With an 8-2 win on Sunday, the Reno Aces ended the first half of their season on a high note, winning four out of five games against the Sacramento River Cats at Greater Nevada Field.
At the All-Star Break, Reno is 42-48, placing them third in the PCL’s Pacific Conference. Right fielder Socrates Brito and shortstop Ildemaro Vargas will represent Reno in Tuesday’s Triple-A All-Star game in Columbus, Ohio.
“We’re going to enjoy ourselves for three days and come back refreshed and ready to finish the last stretch of games,” Greg Gross, the Aces manager, said.
The Aces’ have been an offensive powerhouse. They are fourth in team batting average (.282), third in home runs (101), fourth in RBIs (466), second in hits (879) and third in runs scored (492) in the Pacific Coast League.
Brito’s .338 batting average is third in the PCL. He leads Reno with 58 runs scored and 11 stolen bases to go along with 13 round-trippers and 45 RBIs.
Brito’s eye for the ball gets him into hitter friendly counts and he pounces with a smooth left-handed swing. His well above average speed on the base paths and in the field makes up for his average arm.
Brito and the friendly wind at Greater Nevada Field have given opposing pitchers’ a constant headache.
“The wind blows hard to right field here,” Brito said. “So, it gives me that extra pop needed to clear the fences at times. Being a lefty, it’s important for me to take advantage of that.”
Aces third baseman Kevin Cron leads the Aces with 16 homers and 65 RBIs at a .319 clip. The right-handed slugger is second in all of Minor League Baseball in homers since June 27. Pitchers make the mistake of pitching Cron high and inside in the zone, where he uses his bulky 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to generate most of his power. Cron has made adjustments to shifts at the plate, settling for a soft hit grounder down the first base line on multiple occasions.
“I just adjust to what the defense is giving me,” Cron said. “I’m going to try to make the right play and get on base. It’s something I’ve been practicing as the season goes along.”
The Aces featured million-dollar man Yasmany Tomas. The Cuban slugger signed a six-year deal worth up to $68.5 million with the Dbacks in 2014. His below average speed and arm keeps him out of the lineup on most days. But Tomas’ bat is coming to form, he’s up to .258 with six homers and 40 RBIs. He’s comfortable in the designated hitter role this season, hitting .325 (26-for-80) with three home runs, 17 RBIs and 14 runs scored.
“I think the biggest adjustment he’s made is swinging at more strikes,” Gross said. “He’s not chasing anything out of the zone and consequently he’s had better results.”
The Aces’ pitching staff hasn’t held up their side of the bargain. Out of 16 teams in the PCL, Reno is 13th in team ERA (5.30), 13th in earned runs (460), 12th in home runs (105) and last in walks (357).
Dbacks’ top prospect Taylor Clarke leads the Aces in wins (8), ERA (4.86) and WHIP (1.36). His 85 strikeouts rank sixth in the PCL. Clarke, 25, comes equipped with a four pitch-mix including a 93 mph four-seam fastball and a knee bending curveball.
Aces’ righty Jake Buchanan has logged 94.2 inning over 16 games. Buchanan, who won a World Series ring with the Cubs in 2016, carried a no-hit bid through six innings on May 10. With a steady fastball-change-up combo, Buchanan has 10 outings with six or more innings pitched.
The Aces hold a pair of gold-glove worthy infielders as well.
Nicknamed “El Tigre,” Vargas gets his jersey dirty stopping line drives in the gap and makes glove-to-hand transfers with cat-like reflexes. It’s a rare occasion when a ball gets past the ever-smiling Vargas. He sports a .976 fielding percentage with just seven errors and 184 assists. Vargas has 29 extra base-hits with 41 RBIs this season. He has a season-high 16-game hitting streak this season.
Infielder Juniel Querecuto has been a sparkplug since his call up from Double-A Jackson on June 8. Nicknamed JQ, he has a .974 fielding percentage in 16 games at third base. He’s started eight games at second. Querecuto has hit safely in all but six of his 25 games with Reno.
