Fisher Cats out to finish July on a high note

Early July wasn’t the best stretch for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, but since their recent return from Maine, things seem to be looking up once again.

Without a doubt, the biggest story this week has been the return of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the current No. 1 minor league prospect according to Baseball America, MLB.com, and pretty much every other baseball expert in the universe.

Rumors lingered whether Guerrero would even come back to the Fisher Cats at all after a leg injury in early June, but after a few rehab assignments in Florida, Guerrero made his return on Thursday against Harrisburg.

Guerrero was grateful for the rehabilitation assistance he obtained from the Blue Jays organization in this, the first serious injury of his career. Now that he’s back, there’s no focus on an eventual promotion to Toronto or an Eastern League batting title or anything other than making the most of the current moment where he finds himself.

“My goal is to work hard, to play hard, and to help the team win, and to do my best to contribute to the team’s success,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “When I come to the field, I just try to do my best. Anything that happens is just a byproduct of hard work.”

Regaining a player who brought so much offense on the field and so many smiles in the clubhouse is certainly a boon to the Fisher Cats over the next few weeks, something Fisher Cats manager John Schneider readily admits. However, he also notes that the absence of Guerrero engendered a sense of obligation instead of panic from his squad.

“With the talent we have here, it wasn’t like everybody said, ‘now we have to play extra hard,” they were just business as usual,” said Schneider. “Everyone did step up a little bit though, which was nice to see.”

Success against Trenton

Perhaps overshadowed by the return of Guerrero, New Hampshire took two out of three from Trenton earlier in the week, solidifying their lead over Trenton in the EL East divisional standings.

That series win, and the subsequent series win against Harrisburg, followed a rough stretch that saw New Hampshire go 3-7 in the two series before the All-Star Break.

Last season in the Florida State League, Schneider’s pennant winning Dunedin squad lost nine straight at one point, so he’s seen slumps in the past. However, he believes that the bullpen, which showed significant signs of concern in early July, are coming back into form.

“I’d much rather have (the bullpen) going through that stretch now as opposed to three weeks from now, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen recently,” said Schneider. “Any time you’re going to have times when guys are good, and guys are bad or times when a lot of guys are bad. You just have to deal with it.”

Bo knows the leadoff spot

With three saves in six games against Trenton and Harrisburg, Justin Bergen is now Schneider’s official closer. It also appears that Bo Bichette may be the new defacto leadoff man.

Until recently, Jonathan Davis had that role locked up, but Davis earned a spot in Buffalo on July 12, hastening the return of Andrew Guillotte.

Schneider says that Guillotte, who stole home at one point earlier this month, or Jon Berti may occasionally bat first.

However, he also says that most days will likely go to Bichette, who led off most days for Schneider last year in Dunedin. As of July 22, Bichette leads the Eastern League in stolen bases and is just behind the league lead in hits.