Rocks Rally Late But Can't Hold On

Wilmington Has Dropped Nine of Last Ten Away From Frawley Stadium

Wilmington's first baseman Chris DeVito delivered a game-tying RBI single in the eighth inning Wednesday night. (Brad Glazier)

By Wilmington Blue Rocks | August 9, 2017 11:44 PM ET

Kinston, NC - A wild eighth inning left the Wilmington Blue Rocks on the wrong side of a see-sawing 7-5 decision with the Down East Wood Ducks on Wednesday at Grainger Stadium. Wilmington erased a three-run deficit in the top of the penultimate frame, but Down East answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning to hand Wilmington a bitter defeat. The Blue Crew lost for the ninth time in their last 10 road affairs and fell three games below .500 in the season's second half.

The Rocks mounted their rally against the Down East bullpen in the eighth. Tyler Ferguson let four straight batters to reach to start the inning. Jonathan McCray walked, Nick Heath singled and then both runners moved to second and third base on a wild pitch. That allowed Jecksson Flores' single to left plate a pair. Brandon Downes was then hit by a pitch to move the potential tying run into scoring position. One out later, Chris DeVito plated that run on a bloop-single to right. Downes went to third on the play, but was gunned down at the plate on Nate Esposito's subsequent fly ball to right.

Down East wasted little time authoring a response against Wilmington reliever Jose Veras (1-1), as three straight batters reached to plate a pair. Josh Morgan hit a soft liner into shallow right for a lead-off single. Yanio Perez followed with a go-ahead double to the gap in left-center and then Carlos Garay added an insurance tally with an RBI single.

The Rocks had staked to an early lead by scoring twice in the opening frame. Heath got things started with a single and came home one batter later on Downes' double to the left-field corner. Downes moved to third on a wild pitch and scored courtesy of Wander Franco's sacrifice fly to right.

Down East used a couple of long innings early to touch up Wilmington starter Colin Rodgers . The Wood Ducks sent eight batters to the plate and scored three runs on five hits in the second inning. Perez plated the first score on an RBI grounder to short, while Elio Castilo and Matt Lipka added RBI-singles to put Down East on top, 3-2. The Wood Ducks sent six more men to the plate in the fourth, scoring a pair thanks to run-scoring knocks by Preston Scott and Luis La O.

Rodgers was pulled after 3.2 frames. He allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks. Righty Jacob Bodner tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief and struck out three. Southpaw Wes Benjamin tossed a gem for the Wood Ducks. The lefty allowed just the two first-frame runs in seven innings. The Kansas product fanned seven, walked none and yielded just six hits, but the bullpen could not preserve the lead.

Wilmington wraps up its three-game series at Down East on Thursday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. as right-hander Scott Blewett (5-9, 4.11) gets the ball for the Blue Rocks against Down East righty Jonathan Hernandez (1-5, 4.40). Fans can listen to the game as Matt Janus and Cory Nidoh will have the call on 89.7 WGLS-FM.

 

PEBBLES OF KNOWLEDGE:

This series has bucked the trend for the Blue Rocks at historic Grainger Stadium in Kinston, North Carolina. Wilmington went 6-1 in their first seven games against Down East, but have lost each of the last two nights to the Wood Ducks. The Rocks entered the three-game set with a five-game winning streak against the Wood Ducks and outscored Down East 46-26 entering play on Tuesday. Despite the loss, the Rocks continue to hit well against the Wood Ducks, posting a .301 batting average (102-for-339) through the first nine contests of the head-to-head matchup. Thursday's game will be Wilmington's last of the season at Grainger Stadium. The clubs will square off three more times this year, when Down East makes its first and only visit to Wilmington in 2017 during the season's penultimate series.

One night after Chris DeVito finally broke out of his extended slump, Brandon Downes did the same on Wednesday. Downes roped an RBI-double in the opening inning which gave his team an early, but short-lived lead. He was also hit by a pitch in the eighth inning. Downes entered the contest in the midst of a 2-for-31 slump that had dropped his batting average 31 points (from .282-to-.251). DeVito worked his way on base four times on Tuesday thanks to a pair of walks and two singles, which ended a 2-for-43 rough patch that included 22 strikeouts. Tuesday marked the first game without a whiff for DeVito since July 18.

Despite the loss, the Rocks fulfilled their manager's request to swing the bats better early in road games. Wilmington plated two first-frame runs on Wednesday. Entering the contest the Blue Crew had not scored a first-inning run since July 23. On the season Jamie Quirk's offense has been at its best in the opening inning. The Rocks have scored 69 first-inning runs, seven more than in any other inning in 2017. The Rocks suffered a rare loss when scoring first and dropped to 40-18 when getting the game's initial run.

Nick Heath continues to rake at the plate for the Rocks. After going hitless 15 times in his first 28 Advanced-A games and batting just .175 during that stretch, Heath has hits in eight of his last nine contests. The outfielder went 2-for-4 and scored twice on Thursday. He is 6-for-9 with three runs scored in this series and is batting .438 (14-for-32) since July 31.  

 

THEY SAID IT: JAMIE QUIRK

"It was nice to get that rally and tie it up. It looked like we were dead and we just kept coming. That part of it was good. It was good for Chris DeVito to get a big hit. He'd been lacking that and he's going to feel good about it, and maybe we can get him going. But that was obviously a heart-breaking loss."

"We had been talking about getting going early on the road as a staff before the game. We addressed with the team because it's been part of our road struggles. It was good to get those two early runs and play with a lead, but (Wes Benjamin) pitched a good game. It turns out I actually know the kid. He went to the University of Kansas and I knew his uncle pretty well. I didn't put two and two together at first."

"It's huge (To have DeVito and Brandon Downes provide power). You rely on those guys to drive in runs. You hope for the long ball. It's been a long drought for both of them and you hope to get them going. Hopefully (Wednesday's) game will do that."

"It's a little bit of everything. (On the bullpen's struggles the last two nights.) But the big thing is we need the starting pitching to step up and do something like a seven-inning stint so we don't need too many innings out of the bullpen. (Jacob) Bodner did a nice job, Jose Veras had a clean seventh inning, but they ambushed him in the eighth. We need a (better) effort by our starters to calm everything down.

"(John Brontsema) is advertised as a good hitter. I'm sure there were nerves involved (Tuesday) night. He had a rough night and came back (Wednesday) with a couple of hits and that's what we hope for from him, to help us out offensively."

 

 

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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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