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September 3, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Cup of Coffee: Trey Ball starts at DH, rips game-winning double

9/3 Cup of Coffee: With the regular season set to come to a close on Monday and all five remaining teams eliminated from postseason contention, the focus was squarely on individual performances on Sunday. The biggest news of the day was that left-handed pitcher Trey Ball (pictured), who had struggled on the mound since being taken seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft, would get the start at designated hitter and bat ninth in the Portland lineup. Some rust was inevitable with Ball having not hit in an organized game in over five years, and he struck out in both of his first two at-bats, but he was the improbable source of an RBI double that proved to be the game winner. 

Elsewhere, Jhonathan Diaz and Tanner Nishioka led Greenville, while a big evening from Tyler Esplin and the first New York-Penn League homer off the bat of Brandon Howlett powered Lowell.


Veteran right-hander Josh A. Smith was the tough-luck loser, as a committee of five Scranton hurlers struck out 12 PawSox while holding them to two runs. Smith allowed three runs on four hits in seven innings, striking out eight without issuing a walk. Left-hander Josh Taylor, acquired in the deal that sent Deven Marrero to Arizona, made his Triple-A debut, striking out three in two scoreless frames. Rafael Devers doubled as part of a two-hit evening, and he his now 5 for 17 during his rehab assignment. 


After 134 appearances and 543 2/3 innings pitched, Trey Ball finally had his first professional plate appearance. The 2013 seventh-overall pick got the start at designated hitter. After striking out swinging in the third inning and looking in the fifth, Ball delivered an RBI double that put the Sea Dogs up 5-4, a lead they would not relinquish. He finished the contest 1 for 4, bringing his career batting average to .250. 

Fellow 2013 draftee Teddy Stankiewicz turned in a solid outing, giving up four runs on six hits in seven innings. He struck out five, walked one, and threw 69 of 101 pitches for strikes. Like Josh Taylor in Pawtucket, Portland also featured a reliever debuting at his level, as Algenis Martinez struck out one and gave up one hit in two scoreless frames. At the plate Esteban Quiroz blasted a two-run homer, his seventh in just 32 games on. 


Salem had plenty of opportunities, picking up 12 baserunners, but a paltry 1-for-11 performance with runners in scoring position doomed the Sox. The only run came on a solo home run by Josh Tobias. Denyi Reyes got his final start of a season in which he'll be a strong contender for Pitcher of the Year recognition. Reyes allowed two hits in 3 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out four and walking one. The effort brought Reyes' ERA below the 2.00 threshold, to 1.97, in 155 2/3 innings across two levels. He finishes with a 0.906 WHIP and 145 strikeouts against 19 walks.


Jhonathan Diaz turned in another excellent start to lead the Drive. The 21-year-old lefty fired seven shutout innings, scattering four hits and striking out six against one walk. Diaz finishes with 147 strikeouts, putting him in a three-way tie with Spencer Howard (PHI) and Tony Dibrell (NYM) for most in the South Atlantic League. Tanner Nishioka had yet another huge game at the plate, driving in five of Greenville's seven runs in a 3-for-5 effort. Nishioka has homered in each of the first three games of the series against Lexington, and he has driven in 11 runs. Jarren Duran extended his hitting streak to nine games, going 1 for 5 with a pair of runs scored. 


Tyler Esplin (pictured, left) and Brandon Howlett powered the Spinners in the season's penultimate contest. Esplin was happy to see the calendar turn to September after struggling to a .159/.254/.190 line in August. The 2017 seventh-round pick was 4 for 4 with a double, stolen base, and pair of RBI. Howlett, fresh off a massive leap in the September SoxProspects.com rankings that took him into the top 20, blasted his first home run in five games since his promotion from the Gulf Coast League. Howlett also walked twice and scored three runs. Starter Chris Machamer allowed two runs on five hits in three innings, with four strikeouts and one walk.


Player of the Day: With all due respect to Jonathan Diaz, Tanner Nishioka, and Tyler Esplin, the story on Sunday was the news that Trey Ball was in the lineup, followed by his delivering the game-winning RBI. A well-regarded two-way player in high school, the Red Sox drafted Ball as a pitcher with the seventh pick in June of 2013. Stagnant in four full years as a starter, the Sox converted Ball to a bullpen role this season, but instead of his stuff playing up, the southpaw bottomed out, posting a 7.58 ERA and allowing 97 hits in 65 1/3 innings, leading to some speculation that the time may be nigh for a conversion to a position player role. A single game as the designated hitter, while the Sea Dogs played with a short bench, is something less than official confirmation that Ball is making the transition this offseason, it does seem like the likely path forward.

Photo Credit: Trey Ball, Tyler Esplin by Kelly O'Connor