COMSTOCK PARK, MI - The West Michigan Whitecaps plated four runs with two-out in the bottom of the fifth inning on Saturday night, taking the lead for good on their way to a series-opening 7-4 win over the Quad Cities River Bandits at Fifth Third Ballpark.
West Michigan (13-14) improved to 3-1 in a homestand featuring visits from the top two teams in the Midwest League's Western Division. As interdivisional play continues, the 'Caps have already claimed a series victory over first-place Cedar Rapids and will look to clinch another against second-place Quad Cities (16-11) on Sunday afternoon.
In front of 6,804 avid fans, the Whitecaps survived a back-and-forth start to the game before the bullpen shut Quad Cities down.
Danry Vasquez went 3-for-4 with three runs scored while Devon Travis went 2-for-3 and reached base in his first three plate appearances.
Facing hard-throwing Houston Astros' prospect Vincent Velasquez, the first four Whitecaps' batters reached base safely in the bottom of the first. After Travis singled home Vasquez to put West Michigan in front, a run-scoring groundout by Lance Durham made it 2-0.
Quad Cities countered with three runs in the top of the third - highlighted by a two-run double from Jesse Wierzbicki - before Vasquez singled and scored again in the bottom of the inning to tie the game at 3-3. The River Bandits then got doubles from Jobduan Morales and Joe Sclafani in the fourth to recapture a 4-3 advantage.
In the fifth inning, the Whitecaps seized an opportunity when Quad Cities brought in reliever Cameron Lamb to bridge the gap between their two scheduled piggyback starters, Velasquez and Joe Bircher. While Velasquez showed impressive stuff - hitting the high-90s with his fastball while also showing command of a high-80s changeup and a low-80s breaking ball - the 'Caps were able to drive up his pitch count and chase him from the game after the fourth inning.
Before Quad Cities could get to Bircher, West Michigan jumped all over Lamb in the fifth. With the bases loaded and two outs, Jake Stewart reached base on an infield single that forced the shortstop, Sclafani, to range to his right and rush a throw to second. The throw was low and skipped into right field as two runs scored to put the 'Caps ahead, 5-4. One batter later, Zach Kirksey drilled a two-run triple to right field to complete the four-run outburst and stretch the lead to 7-4.
Thanks to the bullpen, that proved to be the decisive margin.
Chad Smith, Angel Nesbitt and Jose Valdez combined to allow just one hit over four shutout frames the rest of the way. Valdez (5) worked a hitless ninth inning for the save, maintaining his spotless 0.00 ERA and 5-for-5 save conversion rate.
Yorfrank Lopez (3-1) was awarded the win, leaving the mound trailing in the top of the fifth but benefitting from the Whitecaps' timely rally in the bottom of the inning. Lopez was charged with four runs on seven hits over five innings.
Lamb (1-1) took the loss after allowing four runs on three hits in just two-thirds of an inning.
The Whitecaps continue a six-game homestand on Sunday afternoon with a 1:00 p.m. first pitch against the Quad Cities River Bandits at Fifth Third Ballpark. RHP Montreal Robertson (1-3, 5.96) will take the hill for West Michigan against RHP Lance McCullers (0-3, 2.08) of the River Bandits. In addition to a Helen DeVos Children's Hospital Family Day, there will also be a pre-game sombrero giveaway to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Group and individual tickets can be reserved by calling the Whitecaps front office at 616-784-4131 or visiting www.whitecapsbaseball.com.
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