Zebulon, NC - Wilmington ambushed Carolina with eight first-inning runs and Sean Manaea tossed seven sterling frames in his best outing of the year, as the Blue Rocks defeated the Mudcats, 9-2, in blowout fashion on Tuesday night at Five County Stadium. With the win, Wilmington moves to 16-15 in the second half and 49-50 overall.
Jack Lopez led off the game for the Blue Rocks with a ground-rule double to right field. Raul Mondesi followed with a sacrifice bunt, moving Lopez to third. Bubba Starling then delivered an RBI single to put the Rocks ahead, 1-0. After a Zane Evans walk, Jared Schlehuber ripped a three-run blast, extending Wilmington's lead to 4-0.
With two outs in the first inning, Wilmington continued to score runs in bunches. Cam Gallagher singled and Cody Stubbs walked to bring Daniel Rockett to the plate. Rockett proceeded to launch a homer to left on an 0-1 pitch, making the score 7-0 Rocks. After giving up seven first-frame tallies, Carolina starter Adam Plutko was removed for reliever Connor Cook. Lopez greeted Cook with a single, his second base knock of the frame. Mondesi then tripled him home, putting Wilmington ahead, 8-0, after one.
The Blue Rocks' eight first-inning runs were all Manaea needed as the southpaw held Carolina to just one run over seven outstanding innings of work. Manaea yielded just three hits and three walks while fanning six.
An RBI single by Gallagher in the fourth inning gave Wilmington a 9-0 lead. Evans drew a one-out walk and went to second on a single to right-center by Schlehuber. Gallagher's single to center plated Evans.
Carolina scored single runs in the fifth and eighth innings for its only two tallies of the night. Jeremy Lucas led off the fifth with a double to center off of Manaea. He advanced to third on a groundout by Jerrud Sabourin and scored on an RBI single from James Roberts. In the eighth inning, Roberts reached on an error by Schlehuber, the first baseman. A double from Todd Hankins sent him to third and a single by Yhoxian Medina sent him plateward.
Manaea (3-7, 4.19) earned the win for Wilmington, while Plutko (2-5, 4.94) suffered the loss for Carolina.
The Rocks return to action Wednesday night for the second of three games against the Carolina Mudcats. Right-hander Glenn Sparkman (6-2, 1.43) will take the mound for Wilmington while Carolina will counter with fellow righty (Cole Sulser (3-9, 5.05). First pitch is slated for 7:00 p.m. and fans can listen to the broadcast on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
Wilmington heads back to Frawley Stadium on Friday for the first of three games against the Winston-Salem Dash. For tickets, call 302-888-BLUE.
PEBBLES OF KNOWLEDGE:
Sean Manaea turned in his most dominant performance on the mound this season on Tuesday with seven sterling frames. The outing was his longest of the campaign and snapped a personal five-decision losing streak. Manaea allowed just one run on three hits and three walks while striking out six. He has now been able to get past the fourth inning in 11 of his 18 starts after some early-season rough patches. Tuesday's outing was also the second time in 2014 that Manaea has recorded at least one out past the sixth inning. Previously, the deepest Manaea had pitched into a game was 6.1 innings, on June 26 against the Lynchburg Hillcats. In that contest, he took the lost while giving up three runs on four hits. On the year, Manaea is 3-7 with a 4.19 ERA in 18 starts. He has punched out 97, walked 42 and given up 73 hits in 77.1 innings pitched. Manaea's ERA is now lower than it has been at any point since April 14, when it sat at 3.24 following his second start of the year. His 97 strikeouts rank third in the Carolina League.
First-inning homers by Jared Schlehuber and Daniel Rocket on Tuesday gave Wilmington 45 long balls on the campaign. The Rocks have flashed significantly more power in the second half. They only had 19 homers at the All-Star Break, eight of which were hit at Frawley Stadium. In the second half, the Blue Crew has hit 26 homers, with 11 coming at Frawley. Cody Stubbs leads the team with eight dingers, while Bubba Starling is close behind with seven. The Rocks' 45 homers are still second-to-last in the eight-team loop, ahead of only the Hillcats.
