Hometown Report

Hometown Report: Quick exits for two River Cats pitchers

Joe Davidson
Joe Davidson

The fluid nature of baseball includes heavy currents of change in Sacramento, and the season has barely reached first base.

Eric Berger was looking forward to playing with the River Cats, a chance to pitch in front of family and friends. The Bee’s 2004 Player of the Year from Woodcreek High School, Berger was released by the A’s last Thursday, the eve of the Triple-A River Cats’ homeopener at Raley Field. The 27-year-old left-hander had allowed one run and three hits in 1 1/3 innings for Sacramento.

Veteran major leaguer Joe Blanton was eager to show his stuff – his refined delivery and his remade body – for a franchise that drafted him just over a decade ago. But this union was also surprisingly brief. The 33-year-old right-hander, a first-round pick of the A’s in 2002, retired Sunday after a rocky start with the River Cats. He allowed seven runs in two starts (10 2/3 innings). That followed a shaky spring training with the Angels, who released him. Blanton won 11 games for the River Cats in 2004 and has 85 wins with the A’s, Phillies, Dodgers and Angels.

Though he was savaged Monday on social media for his days as a 255-pound player, looking more like a defensive tackle than pitcher, Blanton will have the last laugh. He’s down to 215, thanks to a new diet and what he deemed “maturity.” And the Angels still owe him $7 million, never mind that he went 2-14 with them last season.

Susac return

Andrew Susac, a former Bee All-Metro catcher, is hitting .314 for the Fresno Grizzlies, who visit Raley Field for four games starting Tuesday. Susac will have scores of family and friends in attendance, including his former Jesuit High School teammates. Drafted in the second round in 2011 out of Oregon State, Susac is rated the No. 4 prospect in the Giants organization by MLB.com.

Susac said he soaked up his spring training experience with the Giants, listening intensely to players such as Buster Posey, who, for the moment, stands in his way between Fresno and San Francisco.

Stassi time

Catcher Max Stassi, a two-time Bee Player of the Year from Yuba City, began the season with Triple-A Oklahoma City as the No. 12 Houston Astros prospect, according to MLB.com. Though the Astros have lost 111, 107 and 106 games the past three seasons, their minor-league system is stocked with high-round talent. Through Sunday, Stassi was batting .297 with two home runs, two doubles and eight RBIs.

Stassi’s first major-league experience was painful. He took a fastball to the face last August, a 96-mph screamer that first glanced off his shoulder. Before going to the hospital with a towel pressed to his cheek, Stassi barked at his new Astros teammates to maintain the intensity.

Hernandez hurt

Former Bee Pitcher of the Year David Hernandez from Elk Grove High and Cosumnes River College will miss this season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The reliever needs Tommy John surgery, saying, “It’s a tough pill to swallow.” Hernandez was Arizona’s top setup man in 2011 and 2012.

Berger underwent the procedure in 2006, explaining recently: “That surgery saves a ton of careers, mine included. You have to stay positive in this game, or it’ll eat you up.”

Noonan is in

Sierra College took the interim tag off Ben Noonan’s job title and named him as its football coach. . Sierra went 6-5 last season under Noonan, who replaced retired Jeff Tisdel on a one-year interim basis. Noonan has experience coaching community college teams in Southern California.

Booker is back

Tailback Devontae Booker (Grant, American River College) has impressed Utah coaches during spring drills with the Pacific-12 Conference team. He joined the Utes on Feb. 26 after sitting out last fall to improve his academic standing. At Grant, Booker rushed for 2,884 yards and 45 touchdowns as senior and 1,850 and 36 as a junior. He rushed for 2,265 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons at ARC, where he also returned kickoffs for scores of 95 and 94 yards.

Bond, Devante Bond

A classic late-bloomer, linebacker Devante Bond has taken the long route to Oklahoma, where he’s competing for a starting spot. Bond first played organized football as a senior at Foothill High, where coach Allen Berg called him, “a monster talent.” Bond played two seasons at Sierra College and accepted a scholarship to Miami but never enrolled because of a transfer credit snag Thus the switch to Oklahoma.

Thames tracker

NBA teams have been calling John DePonte about San Diego State senior guard Xavier Thames, whom DePonte coached at Pleasant Grove high school. NBA executives often reach out to the high school coaches and teachers of prospects to ask about character and work ethic.

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