Mudcats strike early and hold on for win
ZEBULON- The Carolina Mudcats (7-8) looked to get back to .500 on a cold night at Five County Stadium, as they took on the Lynchburg Hillcats (9-5), the A+ affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
The Mudcats were able to score early taking an early 5-1 lead after the third inning and that is all the scoring they would need as the bullpen was able hold on at the end giving the Mudcats a 5-4 win in the series opener.
This game had all the makings off a great pitching matchup. Lefty Mike Rayl took the hill for the Mudcats, and is the 17th ranked prospect in the Indians organization according to Baseball America. Rayl was opposed by Hillcat Cody Martin, who is ranked as the 19th best prospect in the Braves system.
However the Mudcats didn’t seem interested in a pitchers duel as they got the scoring started early off Martin. Following a single by first baseman Jesus Aguilar, designated hitter Jeremie Tice drove a two run shot over the right field wall to give the Mudcats the early 2-0 lead.
Designated hitter Ryan Quesry answered Tice’s home run with one of his own to lead off the third inning for the Hillcats cutting the Mudcats deficit in half to 2-1. The home run by Quesry was his first hit of the year.
The Mudcats would strike again in the bottom of the thirdinning. Three straight singles by left fielder Devli Cid, center fielder Tyler Holt and shortstop Tony Wolters to lead off the inning loaded up the bases for third baseman Giovanny Urshela who hit a sac fly to left scoring Cid. The Mudcats weren’t done as following a walk by Tice to reload the bases catcher Jake Lowery drove a single to left scoring both Holt and Wolters giving the Mudcats a 5-1 lead after three innings.
“Our hitters were just finding ways to put a bat on the ball," manager Edwin Rodriguez said about his team's early success at the plate.
The Hillcats looked to score again in the top of the fourth as second baseman Tommy La Stella lead off the inning with a double followed by a Walk by catcher Evan Gattis. However Rayl was able to pitch out of the jam inducing pop outs by third baseman Edward Salcedo and left fielder Robby Hefflinger and a groundout by first baseman Chris Garcia to end the Hillcats inning.
In the fourth the Mudcats tried to put together a little two out rally as Martin started to get a little wild. A walk to Holt, single by Wolters and a walk by Urshela loaded the bases for Aguilar. Alguilar drew the count to 3-2 but was caught looking on the third strike ending the Mudcats threat.
In the fifth inning the Hillcats were able to get a lead off double, this time by Quesry as he drove a ball to the gap in right center. But yet again the Hillcats weren’t able to get the man across the plate against Rayl as he was able to strikeout two Hillcats following a sacrifice bunt. This would prove to be Rayl’s last inning as he wound up going five innings giving up one run on four hits.
"Mike did good tonight," Rodriguez said. "We had cold, cold weather and his breaking ball wasn’t working like he’s used to. That’s why he got into trouble and got his pitch count high and why we took him out. Breaking ball pitchers in this kind of weather, they don’t get a good grip on the breaking ball, but he was still able to pitch himself out of the jams he was in.”
Martin would continue to struggle to find the strike zone in the fifth. Following a strikeout of Tice, Martin walked Lowery and right fielder Carlos Moncrief which ended his night and the Hillcats brought in Andrew Wilson. This proved to be a good move as Wilson was able to induce groundouts by both second baseman Ronny Rodriguez and Cid to get out of the inning.
Lefty J.D. Reichenbach was the first man out of the bullpen for the Mudcats and the Hillcats got to him for his first earned runs of the year. With one out Salcedo drove a single up the middle and with Garcia hitting Reichenbach threw a wild pitch allowing Salcedo to move to second. Garcia made Reichenbach pay as he singled to left giving Salcedo the opportunity to come around to score cutting the defecit to 5-2.
Reichenbach continued his struggles in the seventh. Shortstop Nick Ahmed led off the inning with a single to left. Following the single La Stella drew a walk but was then erased as Gattis grounded into a fielders choice putting men on the corners with one out. Salcedo blooped a single to left scoring Ahmed, and following the single Reichenbach walked Garcia which ended his night as the Mudcats turned to righty Dale Dickerson out of the pen.
Dickerson came in and struggled to find the strike zone as he walked the first man he faced forcing Query home with the Hillcats fourth run. Dickerson was able to get out of the inning as he induced a fly out by Ware to right field ending the inning allowing the Mudcats to escape with the lead 5-4.
This would turn out to be the Hillcats last real opportunity to tie the game as Dickerson and closer Jose Flores were able to tame the Cats bats the final two innings.
Mudcat pitchers walked a total of nine batters in the game, six of which came from Reichenbach and two from Dickerson.
“That is one thing we have to work on," Rodriguez said. "We have to attack the hitter. We have to be more aggressive pitching to contact, but then again, we have a young pitching staff and they have to just learn to go out there and not be afraid to pitch to contact.”
The Mudcats will take on the Hillcats again on Tuesday at Five County Stadium at 7:15.