Newly-signed Vitters has big day in Cats debut
GARY — Christian Vitters hadn’t played professionally since 2009.
But he looked pretty comfortable in his first game back after the prolonged absence.
Vitters went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, two RBI, a run scored and a stolen base on Saturday night, helping the RailCats down St. Paul 10-3 at the Steel Yard. Gary (19-15) has won each of the first three games of this series against the Saints (17-18), and five of six games overall.
On a night when Mike Massaro tied Jay Pecci for the franchise’s career record for runs scored (294), Alain Quijano went the distance, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits with no walks — giving the RailCats their first nine-inning complete game of the season, a night after the bullpen was especially taxed.
“That’s what we’re looking for out of a front-line pitcher,” said RailCats manager Greg Tagert, referring to Quijano as an “ace.”
The RailCats had 16 hits, with six players collecting at least two. Craig Maddox went 3-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI and two runs; Brian Kolb 3-for-5 with two RBI and a run; and Drew Martinez 3-for-5 with two RBI.
“We did some things very well offensively, and hopefully that part of the game is coming together,” Tagert said.
Vitters — who signed before the game, with James Adkins (shoulder) going on the disabled list — was part of that performance, batting fifth as the designated hitter.
“I don’t really have expectations,” Vitters, the brother of Cubs prospect Josh, said before the game. “I’m going out here to have fun, and trying to be a kid again. I don’t want to put any pressure on myself; it’s just a game. I want to help the team any way I can. It’s just good to be back.”
Vitters, who turns 28 on Wednesday, spent four seasons in the Oakland Athletics organization, playing at High-A Stockton in ’09.
He went back to school at Fresno State — where he was the WAC Player of the Year as a junior in 2006, before getting drafted in the 10th round — and has dabbled in acting, as well as working various jobs around classes. He spent a lot of time with the Fresno State baseball team this year — “mentoring” the players, he said — and when the season ended and his summer classes abroad in Spain fell through, it was a “perfect opportunity” to give baseball another shot.
Vitters emailed an array of independent teams, and Tagert was the first to respond. Vitters had played with Massaro and Adam Klein in the A’s system, and he received positive feedback from them about the RailCats organization and their facilities.
“Acting’s for fun; baseball’s obviously a true love,” Vitters said.
Before the game, Tagert said there were no guarantees about how long Vitters — who can play all four infield positions — will remain with the RailCats, but it was worth the “chance” with his background. Tagert praised Vitters for his athleticism and the pop in his bat.
“He instantly becomes the fastest guy on the team — he’s that good of a runner,” Tagert said.
“He’s obviously committed to this. He’s focused on reinventing his career.”
Notes: According to the win probability charts on the major league level as published by fangraphs.com, the RailCats had a 0.5 percent chance to win Friday’s game when they had two outs and the bases empty in the ninth, trailing by three runs. … Before Friday, closer Matt Meyer had been 16-for-16 in save opportunities with the Saints — 7-for-7 this season and 9-for-9 in 2010. … The RailCats are 3-0 in extra-inning games this season. … Ari Ronick (3-3, 4.28 ERA) is scheduled to start for the RailCats in Sunday’s series finale, with the Saints countering with righty Anthony Claggett (4-1, 2.91).