Jack Lopez extended his hitting streak to personal season-best seven games with two more hits on Tuesday. Lopez went 2-for-5 with a double and two runs. Both of those tallies came in the first inning. The 5-foot-9 middle infielder now has three consecutive two-hit games and 18 multi-hit contests this year. After batting .219 in April and .257 in May, Lopez hit .192 in June. He is batting .200 in July, but during his present seven-game hitting streak, Lopez is batting .333 (10-for-30) with three doubles, an RBI, a walk and two stolen bases. Overall, the right-handed hitting Lopez has a .222 batting average and has scored 28 runs in 86 games played. He also has 17 doubles, one homer, 18 RBIs and 21 walks.
Wilmington has played well against the Carolina Mudcats in 2014. After Tuesday night's 9-2 victory, the Rocks own a 13-5 record against Carolina. They are 7-3 at Frawley Stadium and 6-2 at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, North Carolina. In their 18 matchups this season, the Rocks are outscoring the Mudcats, 82-47. Collectively, the Blue Rocks are batting .250 against the Mudcats while Carolina is hitting .235 against Wilmington. The Rocks own a better head-to-head ERA, with the Blue Crew sporting a 2.47 ERA compared with the Mudcats' 4.12 ERA. Blue Rocks pitching has struck out 149 Mudcats while Carolina pitching has punched out 135 Blue Crew hitters. Three of Wilmington's league-best 11 shutouts have come against the Mudcats. The Rocks' current series against the Mudcats in Zebulon, North Carolina, is the final regular season meeting between the two clubs.
THEY SAID IT:
Manager Darryl Kennedy:
"When we started the season, I knew we had guys that could hit home runs. It was just a matter of getting used to the league, understanding how guys are going to pitch you and looking for the pitch you can drive out instead of just getting up there and swinging. In the first half, we did a lot of swinging with really no plan. I think the guys have a better plan now when they go up the plate and then they're looking for the pitch they can drive out of the park."
"You've got to be able to win the one-run games, which we haven't done that well, especially in the first half. I think in the second half we've done a little bit better in the one-run games. It is nice to get these games that you can sit back and breathe a little bit on the bench and the guys can relax as well. [Sean] Manaea went out there and got the eight runs and he went right after them. He threw his best professional game, as well, throwing seven strong innings."
"That was the biggest thing, [Sean Manaea] would get a little wild, he would walk a guy. [Instead of turning] into two walks and three walks and now bases loaded and then they get a base it, tonight he was able to walk the one guy and then turn around and come back and get in the strike zone and get the ground ball and the double play and the flyouts. That was his biggest key tonight, was being able to stop it, right the ship and go back to work."
"It's funny. [Carolina's] manager Scooter [Tucker] and I were talking before the game during BP. He said 'you guys own us,' and I'm like, 'yeah but we can't beat Lynchburg, you guys own Lynchburg. It's just a crazy game. That's the way it is. Usually you have two or three teams in the league that, no matter what you do, you don't play well against. And then you have a couple of teams that, no matter what you do, everything goes right for you. That's just baseball. That's the thing with an eight-team league. You just run into those matchups. Fortunately, for us, we've been able to play some really good baseball against Carolina."
First Baseman Jared Schlehuber:
"It has been good. We've been really playing good baseball all around. We're pitching well, playing good defense and swinging the bats. I was there for the [back-to-back] no-hitters [against Lynchburg]. That was a tough stretch but it's baseball. Just have to keep coming out, keep having good at-bats. It definitely feels good to swing the bats the way we did this evening."
"I think it's nice, we have probably three, four, five, guys who can hit in the middle of the lineup anywhere. It's definitely got to make it tough on opposing pitchers to face good, quality hitters, one through nine."
"There are five or six guys I feel who can hit in the middle of the lineup there. It's fun hitting behind those guys and [also] fun hitting in front of them whenever I'm in the lineup."
"This is one of the more talented teams I've been on. Yesterday, we won the game with pitching and defense. Today, we came out and swung the bats well. [Sean] Manaea also threw the ball well tonight. It's been fun.