Midland, MI - For the second consecutive night, the Clinton LumberKings (10-16, 40-54) found their stroke offensively, received another six shutout innings from a rotation member, and continued trending in the right direction with their third straight win and second in a row by a 5-0 margin. Meanwhile, the Great Lakes Loons (11-15, 45-51) saw their losing streak extend to six games, thanks to a slow start and an inept offense that only recorded four hits for the second straight game at Dow Diamond.
Edwin Diaz, making his first start since July 5th, an outing the right-hander exited in the sixth due to a blister on his right middle finger, was flat-out dominant. The Puerto Rican, like starter Blake Holovach Wednesday night, received early run support and never looked back.
Clinton struck for a run in the first after Aaron Barbosa and Jack Reinheimer reached. Barbosa led off with a double, went to third on Reinheimer's single to right, and came home on Chantz Mack's 5-4-3 double play.
One run was all Diaz (3-5), Paul Fry, and Seon Gi Kim would need.
Diaz allowed an infield single with one out in the first, but following the slow dribbler to short, the 20-year-old phenom sat down the next 12 batters, seven on strikeouts.
With Diaz dialed in, the offense built on their one-run advantage with a run in the third and two more in the fourth, all charged to Loons right-hander Victor Arano (4-4). Back-to-back two-out hits by Mack and Marcus Littlewood gave Clinton a 2-0 lead and solo shots by Jeff Zimmerman and Luis Caballero in the fourth pushed the L'Kings' lead to four.
Manager Scott Steinmann pulled Diaz after six innings. The youngster threw 74 pitches - 55 for strikes - and he struck out the final batter he faced, Malcolm Holland, with a 97 mile-per-hour fastball for his eighth strikeout. He allowed just three hits and did not walk a single batter - in his 17th start - for the first time in 2014.
The LumberKings tacked on an insurance run in the seventh inning without notching a single hit. Loons reliever Kyle Hooper walked four batters in his only inning of work, and a groundout by Littlewood scored Barbosa from third for Clinton's final run.
Clinton made four impressive defensive plays, the most remarkable one coming in the sixth with Diaz on the bump. Spencer Navin opened the inning with a broken-bat single to center but was out at second on a sensational 4-6-3 double play turned by Caballero and Reinheimer. Caballero, whose home run in the fourth was his first in 620 professional at-bats, dove on a sharp grounder up the middle and glove flipped to Reinheimer who turned the twin killer to nab Jesmuel Valentin at first.
The two homers hit by Clinton pushed their home run total to 57 with 38 of the long balls coming away from Ashford University Field.
The victory gave Clinton their third straight win for the first time since May 13-14 when they won three games in two days over the Burlington Bees. The win also gave the LumberKings the series, their first series win since May 31-June 2 when they took two out of three games at Beloit.
Barbosa reached base all five times, going 3-for-3 with two singles, a double, two runs scored, two walks, and three stolen bases. He was caught stealing in the third inning, the first time the speedster had been thrown out in 17 attempts. He is now 19-for-20 in 38 games with Clinton after going 10-for-15 with High Desert earlier this season.
Arano took the loss upon allowing four earned runs on a season-high 10 hits in just 3.2 innings. Jordan Hershisher, son of former Dodgers great Orel Hershisher, worked 2.1 shutout frames in relief.
The shutout was Clinton's seventh of the season and fifth consecutive by the exact same score of 5-0.
The LumberKings and Loons meet again Friday night for the series finale with first pitch set for 6:05 PM CT. Clinton will send left-hander Eddie Campbell (5-7, 6.08) to the mound against Loons right-handed ace Jonathan Martinez (7-5, 3.59). The broadcast can be heard on WCCI 100.3 FM, wcciradio.com, and lumberkings.com.