 RBI.

So far, Sean Burke is everything he was cracked up to be. Over three starts, his season line is 13.2 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 9 BB, 16 K. Like every other pitcher in A-ball, he’s got plenty to work on control-wise, but he’s doing anything but bleeding runs.

We’re still deep in small sample size territory for, well, everyone, but especially for relief pitchers, few of whom have more than five innings pitched so far. Special mention does go out to Ty Madrigal and Yoelvin Silven, both of whom have yet to allow a run (stop, don’t look up how many innings they’ve thrown). Zach Cable and Gil Luna Jr. have also impressed early.

Looking ahead, the Dash finish up their series at Greenville on Sunday, then head from one ‘ville to the next, setting up for a six-game set in Asheville. It’s a good thing they’re on the road, as it gives the grounds crew time to recover….

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Julie Brady
Julie Brady
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