Merritt, Mudcats rally to beat Blue Rocks 6-3
Ryan Merritt improved his record to 4-0 on the season after Thursday's win.
ZEBULON, NC — After falling behind early, the Carolina Mudcats fought their way back to earn a convincing 6-3 win over the Wilmington Blue Rocks on Thursday night. In what was a close game throughout, a clutch hit in the seventh inning from Jeremy Lucas secured the win for the Mudcats.
With the Blue Rocks only down one run in the seventh, Ollie Linton singled to left and Erik Gonzalez was walked to set the stage for Lucas. After a Wilmington pitching change, Lucas smoked a ball to left that bounced off the outstretched glove of left fielder Terrance Gore and found its way out to the wall. Linton and Gonzalez both scored to make it 6-3 and put the game away for good.
Manager Scooter Tucker was pleased with his team’s win and felt that the combination of timely hitting, solid pitching, and error-free defense made the difference in the game.
In his first start since being named the Player of the Week for the Indians organization, Ryan Merritt (4-0, 1.19) pitched 6.0 innings and allowed three earned runs on five hits, while striking out five Blue Rocks batters.
“I thought we got a good pitching performance from Merritt. I was really pleased,” said Tucker.
Nevertheless, the Wilmington Blue Rocks showed no fear in the first inning against the stout left-hander. Despite two straight strike outs to begin the inning, Wilmington’s Hunter Dozier drove a ball to deep left that made its way over the wall for a home run. Merritt ended the inning by striking out Zane Evans, but not before the Blue Rocks were up 1-0.
Dozier’s first inning home run was only the second earned run allowed by Merritt all season, which put him in an unfamiliar position.
Tucker felt that Merritt responded well by carrying a short memory.
“It didn’t really affect him. He made a pitch up in the zone and the guy hit it hard,” Tucker said. “But I didn’t see any body language problems and he went back to throwing strikes. That’s what you want to see.”
Carolina threatened to score in the second inning after an Anthony Gallas single to left. Blue Rock’s starter Miguel Almonte nearly picked off Gallas at first, but once the big right-hander went home with the ball Gallas was able to get a great jump and stole second base. Alex Monsalve had a chance to score Gallas from second with a good hit, but ended up striking out on a foul tip to end the frame.
Wilmington struck again in the third with another key at-bat from Dozier. Short stop Raul Mondesi singled on a ground ball to left and Bubba Starling doubled to the gap in left center to advance Mondesi to third. With two runners in scoring position, Dozier made enough contact on a ground ball to score Mondesi from third to give Wilmington a 2-0 advantage. Carolina was able to get the lead runner out at third on the play, and completed the inning by forcing Zane Evans into a ground out.
Carolina’s ace found some run support in the top of the fourth from 2013 Carolina League All Star Jerrud Sabourin. After two outs to start the inning, Sabourin blasted a ball to deep right that cleared the fence easily, putting Carolina on the board.
The Mudcats took the lead in the fifth inning as they continued to find their rhythm. James Roberts hit a leadoff single to left and was moved to second after a balk from Almonte. Despite being in a slump as of late, Todd Hankins drilled a line drive down the left field line that got past Dozier at third scoring Roberts from second.
Wilmington couldn’t seem to keep Carolina off the bases and Luigi Rodriguez singled to left to put runners on the corners. Right fielder Ollie Linton hit a RBI single to right that scored Hankins to make it 3-2. Rodriguez was advanced to third, but two consecutive outs ended the inning and left the runner stranded.
Carolina’s strong fifth inning didn’t discourage Wilmington who responded quickly in the sixth. Ryan Merritt allowed Bubba Starling to take first on his first walk of the night. Starling managed to steal second and was brought home by a Dozier single, his third RBI of the night. A meeting at the mound settled Merritt, who closed out the inning with two fly outs and a strike out.
The Mudcats found an answer in the bottom of the sixth to take the lead again. Anthony Gallas opened the inning with a single to center, and was advanced after Almonte was called for his second balk of the night. Aroni Nina relieved Almonte but couldn’t keep Carolina from scoring. Monsalve was forced into a ground out, but the hit gave Gallas a chance to make it to third. With James Roberts at the plate, Nina threw home but Blue Rock’s catcher Cam Gallagher let the ball get past him giving Gallas time to reach home giving the Mudcats a 4-3 lead.
The Mudcat’s bullpen prevented Wilmington from making a comeback in the last three innings of the game. Combined, they went three innings allowing only two hits and zero earned runs. Louis Head earned his sixth save of the season after tossing a scoreless ninth frame.
Tucker was pleased with his team’s pitching on Thursday night.
“I thought we had a good pitching performance out of everyone tonight,” Tucker said. “Especially, those bullpen guys who hadn’t been on the mound in quite a few days because of all the rain.”
Wilmington’s Miguel Almonte (2-1) was credited with the loss after pitching 5.1 innings and giving up four earned runs on eight hits. Two balks proved to be costly as they both led to Mudcat scores. It was Almonte’s first loss of the 2014 season.
Carolina (13-10) is set to face the Wilmington Blue Rocks (10-14) again on Friday night. Cole Sulser (0-2, 3.22) is set to start for the Mudcats and will square off against Wilmington’s Jonathan Dziedzic (3-1, 1.64).
Daniel is a communication and broadcast media major at North Carolina State University.