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Seven pitches into the game, Syracuse Mets starting pitcher Thomas Szapucki gave up the first home run of the minor league season. After a ground-out from Estevan Florial, Oswald Peraza, the No. 2 prospect in the Yankees organization, stepped up to the plate.
With a 1-1 count, Szapucki left a low 90 mph fastball over the middle of the plate, which Peraza turned right back around over the right-center field wall. Szapucki gave up two runs on three hits in the rest of the inning, giving the RailRiders a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Szapucki finished with four strikeouts while allowing four hits in three innings on Tuesday afternoon. The Mets totaled just four hits on the afternoon from only two players — designated hitter Travis Blankenhorn and second baseman Cody Bohanek with two each. The team struck out 14 times and stranded 11 runners en route to a 5-0 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“It’s not concerning,” manager Kevin Boles said in response to the team’s poor plate performance. “Obviously we want to score some runs, especially on opening night. But with this offense, we could come out tomorrow and score 10 runs, so we’ll see.”
Boles said he was impressed by the RailRiders’ pitching, specifically starter Matt Krook, who pitched five innings while letting up just two hits and one walk. Boles and the coaching staff had a scouting report on Krook as he played for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, but he exceeded expectations and kept the Syracuse hitters off balance throughout the opener, Boles said.
“(Krook) was able to shape the ball well and added a little more power on the slider than we saw last year,” Boles said. “He was also around the plate more than what his stats indicated, but we just have to be more disciplined.”
The Mets could not get anything going offensively, and the absence of last year’s star, right fielder Khalil Lee — who’s .451 on base percentage was second in the league — did not help.
After last year’s season ended in All-Star honors, Lee was missed by fans who want to see him make a push for the big leagues this season. Walter Pazzkowski and his daughter Emma go to around 10 Syracuse Mets games a year, and Lee is their favorite player. “I’d really like to see Khalil Lee get a call-up,” Pazzkowski said.
Lee was on the bench due to a travel miscommunication and Boles said he didn’t want to throw him into the mix for nine innings without proper rest. He’ll be in the lineup within the next few days, Boles added.
Syracuse was competitive with the RailRiders until the eighth inning, when Florial blew the game open. After a sharp ground ball through the 6-4 hole by catcher Max McDowell and a six-pitch walk of Michael Beltre, the lineup flipped over to Florial with no outs.
The first pitch of the at-bat was a fastball over the inner-third, which Florial perfectly made contact with. All eyes from the crowd were drawn to the ball as it flew to the back row of the Salt City Deck in right field and bounced out of the stadium.
On the other hand, Boles said he was satisfied with the performance of his starter, Szapucki, after bouncing back from a two-run first. He struck out three while giving up one walk and no hits over the next two.
“He worked behind a bit early, and he showed some frustration,” Boles said. “He has swing-and-miss type stuff, but it’s just about getting him into a rhythm and making sure he uses his whole arsenal. Once he got going, I liked what I saw.”
Boles is new to Syracuse this season, but not to the Mets organization. He spent 2019 as the organization’s Double-A Binghamton Rumble Ponies manager, but New York has moved him around over the past two seasons. Most recently, he led the Mets’ alternate training site in Brooklyn in 2020 while working as minor league field coordinator in 2020 and 2021, according to syracuse.com.
Previously, Boles managed in the Boston Red Sox organization for 10 seasons, his last stop before Syracuse being Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox’s manager from 2014-18, where he earned Baseball America’s “International League’s Best Managerial Prospect” in 2018.
Having coached at all levels of minor league baseball, Boles has a sense of what characteristics and skills are important when evaluating major league talent. He said that most aspects of Triple-A coaching are “the same” no matter the ball club.
Despite the loss, Syracuse fans still have high hopes for the manager, said Simon Sterns, a season ticket holder of over 40 years, Sterns expects Boles to bring out the best in Syracuse’s talent.
“(Boles) has a lot of experience, so I’m expecting him to really bring the best out of these players,” Sterns said. “Home grown prospects haven’t been great in the majors recently for New York, so hopefully he can get us on the right track.”
The Mets skipper said he wants to develop a winning culture in Syracuse despite the revolving-door nature of Triple-A rosters. His main responsibility as the manager will be to service the major league club’s needs, though, Boles said.
“We want to be competitive here, we want to develop winning ball players, but it’s all about major league inventory,” Boles said. “Our job is to make sure they have all the right pieces.”
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