Francis Ramirez and Randall Fant have been piggybacking off of each other's starts all season long in the New York-Penn League. On Thursday night, the one-two combination delivered its best knockout punch yet.
Astros prospects Ramirez, Fant and Derick Velasquez combined on a one-hit shutout, striking out 10 and walking two, as Class A Short Season Tri-City silenced Hudson Valley in a 6-0 win.
"The first thing that sticks out is that both of these guys have worked extremely hard to pitch to their strengths and to stay with those strengths in their approach, no matter what the situation is or who the batter is," Tri-City pitching coach Chris Holt said of his tandem starters. "Both of those guys tonight did a very good job of pitching to their strengths and staying in control of at-bats."
In fact, there wasn't much left uncontrolled by the ValleyCats staff. Ramirez retiring the first seven batters and faced only one over the minimum in his four hitless innings. Fant (1-2) carried the no-no bid into the seventh before surrendering a leadoff single to Hudson Valley's Casey Gillaspie. Only one more Renegade reached base the rest of the night, when Zach Marberry walked with one out in the eighth.
The contrasting styles of Tri-City's duo provided a difficult set of adjustments for Hudson Valley.
"They're two completely different types of pitchers," Holt said. "Randall's a left-hander who has a fastball-change-slider mix. Francis is more of a power fastball-splitter-cut fastball mix. Each guy really went and attacked hitters with what their strengths were."
The ValleyCats and Renegades have gotten to know each other well over the past week. After not seeing each other for the first nearly two months of the season, Thursday's Tri-City win wrapped up six straight games between the two clubs.
"When we took two of three, we threw a shutout in Game 3 over there, and we've had some pitchers' duels early on," Holt said. "Tonight, it was just more of the same, but pitch for pitch, inning for inning, we stayed on top of our game and had great rhythm and momentum behind what we were trying to do."
Ramirez, in his sixth year in professional ball, and Fant, now in his second season with Tri-City, gave way to Velasquez for the ninth. The Astros' seventh-round pick this June retired the side in order, striking out one.
"When it comes to working with guys who have some experience, guys like Francis, he's honing in on different things," Holt said. "When he does those things well, he's going to have more success. Same thing with Randall. In terms of working with the new college guys, with a guy like Velasquez, he loves that spotlight. He loves to get in the game late. Those guys, they thrive off the intensity of a close ballgame. We don't get careful. We don't get scared. We just keep attacking hitters."
The ValleyCats got on the board with two runs in the seventh and Terrell Joyce's two-run homer highlighted a four-run eighth.
"We've done it a lot this year, so for me, it was more a matter of when, not if, we were going to score," Holt said. "We know we can do that. We know when we hold the game tight, even if we do give up a couple of runs, we know we're going to have a chance to win every time out."
Hudson Valley starter Jose Alonzo didn't factor into the decision after allowing two hits and three walks while striking out four over five shutout innings. Trevor Dunlap (0-2) surrendered two runs on three hits in two innings.