With the new manager Jody Davis in the dugout, the Louisville Bats make their first home appearance of the 2019 season Thursday night at Slugger Field. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m., with the Gwinnett Braves in town to provide the opposition.
After opening the season on the road last week with games against International League rivals Toledo and Columbus, the Bats will play 14 of their next 17 games at home through April 28. In other words, right up to Derby Week.
Davis, a fine former major-league catcher, did a previous stint as a hitting coach with Louisville in 2015-16, then managed AA Pensacola last season in the Cincinnati Reds farm system.
Davis is an interesting managerial prospect, bringing to the bench a strong reputation as a big-league catcher. He was twice an All-Star with the Chicago Cubs and won a Gold Glove in 1986. The 6-4 Davis also had power, hitting 17-24 home runs for six straight seasons in the 1980s.
The new skipper will have his work cut out for him, with the bats finishing just 61-76 last season. Davis takes over what has been a woefully weak hitting club in recent seasons — a problem throughout the Reds minor-league system.
But he does arrive with a couple promising hitters up from Pensacola, in Brian O’Grady and Aristides Aquino. O’Grady actually jumped from Pensacola to Louisville in the latter part of last season, and hit .306, with eight homers in 42 games here.
Slugging outfielder Aquino is a 24-year-old prospect from the Dominican Republic who steps in the batter’s box at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. Aquino hit just .240 last season with Pensacola, with 122 strikeouts. But he sent 20 home runs sailing out of the park — far more than any of the Bats could do in AAA.
The Reds, incidentally, have switched their AA franchise from Pensacola to Chattanooga, also in the Southern Association. In so doing they lose the Gulf Coast city’s lively Blue Wahoos nickname but pick up one of the most venerable nicknames in minor league history: Chattanooga Lookouts.
A strike-out artist, with control
Louisville should be OK on the mound, with nine of its 13 pitchers included in Cincinnati’s 40-man roster. A notable name starting could be Matt Bowman, a right-hander who comes to the Reds organization after two-plus seasons pitching with the major-league St. Louis Cardinals.
Vladimir Gutierrez is a 23-year-old right-hander who was born in Havana, Cuba, but now makes his home in Veracruz, Mexico. Gutierrez has hit 97 miles-per-hour on the speed gun but is known more for excellent control. Last season at Pensacola, he struck out 145 batters, while issuing just 38 walks.
Also with a live arm is right-handed reliever Jimmy Herget, who was 1-3, with a 3:47 ERA coming out of the bullpen 50 times last season with Louisville.
Back to the batter’s box, the Bats also expect to have the services of top hitting prospect Nick Senzel, who is currently on the disabled list in Cincinnati but may join Louisville soon for seasoning as an outfielder.
Senzel is a sensational hitter, with a three-season minor league average of .314. The 23-year-old was the Reds No. 1 draft pick (No. 2 overall) in the 2016 draft out of the University of Tennessee. Senzel began 2018 with Louisville but was sidelined with vertigo. He hit .310 in 44 games, despite not making consistent contact in the first month. As warmer weather arrived, so did Senzel’s swing.
Bats, bourbon and dogs
As always, the Bats will be full of interesting promotions. This season they will switch uniforms for several games (June 28-30) to perform as the Murcielagos de Louisville. The name translates as the Bats of Louisville, but not the Louisville Slugger kind of bats. (Think Das Fledermaus.)
The promotion salutes Louisville’s — and baseball’s — strong Hispanic and Latino influence. The Murcielagos will don black, red and gold-colored uniforms, with apparel available for fans and collectors. The promotion is sponsored by Louisville-based Intec Building Services.
Last year, the name and uniform change theme belonged to Louisville’s bourbon heritage, and the Bats became the Mashers. Bourbon will be back in the promotions again this year, sponsored by Four Roses. The Bats will become the Derby City Mint Juleps during home games on April 13 and 27.
All of which is fine, but the favorites of this fan remain the dogs. First, the Bark in the Park nights, when fans bring their best dogs out for a night of baseball at Slugger Field. The first of those is scheduled for June 21, with tickets $8 for humans and $3 dogs. All the dog ticket revenue goes to the Kentucky Humane Society.
Last, but best, is Tuesday night’s regular deal of $1 hot dogs. There are other food/drink items on the $1 menu, but we’re sold on the Purnell’s brand hot dogs. They’re gooo-od!