By nearly accomplishing his goal of playing every day, 2012 second-round pick Tony Renda helped the Class A Hagerstown Suns reach the South Atlantic League championship series. Renda also has had his share of games at the plate like he had last night, when he drove home the first three runs in a 6-1 win in Game 1 against Mets-affiliated Savannah.
Tonight’s Game 2 will be Hagerstown’s final home game of the year. The best-of-five-series shifts to Savannah starting Thursday night.
Renda, the second baseman on the league’s annual all-star team, missed just two games — a 10:35 a.m. start at home on July 15 and a 1:35 p.m. game at Lexington on Aug. 11. He led the league with 135 games, 99 runs and 43 doubles while ranking second in hits (153), fourth in walks (68) and sixth in batting average (.292) and on-base percentage (.379).
“I set out this season to play every game,” Renda said after last night’s victory. “I’ve sat those two games the whole season. With that, playing every day, it’s also finding your routine that works for you and knowing how to get by and still be successful.”
Renda said the two games he missed were both well-timed, and that they helped him get through a season in which he stole 30 bases in 36 attempts as the No. 2-hole hitter for a team that went 80-57 for league manager of the year Tripp Keister.
“Tripp was good about telling me beforehand,” said the 22-year-old Renda. “Those 10:30 games are tough. I don’t wake up until 10:30 most mornings. He just wanted to get me a breather so I could finish the season strong.”
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Renda starred at California and played in the 2011 College World Series. He signed for $500,000 and played for short-season Class A Auburn last year before making the jump to full-season ball.
In the postseason, Renda has seven hits in 16 at-bats (.438). He had two three-hit games in the divisional series and was 1 for 3 with a two-run double down the left field line and an RBI fielder’s choice grounder last night.
“I can’t say enough about what he’s meant to us this year offensively, defensively, with his,leadership and in coming to play every day — not unlike a lot of our guys,” Keister said.
Tonight should be Renda’s 140th game since spring training.
“It was just a year of making adjustments to how they’re pitching you, how the game goes and what you’re getting to hit — just staying within myself,” Renda said. “When I pick my pitches a little bit better, I found that I can draw more walks, strike out less and get better pitches to hit that I can drive into a gap somewhere.”
As for the grind of his first full minor league season, that has been as demanding as Renda has expected.
“One day, the hamstring’s tight,The next day, the hip’s tight. The next day, maybe the shoulder’s sore. It’s just the way it is,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have a good athletic trainer in TD Swinford. Whatever you need to get out on the field and play, he’ll get you there and help you stay healthy.”
JOHANSEN IS UP FOR THE TASK: Right-hander Jake Johansen, the Nationals‘ second-round pick from this year’s draft who received an $820,000 bonus, sparkled in last night’s game. He pitched five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out two.
After a first inning in which Johansen walked two and the Suns started warming up a reliever, he pitched ahead of most hitters and dominated with his fastball and a decent mix of off-speed pitches. He had gone 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in two starts for Hagerstown after a call-up from Auburn. Then, Johansen was inactive for the divisional round of the playoffs because his day to pitch didn’t fall in the series.
“He was real excited about getting an opportunity to pitch tonight, and I thought he really set the tone,” Keister said. “He, to me. was the story of the game.
“We knew going in that we wanted him to establish the fastball. He hadn’t really done that in his first two starts, but he did tonight.”
ONE TITLE, THREE MORE CHANCES: Washington’s farm system already has one champion in its rookie-level Gulf Coast league team, which swept through a three-game postseason after breaking a record for all domestic minor league teams with an .845 winning percentage (49-9).
Three other teams are in best-of-five championship series. Hagerstown is up, 1-0. Advanced Class A Potomac trails the Salem Red Sox, 2-0, in the Carolina League playoffs with the series moving to Salem starting tonight. Class AA Harrisburg begins the Eastern League finals at Trenton tonight, with the Yankees affiliate scheduled to play Game 3, and if necessary Games 4 and 5, in Harrisburg starting Thursday night.