As the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders headed back to Moosic Thursday afternoon, they did so for the first time almost fully healthy.
Billy McKinney is off his major league rehab and on the active roster. He joins the likes of Clint Frazier, Brandon Drury, Tyler Wade, Adam Lind and Kyle Higashioka, who have all played in the bigs at some point over the past two seasons.
While the lineup is starting to resemble what many thought it would look like heading into spring training, the starting rotation is back to full strength, too. With Justus Sheffield off the disabled list and healthy, he joins a group that includes Josh Rogers, Chance Adams and David Hale — which pairs nicely with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s talented bullpen.
RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said before Friday’s game against the Syracuse Chiefs that all the RailRiders had to do now was put it together — string together some timely hits to go with a solid pitching performance. It’s something they weren’t doing at the start of their recent road trip, but they had been showing signs of turning the corner.
Just not so much on Friday.
The Chiefs hammered out 15 hits and led by seven midway through the game before polishing off a 10-3 win over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at PNC Field. Hale started and was tagged for five runs — all earned — on eight hits in 4.1 innings.
Mike Ford accounted for the RailRiders’ only runs with a three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth in what was a 7-0 game at the time.
“It’s all about what you do on the field,” Mitchell said. “We can put them in the lineup and everything and you’re right, we have a lot of talent, but it’s all about taking the talent on the field and performing the way they expect themselves to play and do. I think that they’re confident going in. We have a lot of experience now at the top of the lineup.”
Experiencing a five-game skid midway through their series in Pawtucket, Mitchell knew his RailRiders were close.
They had leads of three or more Monday and Tuesday against the Red Sox before they dropped the games late. It would just take one game back in the win column and the RailRiders would be able to pick up speed.
Despite the setback in Friday’s series opener, the RailRiders are still beginning to inch closer to .500 baseball.
“You could just see the difference in the way we were playing and everything that we were going to win some games,” Mitchell said. “I think I still obviously believe that we’ve gotten better. To compete and play other teams, we’re going to show that we can win some ball games and I look forward to it.”
Bye, bye Birdie
New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone told WFAN on Thursday that Greg Bird will likely be activated off of the disabled list on Saturday.
All signs point toward Bird making his 2018 debut over the weekend. The rehabbing first baseman was out of the RailRiders’ lineup in the series opener against Syracuse, and Mitchell confirmed Friday morning that Bird had left the team.
In four games with the RailRiders, Bird had accumulated a .250 batting average with two walks, two home runs and five RBI.
“He looked real good,” Mitchell said. “He’s Birdie, man. He can hit the ball a long way and really high, and he did it a couple times and really helped us out. Then he hit a couple balls that would have been out in New York with the right field that didn’t go out. There was a ball and the wind was blowing somewhat in from right field, yesterday. He looked fine. He had no issues. I think he’s ready for however they want to use him.”
Fleming down to Trenton
Despite going 3-for-8 with two RBI in his return off the disabled list, infielder Billy Fleming has been optioned to Double-A Trenton.
With McKinney now on the active roster and reliever Giovanny Gallegos making his way down from New York, the RailRiders needed an open roster spot. Already sporting Drury, L.J. Mazzilli, Rey Navarro and Tyler Wade on the roster, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre had the depth to be able to send Fleming down.
“He’s healthy,” Mitchell said. “He’ll really help them and I’m sure we’ll see him back here sometime during the year.”
RailRiders catcher Erik Kratz was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Adam Lind was also released.
Kratz batted .269 with two doubles, four home runs, 10 runs scored and six RBI in 17 games with the RailRiders. Lind was batting .241 with four doubles, two home runs, seven runs scored and seven RBI in 16 Triple-A games.
The Yankees signed Wilkin Castillo to a minor league contract and assigned him to the RailRiders on Thursday, replacing Kratz as the backup catcher. Castillo, who was playing with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League, played in 45 games for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season.
Thairo Estrada is still likely a couple weeks away as he battles a wrist injury. He’s still feeling a little pain swinging the bat, according to Mitchell.
Reliever Anyelo Gomez is expected to still be out “a while,” according to Mitchell. The right-hander is out with a shoulder injury and still has to go through rehab and strengthening exercises. There’s no timetable on a return.
Outfielder Mark Payton, who started the season on the disable list after having knee surgery during spring training, is now “probably a couple weeks away — two, three weeks away.” Payton’s started to play games and “says he’s feeling good,” according to Mitchell.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle