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Darnell goes the distance in four-hitter06/20/2013 12:49 PM ET
By John Parker / MLB.com
Statheads call it a "Maddux."
The definition? A starting pitcher must pitch the entire game, the game must go at least nine innings, and the pitcher must allow no runs while throwing no more than 99 pitches.
Greg Maddux, of course, did it 13 times in his legendary Major League career. New Britain's Logan Darnell earned his first on Thursday afternoon, tossing a four-hit shutout as the Rock Cats beat the host Erie SeaWolves, 2-0. He threw exactly 99 pitches.
Darnell has been a workhorse for the New Britain Rock Cats all season -- his 96 2/3 innings lead the Eastern League and rank third in the Minors. He had twice gone eight frames this year, but never before had the opportunity to finish a game.
"It's great to get a shutout, but I really have to credit the defense behind me," Darnell said. "I'm a ground ball pitcher, so having guys make big plays in the field is important for me."
The Rock Cats defense did turn a key double play to end the fifth inning, but Darnell also struck out nine batters -- the most since he fanned 10 as a member of the Elizabethton Twins on Aug. 22, 2010 -- and is tied for third in the league with 77 strikeouts. He walked one.
The 24-year-old left-hander's second full season with New Britain has been much more successful than his 2012 campaign. Darnell improved to 6-6 with Thursday's win and lowered his ERA to 2.61 -- fourth-best in the Eastern League. Last year he was 11-12 with a 5.08 mark.
"Now that it's my second go-around [in the Eastern League], I'm definitely more comfortable and know what to expect," he said. "I have more trust in my changeup -- last year I might throw five in a game, while this year I might throw 15, which helps keep hitters off balance. But I also learned a lot just from struggling last year. I know not to let things bother me too much now."
Darnell's composure was tested early on, as he hit two batters in the first inning. (Erie starter Drew VerHagen, who was making his Double-A debut, later plunked the first two Rock Cats hitters of the seventh inning, but it was clearly not retaliatory.) After catcher Kyle Knudson threw out Eugenio Suarez trying to steal second, Darnell got Erie backstop James McCann to ground out.
"In the first three or four innings, I was mainly throwing fastballs down," the Tennessee native said. "[The Erie hitters] were being really aggressive and the guys made some great plays on defense."
First baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez got New Britain on the board with a leadoff homer, his ninth of the season, in the second.
Darnell faced his biggest jam in the fifth inning. Erie first baseman James Robbins led off with a single, then Luis Castillo reached on a bunt single that was compounded by a Darnell throwing error, allowing Robbins to reach third. After Jamie Johnson popped out to second, Suarez bounced into a 6-4-3 double play -- the 15th turned behind Darnell this season -- to end the threat.
"Later in the game, I started to get a really good feel for my slider and curve -- basically throwing the slider as hard as I could and moving the curve inside and out -- which helped keep them off balance," Darnell said.
Darnell cruised the rest of the way, allowing a two-out single to McCann in the sixth before retiring the final 10 SeaWolves in order. Suarez was ejected by home plate umpire Chris Tipton for arguing his called third strike in the eighth inning.
"It was a slider -- might have been a little up, might have been a little in, but it was pretty close," Darnell said diplomatically.
New Britain got its second run in the seventh when Danny Santana's sacrifice fly plated Curt Smith, whom VerHagen had hit to open the frame.
Despite taking the loss, the 22-year-old VerHagen was solid in his first Eastern League outing. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was charged with two runs -- one earned -- on four hits and two walks over six innings. He struck out eight. A fourth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2012, VerHagen was 5-3 with a 2.81 ERA for Class A Advanced Lakeland before the Tigers promoted him to Erie.