GOODYEAR, AZ-The AZL Indians (26-20) continued their winning ways in Arizona, shutting down the Royals (17-29) 5-1 on Saturday Night. The win was in support of a rebounding Dillon Howard, who made his second straight outstanding start, after struggling through much of his first season.
Right-hander Howard may have had his best start of the season on Saturday night, going five strong, giving up eight hits, a run and a walk, while striking out three Royals. He induced six groundball outs, against only one fly ball, and continued a two game stretch of dominance that he hadn’t shown much of in previous starts.
The Indians were gifted their first runs in the first inning against a clearly shaken Royals starter, Austin Fairchild. Claudio Bautista walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Dorssys Paulino followed with a walk of his own, and Bautista and Paulino followed that up with a double steal. Fairchild threw a second wild pitch, allowing Claudio Bautista to score the first run. Jorge Martinez eventually walked and stole second, putting runners on first and second, which kept the Indians out of a potential double-play. This came in handy when Eric Haase grounded out, allowing Paulino to score the second run of the game. Anthony Santander and Nelson Rodriguez both walked, but Rothchild was mercifully taken out of the game and reliever Zachary Loworn got the Royals out of the inning only down two.
The Royals rebounded in the bottom of the frame, when Howard gave up a one-out Triple to Ramon Torres, followed by a run-scoring single by Alexis Rivera. Catcher Haase would bail out Howard a bit by gunning down Rivera at second on a steal attempt, which proved valuable as Mauricio Ramos would follow that out with a single that would have tied the game. Howard got out of the jam by striking out Mark Donato.
The score remained 2-1 until the fourth inning when Joshua McAdams singled, moved to second on yet another wild pitch, moved to third on a Tyler Booth single, then promptly stole home. I wasn’t at the game, but the Indians were clearly looking to create some havoc, which they did quite nicely. Booth immediately stole second base after the steal home, but Loworn settled down and got the final two outs to limit the damage to one run.
In the fifth, Jorge Martinez decided to worry less about dancing around the bases, and blasted a shot to deep center, his seventh of the season, to give the baby Indians a 4-1 advantage. One out, back-to-back singles by Anthony Santander and Nelson Rodriguez, followed by a D’vone McClure walk loaded the bases one more time. McAdams then took one for the team, getting plunked, scoring Santander, and ending the scoring at 5-1.
Howard (1-6, 5.64 ERA) the highly touted pitcher out of Searcy, Arkansas, is really starting to find his game after a struggling start to his season. On August 5th, Howard’s record stood at 0-6 with a league worst 7.36 ERA. The next closes qualifying ERA was nearly three runs below Howard at 4.76. To say things weren’t going well would be an understatement.
It looks as though Howard has started to figure things out over his last two starts. During the past week, Howard is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA, going 11 innings total, while giving up 12 hits, three runs (two earned), five walks and five K’s. Sure, he’s been walking too many batters, but he’s throwing strikes, and finally showcasing the ability that made him a second round pick.
Felix Sterling followed up Howard with four dominating innings of his own, and like Howard, is having a renaissance of sorts during this last month of the season. After getting demoted from Lake County after two months of struggle, he’s regained his ace-like status.
On Saturday, Sterling went four hitless innings, giving up three walks, but striking out six. In his last 12 innings, Sterling has struck out 20 batters, and walked only five. Since August 3rd, Sterling has made four appearances, going 2-0 with two saves over 15 innings. He’s given up only nine hits and five walks, while striking out 23, which is tops in the league during that stretch. In other words, he’s dominated.
The AZL Indians are on the road again on Sunday night, facing off against the AZL Athletics at 7:00 PM PT, and 10:00 ET. Luis Lugo is scheduled to take the mound for the Indians.
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.