COLUMBUS—The Clippers did not have a spectacular performance at the plate Sunday night, but they won anyway, thanks largely in part to a superb outing from T.J McFarland.
The 23-year-old right-hander threw a complete-game shutout, propelling Columbus (37-40) to a 4-0 win against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in front of 8,505 fans at Huntington Park.
Making his fifth start of the season with Columbus, McFarland (2-1) turned in one of his best performances of his professional career. He struck out four batters and allowed only four hits, but it was his low-pitch count that allowed him to stay in, and finish, the game. McFarland needed just 100 pitches to get through nine frames, pacing Columbus to a speedy victory that took only two hours and twenty-two minutes to complete.
Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh said McFarland’s command and use of his sinker were the key reasons for the solid start.
“His sinker was on. I thought he was on the plate which was important for him, and he mixed in his secondary stuff which is important for him,” he said. “He did a really nice job.”
The nine innings thrown by McFarland are a season high for a Columbus starter. Left-hander David Huff had the previous high with an eight-inning outing on May 30 at Buffalo. McFarland had not gone more than seven innings in 14 combined starts with Columbus and Double-A Akron.
McFarland’s ability to pitch to contact was the reason for the lengthy outing, according to Sarbaugh.
“That’s important for him, because he does have such good sink (on his pitches) he gets a lot of ground balls. He has the ability to get deep into games, he threw 100 pitches in nine innings. That’s a great game,” Sarbaugh said.
When McFarland did allow a batter to reach base, they were not there for long.
After Lehigh Valley second baseman Kevin Frandsen singled to start the fourth inning, IronPigs designated hitter Erik Kratz grounded into a five-four-three double play two hitters later. Lehigh Valley center fielder Kyle Hudson walked with one out in the sixth inning, but McFarland caught him stealing with a pick-off move to first base that ended with Hudson getting tagged out at second base. No Lehigh Valley player reached third base, and only one—left fielder Jason Pridie—got in scoring position.
Lehigh Valley right-hander Scott Elarton had a quality start, but Columbus got to him early, giving McFarland a lead to work with.
With runners on first-and-second base in the bottom of the second inning, Clippers’ third baseman Gregorio Petit smacked a double to left field that one-hopped off the wall, plating designated hitter Chad Huffman. Columbus catcher, Matt Pagnozzi, scored an at bat later when center fielder Ezequiel Carrera grounded out to second.
“Any time, especially at home, you feel good when you get an early lead and get some momentum going. (McFarland) did a great job getting us back into the dugout quick to keep our momentum,” Sarbaugh said.
McFarland had five innings in which only three batters reached the plate. When the Clippers scored first in the second, McFarland had a one-two-three inning in the third.
Like McFarland, Elarton had his best stuff when the Clippers got men on base. Columbus went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and left seven runners on. The Clippers came into Sunday’s contest with a .372 batting average with runners in scoring position over the past five games.
Elarton, after six-strong innings, fell apart in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The right-hander gave up back-to-back line-drive singles to Pagnozzi and Petit with one out, and allowed a run when Carrera smoked a fastball down the right-field line and into the corner. Carrera, along with Petit, led the way for the Clippers, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Carrera had struggled in the series first two games with a 1-for-8 line.
Columbus and Lehigh Valley will conclude their four-game series on Monday night at 7:05 p.m.