Call-ups to Arizona include Aces’ first baseman Christian Walker and reliever Jimmie Sherfy. “Sky” Walker has racked up the frequent flier miles He has been recalled to Arizona four times. In his time with the Dbacks, Walker hit .208 with a homer and two RBIs.
Sherfy has been recalled to Arizona three times. Sherfy has a 2.25 ERA in four innings pitched.
Matt Koch had 12 starts with the Diamondbacks this year, sporting a 5-4 record with a 4.40 ERA in 71.2 innings pitched. Brito and Kristopher Negron were both called up to Arizona and sent down days later. Negron was designated for assingment, cleared waivers and returned to Reno June 10.
Rehab starts put three Diamondbacks in an Aces jersey..
A rib injury brought Diamondbacks’ southpaw Robbie Ray to Greater Nevada Field June 19. Ray’s nine strikeouts tied the Aces season-high in 4.1 innings pitched. Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. appeared in six games with the Aces. He went 10-for-24 with three homers and seven RBIs before he was activated from the 10-day disabled list. All-Star center field A.J. Pollock played two games, going 3 for 7 with a homer and a double.
Despite their losing record, the Aces have first-half was loaded with highlights:
- April 7- Socrates Brito tied the Aces franchise record for hits in a game, going 5-for-5.
- April 8- Cody Decker homered in his first at-bat with the Aces.
- May 31- Aces recorded a season-high 20 runs against Las Vegas.
- June 17- Ildemaro Vargas extended his season-high hitting streak to 16 games.
- June 19- Ildemaro Vargas recorded his 300th career hit with Reno.
- June 27- Socrates Brito named to Triple-A All-Star Team.
- June 27- Kevin Cron launched a career-high three home runs against Salt Lake.
- July 4- The Aces sold-out attendance of 10,311 was third in franchise history.
- July 5- Socrates Brito named June’s PCL Player of the Month.
Vargas’ streak continues as Aces top River Cats
Aces’ Shortstop Ildemaro Vargas extended his hitting streak to 14 games in an 8-2 victory over Sacramento.Through the streak, Vargas is hitting .362 (25-for-69) with 10 RBIs, three stolen bases and nine runs scored. His 16-game hitting streak is the longest for the Aces this season. Early Sunday morning, Vargas was added to the Triple-A All-Star team in Columbus, Ohio.“Vargas has come a long way this season,” Aces’ skipper Greg Gross said. “He’s made strides on both sides and he’s well deserving of the honor.”
Aces’ Catcher Anthony Recker finished three-for-four with a triple, double and one RBI. He’s hitting .314 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs this season. He and Michael Perez split time behind the dish.
Reno laced another 13 hits. Cesar Peullo finished three-for-three with four RBIs. Rey Feuentes and Kevin Cron had one RBI apiece. Southpaw Alex Young added his third win of the season. He went six strong innings, surrendering one run on seven hits and one walk with two strikeouts.
With the win, the Aces took four games of the five-game series. Reno will get a well-deserved three days off during the All-Star break.
“I’m not worried about losing our momentum offensively,” Gross said. “It’s all predicated on who we are facing on the mound that next game. I’m confident we will keep this up.”
River Cats’ starter Jordan Johnson added his third loss this year. Johnson pitched 3.2 innings, giving up three runs on five hits and three walks with four strikeouts. His ERA sits at 7.27. Orlando Calixte and Eury Perez each had one RBI apiece. Miguel Gomez added two hits.
The teams were tied 1-1 in the second inning. The Aces plated two in the fourth and sixth. Reno closed the game with another three runs in the seventh.
Notes: Vargas and Brito will be making their second consecutive Triple-A All-Star Game appearances. … Kevin Cron Is batting .462 with eight homers and 24 RBIs over his last 10 games. The Aces are 1-8 all-time in games played on July 8.
On Deck: After the All-Star break, the Aces (42-48) will travel to El Paso to face the Chihuahuas (50-40) July 12 to open a four-game series. Reno will return home July 16.
— Isaiah Burrows