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2021 In Review: Trash Pandas Pitching - Part 1 

Cooper Criswell's 14 strikeouts on June 16 are a career-high. (Javier Sanchez/Rocket City Trash Pandas)
October 13, 2021

The 2021 Rocket City Trash Pandas season was filled with highs and lows on every front. But on the bump, the highs were especially sweet. Of the 36 pitchers to take the mound for the Trash Pandas in 2021, 10 went on to make their MLB debut for the Los

The 2021 Rocket City Trash Pandas season was filled with highs and lows on every front. But on the bump, the highs were especially sweet. Of the 36 pitchers to take the mound for the Trash Pandas in 2021, 10 went on to make their MLB debut for the Los Angeles Angels.

In the first article of our Season In Review series, here is Part 1 of the top 10 pitching performances from the Rocket City Trash Pandas in their inaugural season. Part 2 will be published next week!

10. Biegalski’s Birthday Brilliance in Birmingham – July 13

Entering in the second inning with a three-run deficit was probably not how reliever Boomer Biegalski pictured his 27th birthday playing out. In the opener of a six-game set against their closest rival, Biegalski shined out of the bullpen to earn the only appearance on this list for a relief pitcher. Over five scoreless frames, the Trash Pandas reliever kept the potent Barons offense in check, allowing just a solo home run while striking out nine, the most by any Rocket City reliever in a single game, to earn a victory as a birthday present as Rocket City rallied for an 8-5 win.

9. Diaz Dazzles in First Start – May 13

After opening with two appearances out of the Rocket City rotation, southpaw Jhonathan Diaz was given the start in the third game in Toyota Field history against Tennessee on May 13. In his first start since August 2019, Diaz struck out the first four Smokies he faced. Then, he struck out four more again between the third and fourth innings while taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts while allowing just one hit and walking two over 5.2 innings to earn the first win by a Trash Pandas starter. Nathan Bates and Oliver Ortega combined to pitch the final 3.1 innings, finishing the first shutout in Trash Pandas history with a 2-0 triumph. The move to the rotation would be the beginning of a career-year for Diaz.

“He stepped up huge for us. We needed a spot start and he gave it to us, doing a fantastic job. He pounded the strike zone,” Trash Pandas manager Jay Bell said that night. “He was putting everything where it was supposed to be and I was very impressed with his start. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect start.”

8. Criswell’s Career Night Crushes Shuckers – June 16

The man was mercurial tonight. 💫

All FOURTEEN strikeouts from @criswell_cooper!

— Rocket City Trash Pandas (@trashpandas) June 17, 2021

Heading into their June 16 matchup with Biloxi, the Trash Pandas had won seven of their previous eight games. Cooper Criswell kept the good vibes going with another dominant performance. In the first, he recorded back-to-back strikeouts to strand a pair on base. He struck out at least a pair of Shuckers in the second, third, and fourth innings as the Trash Pandas built a lead. After a clean sixth, Criswell struck out two more in the seventh to end his night with a career-high 14 strikeouts while walking none over 6.2 scoreless frames to earn his third win of the season. At the time, it set a Trash Pandas franchise record for strikeouts in a game. Adrian Almeida and Nathan Bates combined to finish the 3-0 win, improving the Trash Pandas record to three games above .500 for the first time at 20-17. Criswell earned Double-A South Pitcher of the Week honors after this start.

“Tonight, I felt comfortable with all of my pitches. Michael Cruz called a great game. We were on the same page all night. Most of the time when that’s the case, it’s destined to be a pretty good night,” Criswell said at the time. “My changeup was working really well. I got a lot of swings and misses on that. But it felt great to be able to locate all of my pitches whenever I needed to.”

7. Tyler Twirls Gem to Extend Scoreless Streak - June 1

Simply sublime once again from @KT_OU15.

8 IP // 4 H // 1 R // 7 K


— Rocket City Trash Pandas (@trashpandas) June 2, 2021

Early in the season, Kyle Tyler was the Trash Pandas’ most consistent starter. After allowing three runs in each of his first two starts, Tyler settled down with back-to-back scoreless outings to earn a win on May 19 at Pensacola and May 26 vs. Birmingham. In his next start on June 1 against Chattanooga, Tyler was even better. With strong defense behind him, Tyler became the first Trash Panda to pitch into the ninth inning, but was pulled after a leadoff single in the ninth. That run eventually came around to score, snapping Tyler’s scoreless streak at 23.2 innings, a mark that was the best for a Rocket City pitcher in 2021. Over eight innings, Tyler allowed the run on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts to earn his third straight win in a 6-1 Rocket City triumph.

“Kyle did a fantastic job on the mound. He set the tone early and just pounded the strike zone,” Bell said. “He was around the strike zone all night long and it was a great performance.”

6. Criswell Goes The Distance in Chattanooga – June 22

⭐️ 𝘾𝙤𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙩𝙚 𝙂𝙖𝙢𝙚 𝘾𝙤𝙤𝙥𝙚𝙧 ⭐️@criswell_cooper goes the distance for the W!

— Rocket City Trash Pandas (@trashpandas) June 23, 2021

Following his 14-strikeout performance, Cooper Criswell was even better in his next start at Chattanooga on June 22. But in the first inning, it looked like he wouldn’t last long as the Lookouts plated a pair to take an early lead. He settled down from there, facing the minimum over the next three innings to keep the game close. When Rocket City took the lead in the eighth, Criswell remained on the mound. Pitching mostly to contact, Criswell finished what he started with the first nine-inning complete game of his career and the first in Trash Pandas history, allowing just two runs on six hits with one walk and five strikeouts. The win was the second of what proved to be four wins in a row for the righty who eventually made his MLB debut for the Angels in August.

Honorable Mentions:

-On June 26 at Chattanooga, Reid Detmers had a career night on the mound with a franchise record 16 strikeouts over six innings. But he also allowed five runs on seven hits, including three home runs as the Trash Pandas suffered an 8-6 loss. In relief, Ryan Clark added three strikeouts to increase the total to 19 for the game, a record that looks tough to beat in the future.

-Following a six-day break in the schedule because of a string of cancellations, Rocket City began the final month of the season with a four-game set against Tennessee on September 2. That night, lefty Ryan Smith turned in his best Double-A outing, tossing seven scoreless innings while walking none and striking out nine to earn the win as the Trash Pandas routed the Smokies 9-0. Smith earned Double-A South Pitcher of the Week honors for this brilliant start.

-With Rocket City on a four-game losing streak heading into a crucial matchup in Birmingham on September 10, the Trash Pandas gave the ball to rookie Brett Kerry for his Double-A debut. In just his fifth professional start, Kerry was strong, keeping the powerful Birmingham offense off the board for five innings. He induced double plays in both the second and third to maintain the scoreless tie, and ended his night with a six-pitch bottom of the fifth. However, the Trash Pandas were also held in check offensively in a 2-0 loss.