Act Two: Revs’ stay hot behind Nowak’s powerful bat
Around this time last year, Chris Nowak was in the midst of still establishing himself in a Revs’ uniform. After starting the year at Class AAA Nashville (Brewers), Nowak came over to York only to put up eye-popping numbers. In 84 regular season games, the 6-foot-5 slugger set a club-record 25 homers to go along with 66 RBIs. Had he joined York earlier in the year, he likely would have nabbed Atlantic League MVP honors.
The slugger has picked up where he left in his second year with the club in 2012. The Wisconsin native had his third two-run home run performance of the season Thursday night to lead York to an 11-0 victory over Long Island, pushing the Revs’ winning streak to a season-high seven games, one shy of matching the club record
(You can check out the full game story here with full details on the stellar pitching performance of lefty Chris Waters. With the win, York finished off a four-game sweep of the Ducks to move 5.5 games up on Somerset in the wildcard and 1.5 games back of Lancaster for the Atlantic League Freedom Division second-half race).
With his pair of homers, Nowak is now just one shy of matching the club record he set last year. But things haven’t always come this easy for the 29-year-old.
Chatting a little bit about his career path, he said he’s always put up close to 40 doubles and 100 RBIs while coming up through the Tampa Bay Rays’ farm system. And he’s right for the most part. Here’s a look at his numbers:
2005: Second year as a pro, 28 doubles, 65 RBIs in 103 games at Class A Southwest Michigan
2006: 45 doubles, 103 RBIs in 130 games at High Class A Visalia
2007: 21 doubles, 55 RBIs in 104 games at Class AA Montgomery
2008: 15 doubles, 77 RBIs in 122 games at Class AA Montgomery.
But Nowak said he was never really a home run hitter. He had five in 2005, 11 in 2006, seven in 2007 and 15 the next year at Montgomery.
“I had some success when I was with the Rays. Some big years. Not the success of home runs but I was hitting more doubles. I had a couple seasons with 40 doubles and 100 RBIs,” Nowak said Thursday.
So, what has changed between now and then? Well, in an interview nearly a year ago, Nowak had told me about the instructions of Milwaukee Brewers’ minor league hitting coach Al LeBoeuf being the turning point in his career. And he touched on it again Thursday.
Nowak joined the Brewers’ organization in 2010 after he opted to take his release from the Tampa Bay Rays – he started the year at Class AAA affiliate in Durham but saw little action, so he opted to go down to Class AA Montgomery so he could see playing time, but just a month into the venture a player returned from injury to the club.
It was at Class AA Huntsville in the Brewers’ organization where he learned from LeBoeuf.
“The hitting coach in double-A was one of the biggest reasons. Just talking about my leverage and keeping my posture. Not falling over and losing all that power that I can create. And then finally understanding what he was talking about,” Nowak said Thursday. “I would lean over the plate to get a low-and-away pitch instead of staying tall. Even hitting to right or left-center you see guys taking outside pitches that’s what they’re giving, they’re using their leverage, they’re not leaning out and pulling it. They’re staying there and hitting doubles.”
Nowak said his ability to stay back on the ball instead of leaning over the plate has meant the difference between hitting for average with plenty of homers and hitting for average without the power numbers.
“You can get away with it (leaning) when you have good eye-hand coordination,” he said. “Now it’s putting it together and hitting with the power.”
MVP candidate?: Had it not been for a slow first few weeks of the season, and a rough patch for a couple weeks after coming back for playing at Mexico City, Nowak would likely be a shoe-in for Atlantic League MVP honors – or Player of the Year”, whatever you want to call it is fine – this season. Sure, he has 78 RBIs (through Thursday) and is on pace for a 100+RBI season and will easily crush the club-record 25 homer mark he set last year. But his .282 average (through Thursday) might hold him back. Still, his slumps appear to be behind him. Plus, York’s lineup at this point is so deep that Nowak has been batting in the No. 6 spot recently. It will only help Nowak when he has solid hitters around him.
Road Trip: York will next hit the road for a six-game trip, starting Friday in the first of three at Somerset followed by three at Southern Maryland. The Revs will return home next Thursday for a makeup game with Camden before hosting Long Island for three and Sugar Land for four games.
J.Rich out of town: It was a little weird when chatting with Revs’ starting pitcher Chris Waters in the clubhouse Thursday night and seeing an empty locker next to him. That locker was being used by former York Revolution pitcher Jason Richardson most of the year – Richardson and Waters were high school teammates and later teammates again in the Atlanta Braves’ organization.
Anyway, Richardson left town Tuesday after learning the Revs’ weren’t interested in his services. Richardson, you see, has been spending his summer in York rehabbing from Tommy John surgery to his throwing elbow. He was never officially under contract with York this year, but I guess he wanted to spend his rehab with a club he’s played with each of the last three years.
Richardson was putting put up arguably his best numbers of his career last year, going 4-0 with a 3.33 ERA in 19 relief appearances, before the season was cut short due to injury.
Revs’ skipper Andy Etchebarren said team doctors recently cleared Richardson to play. However, although the Revs have one open roster spot with 24 active players – one below the league maximum – Etch said he didn’t want to take a chance bringing a reliever on board who is just 11 months removed from T.J. surgery.
“There’s no way I’m going to use him. He’s eleven months out of Tommy John,” Etch’ said. “(Lancaster manager) Butch (Hobson) signed a guy this year 13 months out of Tommy John. The first time he pitched he blew out his arm and he’s been on the DL (disabled list) the whole year. They gotta pay him. There’s no way I’m gonna do that.”
“They cleared him (Richardson) but there’s no way I’m going to pitch him. The other guy was cleared, too, at 13 months. It’s not worth the chance. I got to get rid of somebody because I want to keep that spot open.”
Lancaster loses Everidge: Etch’ said Thursday night that Lancaster manager Butch Hobson informed him Barnstormers infielder Tommy Everidge (injury) are done for the year.
Everidge, last year’s Atlantic League Player of the Year, is batting just .260 with nine homers and 37 RBIs. A year ago, the first baseman batted .360 with 28 homers and 94 RBIs.
It remains to be seen what impact, if any, this will have on the Barnstormers down the stretch. We’ve already seen Lancaster lose players leave this year only for other guys to step up and help the Barnies continue their winning ways. Plus, it’s not like Everidge was putting up solid numbers anyway. Still, one would think it has to hurt a little bit losing two position players at this point in the year.