Wilmington, DE - The Wilmington Blue Rocks were eliminated from first-half contention on Tuesday in Lynchburg. The Rocks dropped the opener of their doubleheader with the Hillcats 5-2 before taking the night cap 2-1. Roman Collins was the offensive catalyst throughout the day, knocking in three of the four Wilmington runs with a solo home run in the first game and a two-run double in the second.
Lynchburg scored a wire-to-wire win in the opener. Wilmington starter Colin Rodgers (2-3) allowed a pair of runs in the opening frame on RBI doubles by Ka'ai Tom and Willi Castro. The southpaw settled in from there, posting four consecutive goose eggs until he ran out of steam in the sixth. Tom worked a lead-off walk and then came home on Sicnark Loopstock's two-run homer to dead center. One out later Willi Castro got hit by an 0-2 pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly to right from Daniel Salters.
The Rocks offense could not muster much in the opener. Collins launched a one-out solo homer to right in the second. Kort Peterson followed with a triple, but the Rocks could not get him home. Wilmington stranded four men in scoring position, scoring its only other run on a wild pitch with two outs in the final frame. Triston McKenzie (5-3) fanned six and worked around five free passes en route to the win.
The Rocks wasted no time at the start of the night cap game. With two runners on and two-outs in the first inning, Collins drove a double into left field that cleared the bases to put the Rocks up 2-0. The Hillcats cut the lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the frame off a Sicnarf Loopstok run-scoring double, but that was all the Blue Rocks staff would surrender. The All-Star combination of Yunior Marte and Richard Lovelady (W, 1-0) dominated through seven innings of work, combining to allow five hits while striking out seven batters and not yielding a walk.
Wilmington wraps up its final road series of the first half in Lynchburg on Wednesday. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. as right-hander A.J. Puckett (5-5, 4.24) gets the ball for the Blue Rocks against Lynchburg righty Shao-Ching Chiang (7-3, 2.57). 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 39 games Wilmington has blasted 31 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, Roman Collins and Brandon Downes have three homers each while Cody Jones and Nicky Lopez have also clobbered two during the month-plus power surge.
Richard Lovelady continues to dominate with another impressive outing on Tuesday night. The southpaw picked up his first win of the season after not allowing a hit or walk while striking out five batters in three and one third innings of flawless work against Lynchburg. In 28.1 innings pitched this season, the Carolina League All-Star has only allowed two walks, 18 hits, and has struck out 35 batters for a ridiculous 17.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio and a 0.71 WHIP. Lovelady has not allowed a run since May 1, raising his scoreless innings streak to 18.2 and dropping his ERA down to 1.27.
Tuesday's 2-1 win in the second game of the doubleheader marked another one run victory for the Blue Rocks. Wilmington has played in a Carolina League-high 26 one-run games so far in 2017. No other club in the ten-team loop has played in more than 21 single-score affairs. Unfortunately for Wilmington, the Rocks are just 14-15 in such contests, but have won 11 of the last 12. Wilmington has also played in seven extra innings affairs already in 2017-the second-most in the Carolina League. The Rocks are just 3-4 in those games not completed in regulation.
Tuesday's doubleheader was the fourth doubleheader this season for the Blue Rocks. In those four games, the Rocks have swept one series and split the other three. The Blue Rocks have hit .228 in those games and have scored 30 runs in those eight games. The Blue Rocks only scored four runs in Tuesday's twin bill, making it the least amount of runs the Rocks have scored during a doubleheader.
THEY SAID IT: Jamie Quirk
"I mean, (Yunior Marte and Richard Lovelady) are both All-Stars. I felt good about (the game). I was a little concerned how Marte would try and pace himself but he came out and pitched a normal game which is what we wanted. Lovelady was phenomenal, you can't say enough about what he did. You are concerned going into this game because guys are pitching out of their roles and they are going to have to pitch a little longer than normal. They proved they can do it.
"(Lovelady) has got the Carolina League's attention, the organization's attention. When we talked about him making the All-Star team, the only concern that I ever heard was will he throw strikes, and that has never been a concern all year. He has really monitored his game. He is extremely aggressive, doesn't waste pitches, and he gets guys in a defense mode and takes care of them. That's what I like the best, he's not wasting pitches out there.
"(On Roman Collins difference between last year and this year) He's more aggressive. (Hitting coach) Abraham Nunez has been talking to him when he gets offensive counts. He is a big, strong kid and we want him to use that when he gets in hitter's counts, be ready to do some damage. This home run just happened to be down the left field line, but still it was a more aggressive swing and that's what he has done pretty much all year. Last year he was a little more passive in his approach, this year he is definitely more aggressive.
"(On how to approach rest of the first half after elimination on Tuesday) Compete. Don't worry about whatever the standings say. If we can't win it, we can't win it. We will have a "z" by our name when the time comes. It is about showing up every day and competing and playing. If time runs out on you in the schedule, it runs out. There is no reason not to give your best effort and come out and play every single day. Somebody is always watching you, that's what I tell them. Somebody is watching you play so make sure you're giving your best effort every day."
25 Years of Blue Rocks Baseball
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