Crushers end losing streak, beat Beach Bums 5-2
Lake Erie avoids sweep with defeat of Traverse City
Crushers manager Jeff Isom got exactly what he asked for following the team’s fourth consecutive loss on Wednesday night.
For his team to get back to winning, he said they needed their starting pitcher to keep them in the game and their offense to score first. The team answered the call on Thursday, beating Traverse City 5-2 to improve to 7-11. Traverse City falls to 10-8 with the loss.
“It was the things we talked about yesterday. We got the things we needed get,” Isom said.
It all started with the pitching. Southpaw Dave Middendorf delivered possibly the best pitching performance of the season for the Crushers. He delivered eight and two-thirds dominant innings, allowing two runs on four hits, striking out 10 Traverse City batters to earn his second win on the season. He is now 2-1 with a 2.51 ERA.
“He threw extremely well,” Isom said of his starter. “He really had them off balance. It was one of those nights that he was in control from the start, and never really got in difficult situations.”
Middendorf’s strong pitching performance did more than enough to keep the Crushers in the game and they took advantage of it, scoring first in a ball game for the first time since the losing streak had started.
The team wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, scoring in the top of the first inning. After Kevin Berard led off with a single, he stole second, moved to third on a groundout by Russ Moldenhauer and scored on an Andrew Davis RBI groundout.
Berard reached base all five times he went to the plate. He was 4-for-4 with four singles and was hit by a pitch. The speedster may have finally dropped the super-sub nickname, as he is earning his place as the team’s regular leadoff man and second basemen.
“He’s got a lot of ability to field,” Isom said. “We can put him in the outfield or at second base, but he’ll be at the top of the lineup. He gives us a lot of options.
“If he can put the ball in play he can be a game-changer for us.”
The Crushers scored again in the third, as Guantlett Eldemire came home on a sac fly to center from Moldenhauer. They scored the rest of their runs in the sixth, off of a two-run single from Juan Sanchez, and an RBI single from Berard.
“[Sanchez’s] at bat was big,” Isom said. “It was a two-strike at bat. Outstanding timing on his part to get a couple of RBIs.”
While it was good to see Sanchez put up a quality at bat with runners in scoring position, his struggles in the field continued as he recorded his seventh error of the season in the bottom of the seventh inning. Isom said he isn’t worried at all about his short stop’s fielding.
“I see an outstanding defensive player. He gets to a lot of balls that other short stops in this league can’t get to, and he’ll have a handful of errors because he’s getting to these balls.
“He could lay back on balls and let them get through for base hits and not have a chance for an error. He plays all out and gets to every baseball he possibly can. He’s not afraid to mistake and that’s what makes him a great shortstop.”
It remained a 5-0 game until there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. With runners on second and third, Middendorf allowed a single to Traverse City catcher Marcus Nidiffer to make it a more respectable 5-2 final score.
Middendorf finished the eighth with 101 pitches, but Isom defended his decision to bring his starter back out to try to finish the ninth.
"There was questioning,” Isom said. “But I went up to him and asked him how he felt. He told me he felt like he had a chance to finish the game, so we gave him that opportunity, knowing that he could have an extra [day off] the next time through the rotation.”
Middendorf threw 20 more pitches in the ninth, bringing him to a total of 121. He was relieved by the side-arming right-hander Dale Dickerson, who recorded the final out of the ball game on a fly out to left field.
“Absolutely,” Isom said when asked if Dickerson is somebody he is beginning to trust in the back end of the bullpen. “That’s why we put him in that situation."
Dickerson joins Jordan Wellander and Doug Shields in the group of relievers whom Isom has expressed confidence in for late inning appearances. Isom and pitching coach Chris Mongiardo have finally begun to configure the back end of the bullpen, and it will be led by Dickerson, whom Isom revealed after the game will serve as the team’s closer.
The victory means the Crushers were able to avoid being swept before moving on before continuing their road trip against the Washington Wild Things. Matt Smith will be on the mound to begin the series, making his second start for the team.