TROY — His first start with the Tri-City ValleyCats went well.
With that out of the way, Blair Henley can start work on figuring out how to get his last name above the No. 6 on the back of his jersey.
“I guess I’ve got to go ask,” a smiling Henley said after Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Brooklyn Cyclones.
Henley, one of the newest ValleyCats, was long gone from Sunday’s game before the Cyclones rallied past the ValleyCats in front of 3,406 fans at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium. A 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher the Houston Astros picked in the seventh round of this year’s Major League Baseball amateur draft, Henley tossed three scoreless innings and struck out three. Henley retired the first eight batters he faced before allowing back-to-back hits.
“That’s probably the cleanest three innings I’ve seen from any of our starters this year,” ValleyCats manager Ozney Guillen said.
Henley exited with the ValleyCats ahead 2-0, but Tri-City couldn’t hold the lead. The Cyclones scored four runs — three of them unearned — in the sixth inning, then added two more in the ninth to send Tri-City to its fourth consecutive loss. Shortstop AJ Lee went 2 for 3 with a walk and scored a run, but was the only Tri-City player to reach base safely more than once as the ValleyCats dropped to 7-14 ahead of Monday’s 7 p.m. rematch with Brooklyn.
Before Sunday’s appearance with the Astros’ Class A short-season affiliate, Henley made his professional debut on June 29 with Houston’s affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. In that start, Henley struck out four in three scoreless innings of work, during which he allowed a hit and a walk.
Against Brooklyn, Henley offered up a similar outing.
“It was an outstanding job by Blair,” ValleyCats catcher Korey Lee said of the University of Texas product. “He commanded the strike zone with all his pitches.”
Henley was the latest new pitcher for Lee to catch this season. In 21 games, the ValleyCats have had 23 pitchers appear for them. On Sunday, the ValleyCats used Jayson Schroeder, Shea Barry and Garrett Gayle in relief of Henley.
“It’s difficult,” said Lee, who has appeared in 17 games this season. “Like, today, I’d never [previously] caught Gayle; the first time I caught him was his first warmup pitch.”
Lee, the Astros’ first-round pick this year, struck out in all four of his at-bats. He has gone hitless since going 1 for 4 on June 30, and his batting average has dropped to .207, but said he’s not letting his offensive struggles affect his defensive responsibilities.
“That’s the biggest thing that I can handle as a catcher, obviously, just because I’m handling the pitching staff. I’m handling the pitches. I’m handling the entire defense,” Lee said. “That’s something I’m really, really proud of, and try to do every single game.”
He added: “It’s tough, but it’s what I signed up for.”
Schroeder took the loss for the ValleyCats, but only one of the four runs he allowed in 2 2-3 innings was earned. Daniel Goggin earned the win for Brooklyn, while Matt Mullenbach picked up the save.
For Henley, Sunday’s no-decision effort capped a busy stretch of days. He joined the ValleyCats in Staten Island several days ago in preparation for his first start with the team.
“Obviously, a different scene,” Henley said. “I loved being out here with the fans. The whole environment is really cool.”
As for the last name on the back of his jersey?
He’ll work on that, but he’s not overly concerned.
“I’ve got a number,” Henley said, “so that’s good.”
Brooklyn 000 004 002 — 6 10 0
Tri-City 110 000 000 — 2 4 1