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April 07. 2013 1:21AM

Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Home cooking suiting Nolan

KEVIN NOLAN is your starting shortstop - and hometown hero. The Blue Jays farmhand and Nashua South graduate has bounced around at several positions in five professional seasons, and now he's settling in at his natural position and making all the plays.

"He's really taken advantage of an opportunity to play there," former big leaguer Mike Mordecai, Toronto's roving minor-league infield instructor, said. "Strong arm, instinctive player, and he's an offensive middle infielder."

Nolan had an All-Star season at Single-A Dunedin in 2012, batting .316 in the Florida State League. New Hampshire's coaching staff loves the kid. He's a team guy and, above all, loves to compete. The 25-year-old is also the first New Hampshire native to play for the Fisher Cats.

"We have a lot of good ball players and a good group of guys," said Nolan, a 20th-round pick out of Winthrop University (Rock Hill, S.C.) in 2009. "We have talent and chemistry. We have a good chance to do well."

So we've learned Nolan is a low-maintenance gamer. Here are more observations from the opening series against Reading:

Ryan Schimpf has pop. A 5-foot-8 outfielder, the Louisiana State product gave a glimpse of his power at the end of last season after being called up from Single-A Dunedin. He's now played in 36 games for New Hampshire and already has 10 home runs. The lefty slugger has bashed two homers over the right-field wall in the opening series against Reading.

There's an X Factor in the rotation. Nobody wants to be known as a journeyman by age 27, but it appears Austin Bibens-Dirkx has found a home in The 603. The right-hander, who has played for five organizations, tossed six shutout innings on opening night, and New Hampshire dropped the Fightin Phils, 9-0.

Chad Beck is the closer. Big righty Chad Beck, who has made 17 appearances for the Blue Jays, is among seven players with big-league experience on the Fisher Cats roster. Beck gave up one run in late relief for New Hampshire (1-2), which has yet to encounter a save situation.

On paper, the team should be loaded with talent. Saturday's starting pitcher, Deck McGuire, is among four first-round picks on the roster. Kevin Ahrens, Adam Loewen and Trystan Magnuson (supplemental first-round) all began pro ball with high expectations.

Kenny Wilson is Mr. Excitement. New Hampshire's leadoff hitter and center fielder already has a pair of multi-hit games and two stolen bases.

You know it's a potent lineup when ... Brad Glenn, who led the Fisher Cats with 19 homers last season, is batting in the No. 7 hole.

Kevin Pillar will be an Eastern League force. That's a prediction from first-year manager Gary Allenson, who has been impressed with Pillar's bat and mental toughness. Pillar went 0-for-9 before singling three straight times on Saturday. "He's a really good player. He'll be one of the league leaders in hitting," Allenson said. "Nothing bothers him. That's how you have to be in this game."

Clint Robinson was a solid pickup. Claimed off waivers from the Pirates, Robinson brings veteran leadership and another solid bat to the lineup. The 28-year-old, who had a cup of coffee with the Royals last season, has clubbed 110 career homers in the minors. The 6-foot-5 lefty hitter has hit safely in all three games to begin the season
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Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com.



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