After 32 appearances out of the bullpen during the regular season, Jamie Walczak didn't get his first start until his fifth game in the Arizona Fall League. But he made a seamless transition to the new role, particularly in Thursday's gem.
The right-handed Reds prospect fired five hitless innings for Glendale, but it took a leadoff double by Colin Moran and a walk-off single off the bat of Travis Mattair in the 11th inning to give the home team a 5-4 victory over Mesa.
Walczak retired the first seven Solar Sox batters he faced before walking Max Muncy (A's) in the third inning -- the only flaw on his pitching line. He set down eight in a row after the free pass, exiting with 53 pitches (35 for strikes).
It was the third straight scoreless start and sixth scoreless outing overall for the 26-year-old, who lowered his AFL ERA to 2.51. He hasn't been charged with a run since giving up four in his Fall League debut Oct. 9. Over his 14 1/3 frames, he's surrendered seven hits and seven walks while striking out 15.
The 6-foot-2 hurler owned a 2.95 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 42 2/3 relief innings between Class A Advanced Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola this season. He missed the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for an amphetamine in the offseason.
"Jamie has been a stud all year," said fellow Cincinnati farmhand Mattair. "It's really fun fielding behind him. He's a strike thrower and has a quick tempo. His changeup is one of the nastiest changeups I've seen. He's been working on that a lot down here and throughout the season. I'm so excited to see him succeed."
Glendale jumped out to a 2-0 lead when Yorman Rodriguez (Reds) plated Danny Black (Marlins) with an RBI single before crossing the plate himself on a throwing error by catcher Bruce Maxwell (A's). White Sox prospect Jared Mitchell doubled the advantage with a two-run double in the seventh.
While the Desert Dogs offense were putting up runs, the bullpen continued to run up zeros as Craig Stem (Dodgers) and Edgar Olmos (Marlins) tossed perfect six and seventh frames respectively to keep the no-hitter intact.
But in the eighth, Colby Suggs (Marlins) walked two batters and then gave up a two-run triple to Muncy. The right-handed reliever was eventually charged with four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning after Albert Almora (Cubs) drove in Muncy with a single. Almora then scored on a single by Devon Travis (Tigers) off Drew Hayes (Reds) later in the eighth.
The score remained tied, 4-4, until the 11th when Moran, the sixth overall pick by the Marlins last June, smacked a double on the first pitch he saw from Mesa reliever Matt Loosen (Cubs). Moran advanced to third on a wild pitch and then scored the winning run on Mattair's single to right.
"The whole game I kept pulling off balls," said Mattair, who was 0-for-4 before the big base hit. "I grounded out and popped up pulling off. So before I went up to the plate, I told myself, 'I'm going to stay to right-center field.' I think he was trying to get ahead with a curveball and I put a good swing on it."
Between Mattair's heroics, Walczak's impressive start and Rodriguez's contributions, it was a day to remember for those Desert Dogs in the Cincinnati system.
"That's awesome," Mattair said. "You get to know these guys so well and they become your friends and you want to see your friends succeed. They're all pitching so well. [Tucker Barnhart's] catching great and Yorman's playing well. It's a lot of fun seeing your friends succeed. I'm so excited and proud of them."