The Aviators saw their three-game overall and six-game home winning streaks snapped in Sunday’s 3-2 loss against the El Paso Chihuahuas for one specific reason: Their scorching-hot offense suddenly turned cold in the most crucial moments, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and leaving 10 runners on base.
Determined to make sure Monday’s clutch-hitting struggles didn’t mushroom into a multi-game slump, Vimael Machín arrived at Las Vegas Ballpark on Monday and took matters into his own hands — literally. The third baseman capped a six-run first inning with a grand slam, then belted a solo homer in his next at-bat to lift the Aviators to a 7-4 victory over El Paso before a crowd of 7,007.
Las Vegas (33-32) has now won nine of 13 games since July 4, including four of the first five in this six-game series against the Chihuahuas (26-37).
While Machín was muscling up at the plate, starting pitcher Jesús Luzardo was dealing on the mound. The hard-throwing lefty, who had surrendered seven runs in two of his previous three outings and entered Monday with 8.50 ERA in six starts with the Aviators, allowed just two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks in six innings. Displaying tremendous command of his three primary pitches, Luzardo recorded seven strikeouts — including at least one in five of six innings — and proved why he remains one of the top pitching talents in the Oakland A’s organization.
Of course, Luzardo was able to pitch free and easy Monday after being handed a big early lead. Catcher Carlos Pérez got things started when he led off the bottom of the first with an infield single off El Paso starter Aaron Leasher, who was making his Triple-A debut. One out and two batters later, right fielder Greg Deichmann ripped an RBI triple into the right-center field gap, then scored on first baseman Francisco Peña’s ensuing sacrifice fly.
With two outs and the bases clear, Leasher had a chance to get out of the inning having yielded only two runs. Instead, he surrendered consecutive singles to left fielder Cody Thomas and second baseman Nate Mondou, then walked center fielder Skye Bolt on a 3-2 count. That brought up Machín, who ambushed Leasher’s first pitch and deposited into the Chihuahuas bullpen beyond the wall in right-center for his second grand slam of the season.
When designated hitter Marty Bechina flied out to end the inning, the Aviators had sent nine batters to the plate and staked Luzardo to a 6-0 lead. Machín added to that lead two innings later when he returned to the batter’s box and hammered El Paso reliever Parker Markel’s 3-2 pitch onto the pool deck in center field.
Machín has absolutely tormented the Chihuahuas in the series, going 8-for-15 with three homers, seven RBI, eight runs and five walks. Actually, the 27-year-old native of Puerto Rico has been tormenting pretty much every pitcher he’s faced lately: Since July 2, he's is batting .356 (21-for-59) with three homers, five doubles, one triple, 13 RBI and 18 runs; he’s collected at least one hit in 13 of his last 15 games; and he’s scored at least one run in eight consecutive contests.
Along the way, Machín has raised his season batting average — which dipped as low as .262 on June 13 — to .307.
It turns out the Aviators needed every bit of their hot-hitting third baseman’s offense Monday, as they produced only five baserunners (three hits, a walk and a hit batter) after Machín’s third-inning home run. At the same time, El Paso began to chip away at a 7-0 deficit, scoring two runs in the fourth against Luzardo on a walk, hit and throwing error. The Chihuahuas then tacked on two more in the eighth on Austin Nola’s two-out, two-run homer off Las Vegas reliever Adam Kolarek.
Kolarek then promptly gave up a single to increase the tension. But right-hander James Naile came on and got the third out to thwart El Paso’s rally, then handed the ball to closer Domingo Acevedo, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to lock down his sixth save and preserve the Aviators’ seventh win their last eight at Las Vegas Ballpark.
GAME NOTES: Kozma (2-for-5, double) joined Machín (2-for-4) with multiple hits for Las Vegas. … Deichmann is now riding a six-game hitting streak, going 7-for-22 with six runs, six RBI and six walks. … Pérez has hit safely in 13 of 16 contests this month, during which he’s batting .348 (24-for-69) with eight homers (two grand slams), 21 RBI, 12 runs and eight walks. … Mondou has hit safely in 13 of 15 games dating to July 3, recording multiple hits in nine of those contests. For the month, Mondou is batting .365 (24-for-67) with eight doubles, 10 runs and 13 RBI. … Through the first five games of this series against El Paso, Las Vegas starting pitchers have yielded a total of 16 hits and seven walks in 27 innings. Four of those starters — Luzardo, Daulton Jefferies, Miguel Romero and Paul Blackburn — have gone at least five innings. … The Aviators have gone deep in 13 of their last 15 contests and 34 of the last 40 dating back to June 4.
CUBS CLAIM SCHWINDEL: Former Aviators first baseman Frank Schwindel, whom the Oakland A’s released Friday to free up a spot on the team’s 40-man roster, was claimed by the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.
Schwindel was the most productive hitter for Las Vegas through the first two months of the Triple-A season, batting .324 with 16 homers, 41 RBI, 42 runs and 11 doubles in 44 games before being promoted to Oakland on June 29. After going 3-for-20 with a home run in a two-week stint with the A’s, Schwindel was optioned to Las Vegas and went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s series opener against El Paso. It would prove to be his final game in an Aviators uniform.
The Cubs added Schwindel to their 40-man roster and optioned him to Triple-A Iowa.
ON DECK: Las Vegas and El Paso conclude their six-game series at Las Vegas Ballpark at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday. As is the case during all Tuesday home games this season, the Aviators will morph into their alter ego, the Reyes de Plata (“Silver Kings”), as part of Minor League Baseball’s Copa de la Diversión initiative that celebrates local Hispanic/Latino culture.
Jefferies (3-1, 5.25 ERA) will make his second start of the homestand for Las Vegas. The right-hander dominated the Chihuahuas in Thursday’s series opener, allowing just three hits and one walk in a season-high seven innings on the way to a 5-1 victory. Jefferies is scheduled to oppose southpaw Luke Westphal (1-0, 6.75).
Following their regularly scheduled off day Wednesday, the Aviators will travel to Salt Lake for a six-game series against the Bees, who are 32-33, one game behind Las Vegas in the Western Division standings of Triple-A West. The Aviators will return home July 29 to start their second and final 12-game homestand of the season against Tacoma (July 29-August 3) and Salt Lake (August 5-10).
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