Puckett, Rocks Persevere in Pitching Duel

Fifth-Best Prospect for Royals Tosses Seven Shutout Innings

Wilmington's starting pitcher A.J. Puckett tossed seven shutout innings in 1-0 win over Winston-Salem Thursday night at Frawley Stadium. (Brad Glazier)

By Cory Nidoh / Wilmington Blue Rocks | April 20, 2017 10:40 PM ET

Wilmington, DE -  It was a pitching duel at Frawley Stadium on Thursday night with the Wilmington Blue Rocks (6-8) holding on to a 1-0 win over the Winston-Salem Dash (4-11) in the opening game of the series. A.J. Puckett earned his second win of the season after seven dominant innings of shutout baseball. It was the longest start of his young career and he set a career-high with eight punch outs. With the win, it snapped the Blue Rocks three-game losing streak.

The Rocks struck first in the opening inning. Nicky Lopez laced a single to centerfield to start the inning, advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt to first base and advanced to third on a groundout. Elier Hernandez roped a single up the middle to score Lopez and gave the Blue Crew a 1-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish. 

Puckett turned in the best start of his career as he became the first Wilmington pitcher to last seven innings. The righty twirled seven scoreless innings, allowed just three hits, walked a batter and struck out eight. Winston-Salem's starter Aron McRee did his best to match Puckett's performance. The right-handed hurler was the tough-luck loser as he worked six innings, allowed an unearned run, a walk and struck out six batters.

The Blue Rocks had a pair of opportunities to add an insurance run in the seventh and eighth innings with a man on second, but were unable to capitalize on the opportunities. In the ninth, Winston-Salem threatened with the tying-run at first base and one out. However, Lopez started a spectacular double play to end the game. On a ground ball up the middle, off the bat of Landon Lassiter, Lopez dove head-first behind second base, flipped the ball to D.J. Burt at second, who threw a strike to first to end the game with an exclamation point. RHP Jacob Bodner earned his first save of the season and tossed two scoreless innings and struck out a pair.

Wilmington takes on Winston-Salem in the second game of the series on Friday, April 21. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. and it is Fireworks Friday. LHP Cristian Castillo (0-0, 2.70 ERA) gets the start for the Blue Rocks while the Dash counter with LHP Tanner Banks (2-0, 1.35 ERA). Fans can listen to the game as Matt Janus and Cory Nidoh will have the call on 89.7 WGLS-FM.

Pebbles of Knowledge

With Puckett's splendid performance, he became the first Wilmington starting pitcher to complete seven innings of work this year. In his previous two starts, Puckett lasted five innings and he never went more than six innings in his career. On the season, Puckett is 2-1 with a dazzling 1.59 ERA in 17 innings of work. He has struck out 18 batters in that frame of work and has walked eight men. Opposing hitters are batting just .200 against the right-hander.

With the one-run victory, it marked the 10th game in the first 14 for the Rocks to be decided by a single tally. They are 4-6 in those contests, with their last one-run win coming on April 16, when the Rocks won 5-4 at Potomac in 11 innings.

The on-base streaks of Roman Collins and D.J. Burt came to an end as both failed to reach base in the win. The two reached base through the first 13 games of the season, which was the fourth-longest active on-base streak entering the game. During the streaks, Collins hit .302 with a home run and six RBI while Burt hit .200 with an RBI but did draw 13 walks in that stretch.  Anderson Miller , who had the night off, now owns the longest-active on-base streak at six games.

With the win, the Rocks snapped their three-game losing streak which was the second of the season for the Rocks. There first three-game was back on April 8-10 when they lost the last two games of a series to Potomac and the opening game of a set with Carolina. After that losing streak, the Rocks went 3-2 in their next five games.

They Said It: Jamie Quirk

"Puckett was outstanding. He kept throwing zeroes up there. As you know, I'm a big believer in starting pitchers being the key to every game. He did a great job. It was stressful every inning with a 1-0 game. Luckily, we scored in the first inning and it looked like we were going to be rolling. Their guy settled in and he was nasty. That first run held up and it was situational baseball. Lopez gets on, (D.J.) Burt moves him over and Hernandez drives him in. (Jacob) Bodner was great for two innings. He got a huge pickoff in the ninth inning to give us back the momentum and you're not going to see a better double to end the game. That was as good as it gets right there. It was a big league play."

"We have played a lot of one-run games so we are battle tested in that part of it. It was stressful though. We get in at 4:30 in the morning, they show up and get ready to go after two tough road losses in walk-offs. It's fun to watch, it's fun to see them compete and do well. Games that are 1-0 are fun. Every pitch counts, every fielding play counts and we were the better team tonight."

"He (Puckett) had everything. Fastball command was good, his curveball was great and he has a nice changeup. He kept attacking and was in total command. He could have gone longer and it was discussed, but it was the first time he pitched into the seventh inning. Now he's graduated past that and if it happens again, he can go longer. Every pitch in a one-run game like that is stressful and he did his job. It was time for the bullpen to take over and they did it."

A.J. Puckett

"Just went out there and attacked the zone. That was the plan and worked with my fastball and work off of that. I felt pretty good in the bullpen and warming up. I think the main thing today was to have the mentality to attack the hitters and get outs."

"I just tried to focus on my game and not the other guy. If you try to compete against the other pitcher, you get out of place. The greatest enemy is yourself when you get out of your own element. I was just trying to work with (Nate) Esposito and the guys played great defense. It was a hell of a play to end the game with Nicky Lopez and D.J. Burt making that play. Their pitcher was really good as well tonight and we just swung the bats well at the right time."

"It was nice to go seven innings. I wish I could of went longer but we talked with our pitching coach Charlie Corbell and Jamie (Quirk). I wanted to go back out there but it was a pretty good reason why I didn't go out there. I didn't go more than five innings in my last two starts. It was a good building block to go seven innings and I can build off that. I have a lot of faith in our bullpen and I knew when (Jacob) Bodner came out I knew he was going to get the save and we were going to win the ballgame." ­­

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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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