Due to a doubleheader that featured delayed starts in both games, the Omaha Storm Chasers spent about 13 hours at AutoZone Park on Sunday, according to manager Brian Poldberg. So the plan for Monday's matinee with an 11:08 a.m. local start in Memphis was simple -- do some soft toss in the cage, let the pitchers get warmed up and get out there for the fifth game in a season-opening five-game series with the Redbirds. "Show and go," Poldberg called it.
In the second inning, the Royals' Triple-A affiliate did a bit more than that.
The Storm Chasers scored 12 times in the second frame alone -- with designated hitter Elier Hernandez driving in six of those runs himself -- on the way to beating Memphis, 14-3.
"I've never been part of a 12-run inning like that," said the 61-year-old Poldberg, who is in his 20th season managing a Minor League club and sixth with Omaha. "The most I can think of is many an 8- or 10-run inning, but nothing like that."
Gameday box score
It was the highest-scoring inning by an Omaha club since July 29, 1999 in a 13-11 win at Colorado Springs. The Pacific Coast League record for runs scored in a single inning is 16, set by Salt Lake City against Vernon on Aug. 18, 1923.
The Storm Chasers opened the frame with four straight singles by Erick Mejia, Bubba Starling, Hernandez (a two-run base hit) and Nick Dini, followed by a sacrifice fly from Jecksson Flores. Then, the visiting club got incredibly patient against Memphis right-handed starter Mike Hauschild (0-1) with four of the next five batters taking walks before he was pulled after 1 2/3 innings. Lefty reliever Tommy Layne walked Brett Phillips with the bases loaded, bringing up Hernandez for his second at-bat of the inning.
The 24-year-old slugger did not miss on his second chance to do damage. Facing a full count, the Hernandez connected on an 84 mph slider from Layne and lifted it well over the fence in left. The grand slam was the first of his career and also his first Triple-A home run. His six RBIs in the single inning fell one shy of the PCL record for an individual player, which has been done four times, most recently by Ryan Roberts for Oklahoma City on July 26, 2008.
A player who hit .279/.349/.357 over 40 games in the PCL last season and had struck out in 55.6 percent of his plate appearances to open 2019 may not have been the favorite to chase history Monday, but Poldberg hopes Hernandez's big frame can deliver increased power.
"Even in Spring Training, I thought he was driving the ball better," said the Omaha manager. "Even last year, he could the ball well to right-center and stuff like that, but in the spring, he showed it a little bit more. He just needs to stay within himself. He's a guy that can put the ball in play and not be an easy K when he's not chasing. ... He just has to make the pitcher throw those strikes."
Hernandez finished the day 4-for-5 and is now 7-for-14 with five strikeouts in his first four games back with the Storm Chasers.
Catcher Nick Dini homered off to left one batter after Hernandez's slam to give Omaha back-to-back blasts and 12 runs on the board in the second. Dini would add an RBI single in the sixth, and third baseman Erick Mejia tacked on his own solo homer in the eighth to round out the 14-run game -- Omaha's biggest scoring effort since a 15-4 win over Fresno last July 27.
But just because the Chasers got off to such a quick start Monday, don't expect their manager to let them off easy in their pregame routines as a new good-luck charm.
"I think we'll have plenty of those days with all of our travel as it is," Poldberg said. "It makes you less weary to show up like that, but we'll take it one game at a time here."
No. 15 Royals prospect Scott Blewett (1-0) picked up the win in his Triple-A debut, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks while fanning four over five innings. The earned run came on a solo homer by Joe Hudson in the fifth that bounced off the glove of a leaping Starling over the wall in left-center. The 22-year-old right-hander threw 79 pitches, 50 for strikes.
"He came out firing in the first inning," said Poldberg. "After all the time sitting, he got a little rusty in the second, but I thought he did a nice job of settling back in. I thought he'd go for an easy five [innings] after the way he started, but you could see him lose a little command as things went on. We'll work on that, but this is a good place to start."