MIDLAND, Mich. - Great Lakes Loons reliever Victor Araujo finished what Greg Harris started Sunday - but not without some nervous ninth-inning moments.
The normally lights-out Araujo gave up a run on three consecutive hits to start the ninth, but then retired the next three batters as the Loons defeated the Lansing Lugnuts 3-2 at Dow Diamond. The win halted a three-game losing streak for Great Lakes, which is now 5-5 in the Midwest League's second-half.
"He's bound to give up a run once in awhile … no one can just keep doing what he's done," said Loons manager Bill Haselman. "What I liked is how he acted with two outs. He wanted the ball. You could just see it in his eyes that it was his game and he wanted to finish it off."
Araujo came into the game with an 0.84 earned run average, while right-handed batters were hitting a microscopic .073 against him. But the Lugnuts Matt Dean and Mitch Nay - both righties - singled off of him in the ninth after left-handed hitter D.J. Davis singled to lead off.
Nay's hit drove in Davis, but from there it was all about Araujo and the Loons defense. Derrick Loveless bunted with no out and runners on first and second, but Loons catcher Jose Capellan made a gutsy throw to third to nail the lead runner. Araujo then fanned Dave Harris and, finally, got Daniel Klein on a ground out to second baseman Jesmuel Valentin.
That preserved the sixth win of the season for Harris, who pitched five shutout innings while allowing only two hits and striking out five. Harris threw 77 pitches.
"They're being really careful about my innings because I didn't throw a lot of innings in rookie ball last year," Harris said. "That's no big deal. And I feel really good right now."
Harris (6-5) has allowed just one earned run in his last 15 innings pitched.
"We wanted to get him to use his curveball more early in games," said Loons pitching coach Bill Simas. "It gives him three pitches that (batters) have to be prepared for, and he's throwing it consistently for strikes."
Valentin continued his hot hitting, meanwhile, and he kick-started the Loons offense by hitting a leadoff home run to deep leftfield in the bottom of the first inning. Valentin also singled in the third inning, giving him eight hits in the last three games.
The scored remained 1-0 until the Loons scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh off of Lugnuts reliever Adaric Kelly. Joey Curletta and Jacob Scavuzzo walked to start the inning, and then Malcolm Holland chopped a single through the left side of the Lugnuts' infield defense as it put on the "wheel" play to protect against a bunt. That scored one run while Jose Capellan's sacrifice fly to left made it 3-0.
Lansing got on the board for the first time in the eighth when David Harris doubled to deep left off of Loons reliever Victor Arano, then scored on Dickie Joe Thon's triple.
Starter Shane Dawson (2-4) pitched five solid innings for Lansing but took the loss. Lansing manager John Tamargo Jr. was ejected in the eighth inning after arguing with home plate umpire Nathan Caldwell.
The teams conclude their series tomorrow night on Social Media Monday at Dow Diamond. The Loons starting pitcher will be right-hander Jonathan Martinez, who has been one of his team's most effective starters all season. Martinez is 6-5 with a 3.32 ERA and leads the Loons in strikeouts (70) while he's walked only 14 batters in 84 innings. He also ranks among the Midwest League's Top 10 in WHIP (1.13).
Opposing Martinez will be Lansing knuckleballer Frank Viola III, who at age 29 is easily the older player in the Midwest League. The son of former major leaguer Frank Viola, Viola III is trying to resurrect his playing career with a new pitch after undergoing arm surgery several years ago. He's 2-1 with a 3.54 ERA with the Lugnuts in four starts.
The Great Lakes Loons are an eighth-year Single-A partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. For tickets and more information, call 989-837-BALL or visit loons.com.