Wilmington, DE - The Wilmington Blue Rocks (35-31) broke out the bats and erupted for a 9-0 victory over the Lynchburg Hillcats (38-27) on Wednesday night at Calvin Falwell Field. Anderson Miller went a perfect 4-4, and Chris DeVito paced the offense with two doubles and a home run while driving in four runs. D.J. Burt broke an 0-for-19 streak by tallying three hits, including his fourth triple of the season.
The Blue Rocks jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs in the third inning all with two-outs. After Wander Franco doubled to lead off the inning, D.J. Burt scored him on a triple to left field to make it 1-0. Anderson Miller laced a double to score Burt, and Chris DeVito launched an opposite field home run to round out the scoring 4-0. After Chase Vallot's sacrifice fly in the sixth made it 5-0, the Rocks put another four spot on the board with two-outs in the seventh, highlighted by run-scoring hits from Miller, DeVito, and Vallot to pad the lead 9-0.
Wilmington starter A.J. Puckett (6-5) picked up the win in a dazzling performance, holding the Hillcats to two hits while striking out a season and career high nine batters in six and one third innings pitched. Walker Sheller made his second Blue Rocks appearance, pitching an inning and two-thirds of no hit baseball. Franco Terrero tossed the ninth inning to keep the shutout.
The Blue Rocks head back home to Wilmington to face the Salem Red Sox for the final series of the first half. First pitch is slated for 6:35 p.m. as the southpaw Cristian Castillo (3-3, 3.16 ERA) gets the ball for the Blue Rocks against Salem's righty Roniel Raudes (2-2, 4.60 ERA). Fans can listen to the game as Matt Janus and Cory Nidoh will have the call on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
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Over the Blue Rocks' first 26 games of the season the Blue Crew had hit just 11 home runs, the second-fewest in the Carolina League. But over the last 40 games Wilmington has blasted 32 more long balls. Chase Vallot has led the way, hitting six homers during Wilmington's power surge, including the Rocks' only two grand slams of the season. Anderson Miller has clubbed five of the homers over this stretch. Miller has seven on the season after hitting just three during the entire second half with Wilmington last year. Chris DeVito tallied his fourth on Wednesday night, while Roman Collins and Brandon Downes have three homers each. Cody Jones and Nicky Lopez have also clobbered two during the month-plus power surge.
Wednesday night's victory saw several players dust away the cobwebs on their bats. With his three hit performance, D.J. Burt broke out of an 0-for-19 slump in a big way. The second baseman saw his batting average drop 20 points to .202, the lowest since May 21, when he broke the Mendoza line threshold at .200. Burt also hit his fourth triple on the season on Wednesday, tied for second on the team. Chris DeVito broke out of a 2-for-24 rough patch after going 3-for-4 with two doubles and a home run. DeVito also drove in four runs for the fourth time this year, a feat no other Blue Rock has come close to.
A.J. Puckett has had quite a season in his first year of Class-A Advanced ball. The Royal's fifth ranked prospect per Baseball America picked up his sixth win on Wednesday night, striking out a season and career high nine batters. His previous high was eight strikeouts, a feat which he has recorded twice this season, the last time occurring two starts ago on June 3. The righthander has been dominate on the road, recording five of his six wins away from Frawley Stadium.
Wednesday's 9-0 victory marked the second time the Rocks shutout the Hillcats this year, and was the seventh shutout of the season. It was the second time the Blue Rocks have shutout a team with A.J. Puckett as the starter. Franco Terrero, who closed out the ninth on Wednesday night, has been a part of three shutouts this year, tying Richard Lovelady for most shutout appearances. The Rocks have shutout five different teams, including every Northern Division opponent with the exception of the Salem Red Sox, who the Rocks will face in a four-game series to round out the first half starting on Thursday.
THEY SAID IT: A.J. Puckett
"I was just trying to go after and attack the hitters. In the first inning, I think I was trying to do much with the pitches instead of going right after them. I got back to it a little bit in the first inning and then they started fouling off a lot of pitches. They put a couple in play, started taking a couple more pitches, trying to do too much of my fastball, too much of my off-speed. It was moving a little too much instead of attacking the hitters, I think that's why they were taking more pitches. The walk happened and then the base hit but after that, I went on the mound and said, whatever Chase Vallot calls I'm going to try to go out there and attack the zone.
"When you have all three pitches going, it's kind of fun. You go out there and feel comfortable on the mound and you want to do whatever you can to go deep into ball games and help the guys out.
"At the end of the day, you can't really worry about (being a factor in the playoff race). You just have to go out there and do whatever you can as a ball player. Just focus on the game at hand. Just have to take it one game at a time, focus on that game, focus on that pitcher, offense swing the bats and pitchers put up zeroes.
"(First experience on Advanced-A ball) was fun. Lots to work on. It wasn't the best first half as maybe I would have liked but I wanted to keep working. I'm anxious to get out there and start again, hopefully soon. We will what happens after the first half and the All-Star break. We have a lot of All-Stars going out there and I hope they do well. I will be routing for them and should be fun to get after it in the second half.
"(On areas of improvement in the second half) You know, I walked a lot of guys in the first half which isn't part of my game. I was working on a lot of stuff in the first half and it's nice to finish this first half with that outing. It's about going out in the second half and attacking the zone, lessen down the walks. When you are walking guys, the defense gets on their heels and they don't make the best plays for you. You want to do everything you can to force contact and let the defense work for you.
"(On carrying his momentum from this start to the second half) Even though it's a longer period of rest, there are more days to work. Even though you are not on the mound every fifth day with this All-Star break coming up, it gives me more chance to work on my side work and play catch play and go from there."
Anderson Miller, Center Fielder
"Jamie Quirk brought us together before the game, batting practice got rained out today, and he said we may not have a chance to get into the playoffs now but we do have a chance to play spoiler. I know Lynchburg and Salem are neck and neck and those are the two teams we finish up with. Today, he said we can kind of get something out of these games and not just shut it down and crush till the All-Star break. The come out and jump on them the way we did today is a statement win, and it speaks to the identity of this team and how we fought the whole first half.
"I started out slow, April is a tough month. I never lost faith in myself and I showed up every day with Coach Abraham Nunez and every day we worked. We have worked on opening up the whole field and it started in Down East. We worked on really hitting the ball to left-center field and committed to left-center. You command the outer third of the plate and the rest of the field opens up instead of trying to start on the pull side and working the other way. It has been a process and we have come up and worked every day in the cage before the game. Really, that's where I think the most growth has come, in the cage and during batting practice having a consistent focus and coming out every day with a game plan.
"It's an honor to be recognized (as an All-Star) along with Nicky Lopez, Richard Lovelady, Yunior Marte, Cristian Castillo, and Foster Griffin who is not here with us anymore. To be in that group and have the most guys of any team in our league in the All-Star game is a huge honor. I'm looking forward to it, have fun with it, and take it all in. My parents are going to come, that will be awesome. My dad is going to take off work and my mom and dad will make a trip down to Salem. My agent is going to come into town and I'm really looking forward to it.
25 Years of Blue Rocks Baseball
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