Nix shows mettle in Chihuahuas' debut

Padres No. 15 prospect sets up decisive Game 5 in PCL Finals

Jacob Nix went 5-5 with a 4.67 ERA in 17 games across two Minor League levels this season. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/El Paso Chihuahuas)

By Michael Avallone / | September 17, 2017 12:43 AM

Following his club's Game 1 win in the Pacific Coast League Finals on Wednesday, Triple-A Memphis manager Stubby Clapp spoke of the importance of jumping ahead in the series.

The 44-year-old skipper surmised that winning at least one of the first two games in his home ballpark was crucial, considering the final three contests would be played in El Paso, where the defending PCL champions would be at their toughest.

Clapp has proved prophetic as the Chihuahuas showed they're not quite ready to cede their title.

Jacob Nix allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings in his Triple-A debut and Nick Buss broke it open with a three-run homer as El Paso beat Memphis, 5-1, on Saturday at Southwest University Park. The victory evened the best-of-5 Championship Series at two games apiece and sets up a decisive fifth game on Sunday at 8:05 p.m. ET.

Video: El Paso's Nix gets through six in Triple-A debut

Nix was officially added to the Chihuahuas' roster earlier Saturday. The Padres' No. 15 prospect posted a 4.67 ERA in 17 regular-season games, including 16 starts, with Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. After allowing three runs -- two earned -- over seven innings in a Game 5 loss in the Texas League South Division finals, the right-hander scattered seven hits and a walk while striking out one in his 98-pitch outing on Saturday night.

"I was on my way to Arizona for instructs when [Padres Minor League pitching coordinator] Mark Prior called me and asked if I'd rather pitch in a real game," the California native said. "I told him, 'Sign me up.' So after going back to the hotel on Thursday, I got the call to head to El Paso."

Gameday box score

Nix (1-0) allowed a pair of runners in each of the first two innings before settling in. He allowed another baserunner in the third, then watched his offense go to work in the bottom half. Padres No. 12 prospect Franchy Cordero started things with a one-out walk and took third on Chase d'Arnaud's single to right field. Rafael Ortega opened the scoring with a single to center and Hunter Renfroe added a sacrifice fly to give the Chihuahuas a 2-0 edge. Following a single by Christian Villanueva, Buss launched a three-run blast to right-center.

Video: El Paso's Buss blasts three-run homer

"I was nervous as hell in that first inning. For me, my first innings are always when I'm most nervous," Nix said. "I get settled in as the game goes on, and that happened tonight.

"I didn't want to be the guy who was responsible for sending this team home, especially being the new face in the clubhouse. It felt great walking off the mound, and the fans here are totally awesome. It was nice and just a great game to be a part of. I can go to sleep tonight a happy guy."

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Nix allowed a run on three hits over his final 3 2/3 innings to put the Chihuahuas in position to even the series. Jason Jester and Eric Yardley yielded one hit and fanned one while recording the final seven outs to set up the winner-take-all fifth game.

"[Catcher Tony Cruz] and I talked briefly about the hitters, but for the most part, I just went with his calls," Nix said. "He has a lot of experience behind the plate and I trusted him to call good game, and he did. The defense made some stellar plays behind me and that was a huge help out there.

"I was just trying to get outs. I didn't punch out many and the one I did was [opposing pitcher Zac Gallen]. I didn't have my best stuff out there, so I wanted to just compete as hard as I could. I didn't want to let these guys down."

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Aledmys Diaz's double in the sixth provided the only run for Memphis, which has scored in two of its last 30 innings.

Gallen (0-1) was charged with five runs over five innings. The Cardinals' 13th-ranked prospect allowed seven hits and two walks, striking out six.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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