Lake Elsinore, CA - A stellar pitching performance from Lake Elsinore Storm newcomer Rafael De Paula led the Eyes to a 3-1 win over the Bakersfield Blaze Saturday night at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore.
Two early runs gave the Storm a lead they would never relinquish. Mallex Smith continued to swing a hot bat, reaching via a lead-off single to start the home half of the first. Smith proceeded to steal second, and after a walk was issued to Jose Rondon the speedster stole third to put two runners in scoring position with no outs. Benji Gonzalez delivered an RBI single to plate Smith, and Gabriel Quintana lifted a fly ball to right in the next at-bat that was deep enough to score Rondon for the second run of the frame.
De Paula (W, 1-0), who joined the San Diego Padres organization as part of the Chase Headley trade less than a week ago, was superb in his California League debut. The 6'2" right-hander worked six innings of shutout baseball, striking out three in that span. The lone blemish was a third inning home run off the bat of Harold Riggins, the only hit De Paula allowed.
Leading 2-1 to start the bottom of the third, Lake Elsinore tacked on an insurance run after Gonzalez again plated Smith with an RBI single.
After four scoreless innings, the Blaze threatened in the top of the eighth. Reliever Matthew Shepherd, who worked a perfect seventh, had runners on the corners with nobody out. Skipper Jamie Quirk went to the bullpen, calling on Brandon Alger to put out the fire. Alger answered the call, striking out the first batter he faced then inducing a bang-bang double play to escape the inning unscathed. He worked a 1-2-3 ninth to close out the game and secure the victory.
Smith and Gonzalez paced the offense with two hits each, and seven of nine starters recorded a hit. Smith's two stolen bases upped his tally to 69 in 2014.
With the win, Lake Elsinore (61-44) will remain at the top of the California League South. Bakersfield (60-45) currently sits in fourth place in the California League North.
Elliot Morris (4-3, 3.86 ERA) will take the hill tomorrow as the Storm look for the series victory. Drew Cisco (4-5, 6.01 ERA) gets the ball for the Blaze. First pitch is slated for 5:05pm.