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Three Minor Leagues Close First Half

In a situation where a loss by his team would hand the South Atlantic League Northern Dvision title to the Lexington Legends, Hagerstown's Gaby Hernandez threw a nine-inning no-hitter Sunday.  

Troy Patton threw six innings of shutout ball, then watched the bullpen nearly blow it, but Lexington hung on to win their game 6 - 5. Both Lexington and Hagerstown thus finish the first half 42 - 28, and they will duel in a one-game playoff next Saturday to decide the division crown and its accompanying playoff spot.

Corpus Christi's Fernando Nieve, previously tagged to pitch in (and probably start) the Texas League All-Star game Tuesday, was called up to AAA Round Rock Saturday night, and will instead start for the Express Monday, as they close out their series against the Omaha Royals.

Corpus Christi and Carolina also finished the first halves of their respective league schedules on Sunday, and both did so in last place.

Of course, Round Rock and the rest of the PCL simply play on, as AAA baseball does not use the split-season format, and their All-Star game is timed to co-ordinate with the majors' game.

Bill Gilbert caught the Express the other day, and makes the following report:

"Round Rock beat Memphis 2-0 at the game I saw Thursday night . . . Ezequiel Astacio pitched 5 strong innings with 9 strikeouts. He had much better command of his 91-94 fast ball than he did in his unsuccessful trial with the Astros and he also had an effective split finger pitch. He has major league stuff if he can learn how to effectively control it.

There's not much help on the way at Round Rock and . . . . At the game I saw Thursday, seven of the nine Round Rock starters had already failed in major league trials and the other two are non-prospects"

Starting for Round Rock Thursday were Alex Eckelman, Luke Scott, Todd Self, Mike Coolbaugh, Carlos Rivera, Brooks Conrad, Raul Chavez, Barry Wesson, and Ezequiel Astacio. Although Mr. Gilbert's point that the cupboard is somewhat bare in the upper minors is basically sound, I might take issue with both terming Todd Self's major league appearance as "a failure," and calling Brooks Conrad a "non-prospect."

Gilbert says he spoke with Dierker at some kind of recent function for Darrell Royal, and that Dierker was "very pessimistic" about the Astros' chances not only this year, but in the coming years.

I would never claim to know the game anywhere near as well as Larry Dierker, but I might allow that Dirk's probably not all that familiar with our lower minors system, and I'll say what I'm sure Gilbert knows: There are a bunch of pitching prospects dotting our farm system, and more than a couple hitters, as well.

John Sickels posted his piece on Troy Patton and Hunter Pence Sunday. I wish he'd taken my suggestion to do the comparison between Pence and Mitch Einertson, though. I've said it before and will do so again: everything they're saying about Pence this year was said about Einertson last year in the Appy League.

Late Sunday night minor league update: Taylor Buchholz goes to 6 - 0 as Round Rock beats Omaha 3 - 1. Brooks Conrad goes deep and Tom Martin, the man who should take John Franco's place when they release him, gets the save.