“Even if they send me back to Double-A, I had a great year there (in 2006), but there are definitely some things I could work on a lot more,” Gallagher told us at the end of his 2006 season last September. “No matter where I start out, I’m always going to work my butt off.”
The work seemed to have paid off on Thursday night. The right-hander, ranked the Cubs’ fifth-best prospect overall by InsideTheIvy.com entering 2007, struck out five in 5 2/3 innings and walked one as Double-A Tennessee shut down Jacksonville, 3-1, on Opening Night in the minors.
The limited number of walks in his 2007 debut was particularly encouraging in light of the fact that Gallagher (1-0) struggled with mechanics upon his mid-season promotion to Double-A from Class High-A Daytona last season.
At the time, Gallagher had been working with both former Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Lester Strode and West Tenn pitching coach Mike Anderson to fix something that didn’t really appear broken.
Gallagher eventually went back to basics and closed the year with a 2.08 ERA and 42 strikeouts to 19 walks in his final six starts of 2006.
In his first regular season outing of 2007, he kept the Suns (minor league baseball’s Double-A darlings the past two years) off the scoreboard by surrendering four hits to 22 batters faced.
He managed to work his way out of trouble, as opposing runners reached their way into scoring position in three of Gallagher’s five-plus innings on the mound before he departed in the sixth.
Gallagher left after he had reached his pitch count for the night, which was set at 85 pitches entering the game. He threw 84 pitches unofficially.
“He did a good job tonight and worked ahead,” said Smokies manager Pat Listach. “He threw strikes and threw some good changeups.”
A three-run fourth inning helped Gallagher to his 27th career minor league victory in just over two-plus seasons since he joined the Cubs from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.) High School as a 12th-round draft pick in 2004.
Matt Craig, back at third base to open the season after spending last year at first base for Class-A Daytona, had two hits including a two-run single.
In his first game back from follow-up surgery to repair a broken fifth metatarsus in his left foot last summer, Brian Dopirak singled twice.
Tennessee out-hit Jacksonville, 6-5.
“We faced some really nice pitching,” Listach said.
But the Smokies were able to match that pitching toe-to-toe. Between left-handers Tim Layden and Carmen Pignatiello, and right-hander Adalberto Mendez, Tennessee’s bullpen combined to allow just one hit in 3 1/3 innings. Jacksonville was shut out through eight-plus innings.
Since he resumed with what felt natural to him, Gallagher has a 1.80 ERA in his last seven starts (a span of 40 1/3 innings dating back to last year.)
ELSEWHERE ON OPENING NIGHT ...
Top Cubs prospect Felix Pie started out 2-for-4 with a pair of singles for Triple-A Iowa. Pie, who turned 22 in February, was optioned to Iowa late in spring camp after batting .352 in 22 Cactus League contests.
“He’s still our top guy and he had a good spring,” Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita says of Pie as the outielder returns for a second stint at Iowa. “He’s going to be fine and he knows he’s back here to work. He also knows you’ve got to be ready to help the big league club when the call comes.”
Pie spent the off-season playing Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic, where he joined Iowa hitting coach Von Joshua. Before that, he worked on his baserunning with Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator Bob Dernier in the Cubs annual Instructional League camp in Arizona, and also his swing.
“When you’ve got the challenge that he has, you’re always looking to make yourself better,” Fleita said. “He’s getting better and he’s always going to keep getting better. I don’t think any of us are smart enough to know how good he’s going to be, but he has super-star talents.”
Left-hander J.R. Mathes took a loss in his Triple-A debut, giving up five runs in four innings and issuing more than three walks in a start for the first time in his career. Mathes (0-1) walked four batters in the game, which equaled his number of hits allowed en route to the defeat.
Iowa lost, 6-2, at Round Rock.
* * *
Class-A Daytona manager Jody Davis knows his club isn’t overly stacked on offense. As he told Inside The Ivy’s Tony Suarez at the team’s annual media luncheon on Tuesday, “Our success will depend a lot on our pitching.”
Both hitting and pitching held up well in Davis’s debut as Daytona skipper, though. At the plate, the Cubs racked up 10 hits.
Tyler Colvin, the first-round draft pick from a year ago, went 2-for-2 with two singles and a stolen base in the game’s first three innings. The 21-year-old came to Daytona after batting .318 in eight games in Big League Spring Training camp to help bypass the Midwest League and Peoria.
Right-hander Mitch Atkins, the Cubs minor league wins leader a year ago with 13 victories, scattered two runs on four hits over six innings for his seventh win in his last eight decisions dating back to last season at Peoria.
With a 90-91 mph fastball, Atkins (1-0) doesn’t turn quite the same number of heads as someone like fellow pitching prospect Donald Veal, and he isn’t going to over-power most hitters. But he stayed true to his usual routine of throwing strikes while featuring three genuinely quality pitches (fastball, curve, changeup) in his repertoire during his ’07 debut.
Daytona beat Brevard County, 8-3.
* * *
Cubs prospect Matt Camp, a 13th-round draft pick from the ACC a year ago, came to North Carolina State as an infielder his freshman year of college and didn’t fully move to the outfield until his senior season.
Throughout last year’s Instructs camp, however, Camp spent most of his time getting re-adjusted to life at second base following his rookie season in the Northwest League in center, where he led the league with 87 hits.
Camp was at second base in Class A Peoria’s season opener at Wisconsin, where he chipped in with two singles, a walk, and a stolen base.
“The transition has gone pretty good,” says Camp, who added two assists for Peoria on Thursday.
Helping Camp make that transition is Peoria manager Ryne Sandberg, who knows a thing or two about second base. The Hall of Famer also knows a thing or two about hitting and has been helping Camp in that area as well.
“One flaw I have is that I like to try and go get the ball instead of waiting on it,” Camp explains. “He said at one time that he struggled with that when he played, and he let me know some of the drills he did to correct it. They helped in batting practice; I just have to take them into the game.”
Right-handed pitching prospect Billy Muldowney, an eighth-round draft pick from Pittsburgh last summer, went five innings to qualify for a win after allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits. He struck out a career-high nine without allowing a walk.
The temperature in Appleton at game time was 33 degrees and later dipped to a steady 25 degrees as the game wore on. Winds in excess of 20 mph caused wind chill factors of 15 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.
“He threw a lot of strikes and a couple of balls got hit (hard),” Camp said of Muldowney (1-0), having observed the Chiefs opening day starter from his post at second. “But with the weather the way it was, all he needed to do was throw strikes and try to keep us off the field as quickly as he could. That was his only goal tonight and he accomplished it.”
Peoria won, 9-5.
RETIRED ... OF Davy Gregg, a late-round Cubs draft pick from the University of South Carolina in 2005, was absent from the organization’s opening day minor league rosters. Gregg batted .248 in two seasons, then retired in the off-season and did not report to Minor League Spring Training.