RailCats’ wild day ends with loss to Wichita
By Michael Osipoff 648-3137 or email@example.com May 26, 2012 11:24PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:34AM
GARY — For the first time since 2007, Derek Drage pitched in a professional game.
And the right-hander’s return to the mound — a rocky one on Saturday night — was just one of several RailCats developments in less than 24 hours.
Center fielder Jason James, who had committed a costly error in Friday’s loss, abruptly and stunningly retired on Saturday.
And the RailCats traded Opening Day starter Mike Perconte, who went 0-1 with a 4.66 ERA in two outings, to Joliet (Frontier League) for relief pitcher Chuck Lukanen, giving them a second left-hander out of the bullpen — and giving Drage a full opportunity for a spot in the rotation.
And they also traded rookie righty Derek Johnson to the Las Cruces Vaqueros (Pecos League) for future considerations.
And to replace James on the roster, they signed veteran outfielder Sean Smith.
And, oh, by the way, the RailCats (4-5) lost to Wichita (6-3) 6-2 at the Steel Yard.
“What started as a disappointing day of news just continued,” manager Greg Tagert said.
Drage absorbed the loss, lasting only 12/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits with three walks and two wild pitches; in all, he threw 54 pitches. The one-time non-roster invitee had been scheduled to start the fourth game of the season and Friday’s home opener, but had been shut down with tightness in his biceps. Because of a torn labrum and later a torn ACL, Drage, who turns 31 in December, hadn’t pitched since ’07 with North Shore in the Can-Am League, after three seasons in the Pirates system. Saturday’s start was the third of his pro career in 131 appearances.
“We certainly didn’t get what we hoped from Derek Drage,” Tagert said. “It was a tough assignment, they’re a good ballclub, but obviously we hoped for a better outing, as did he. That put us in a hole.”
Drage termed his biceps “a non-issue,” and said it was “just a matter of getting comfortable out there again” after the long layoff.
“I was definitely anxious to get back out there,” he said. “I felt pretty good going into the start. We worked on a few things with my mechanics that are going to help in the long run. I just left the ball up and got behind on a few guys.
“It’s been a long road back. It’s the first time I’ve felt healthy again. Unfortunately, I didn’t set up the team in a position to win. But I know I can pitch. It’s just a matter of time, hopefully the next outing.”
While there were indications on Friday that Drage would indeed start on Saturday, there were no indications that James would retire. He called Tagert on Saturday afternoon to inform the manager of his decision.
Tagert said the James retirement “definitely catches us off-guard.
“It shocked the ballclub, and certainly surprised me. ... I’ve been surprised before, but this one ranks right up there.”
Tagert added: “It was one of those things, he was trying to force himself to play with that passion and energy.”
The error by James, who turns 28 on Aug. 30, in Friday’s pivotal eighth inning apparently contributed to his decision, at least in some way. “It just kind of reinforced for him that it was time to move on,” Tagert said.
The RailCats wasted little time in calling upon the just-acquired Lukanen, who relieved Drage. He made a strong debut, pitching 21/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits with two strikeouts.
Smith — a 12-year veteran who played five seasons in the Pirates organization and three with the White Sox, reaching as high as Double-A — started in center field, and went 2-for-4 with a stolen base out of the seventh spot in the order.
With all of the transactions, particularly James retiring, the team got together to address the situation.
“We had a long meeting before the game to make sure everybody was on the same page,” Tagert said.
The RailCats still have to trim their roster from 23 players to 22 before Sunday’s series finale against the Wingnuts, per American Association rules.
“We’re going to have to evaluate hard,” Tagert said of the roster in general.