Making a good first impression

Ray Black earns a save in a 9-8 Missions victory

By San Antonio Missions | August 5, 2019 8:49 PM

As temperatures in San Antonio early Monday afternoon climbed into the high 90s, new Missions relief pitcher Ray Black was showing off some heat of his own.

Black reached back and hit 101 mph on the second to last pitch of the game.  

On his final offering, he snapped off a breaking ball at 85 mph to strike out Chuck Taylor and clinch a 9-8 victory for the Missions over the Fresno Grizzlies.

A small but raucous crowd at Wolff Stadium, wowed by the velocity, promptly let Black know how much his efforts were appreciated.

"Whenever you come to a new team or a new organization, you want to try to make a good first impression," Black said. "Came out in my first outing (Saturday night) and was able to throw the ball pretty well.

"I trusted (Jacob) Nottingham back there behind the dish. Getting to know him better, starting to key off of one another. You know, the fans were great. I love the atmosphere. That close game, that one-run game, gives you a little more adrenaline.

"Makes that arm feel a little quicker through the process. Just happy to be able to come away with the victory."

Missions manager Rick Sweet enjoyed it immensely.

Coming off a one-run loss to Fresno on Sunday night, when a bad-hop single fueled a three-run rally in the eighth inning, the Missions were not in a good mood.

On top of that, the coaches and players had a short night of rest before an 11:05 a.m. start on Monday.

Worse than that, Fresno jumped out to a 6-0 lead on pitcher Corbin Burnes.

"To fall behind and come back and win this ball game, you've seen it from these guys all year," Sweet said. "I'm just so proud of 'em. I mean, I'm so glad we've got an off day (Tuesday).

"We need an off day to recover from the last two days. I'm very, very proud of 'em. It shows the type   of personality we have."

With the victory, the Missions completed a somewhat chaotic homestand with a 4-3 record.

It started with an 8-4 victory over Sacramento last Tuesday, when Trent Grisham hit for the fifth cycle in the Pacific Coast League this season and slugged two home runs.

A day later, the Missions lost both Grisham and Mauricio Dubon, their Nos. 1 and 2 hitters.

Grisham was called up to the Milwaukee Brewers and Dubon was traded from the Brewers organization to the San Francisco Giants.

On the day Dubon was dealt, the Giants assigned him to Triple-A, meaning that he would play for the Sacramento River Cats against the Missions at Wolff.

The River Cats won both games, with Dubon scoring the winning run in one of them.

Meanwhile, as the Grizzlies arrived Friday for four games, the Missions' roster continued to evolve.   New additions included relievers Black, who was part of the acquisition for Dubon, and Jake Faria.  

Also, another significant addition came in Sunday night, when Tyler Saladino got to town, returning from a stay in the majors with the Brewers.

In his first game back, Saladino promptly played off the bench on Monday, stroked a hit up the middle and scored the winning run in the eighth as the Missions won three out of four from the Grizzlies.

The victory assured that the Missions would head into a road trip to Albuquerque and El Paso with the best record in the PCL (71-43) and in all of Triple-A.

With less than a month to play, the Missions are hitting the ball well again, and they lead the Round Rock Express (68-45) by two and a half games in the American Southern Division.

Black agreed that he feels a welcome intensity.

"Coming into this clubhouse, you're coming into a winning environment," he said. "That's what you want to be around.

"You want to be around it and feed off the energy of the other guys. Nobody wants to lose. Nobody wants to be in a losing clubhouse.

"And you know, when one guy catches fire, and the bullpen is hanging zeroes, it's kind of like the next guy up. The next guy in line. You feed off one another. That's how we were able to pull it off today."

Early on, the Missions' offense fed off the high-powered hitting of Keston Hiura, Dubon and, later, Grisham.

At the moment, a new core of players has started to take shape.   

Led by David Freitas and Cory Spangenberg, a pair of veterans both hitting better than .300, the Missions are getting increased production lately from the likes of Tyrone Taylor, Troy Stokes, Jr. and Lucas Erceg.

Taylor broke out Monday with a three-run homer.

Stokes, Jacob Nottingham and Jake Hager all hit home runs in the bottom of the fifth, when the Missions scored four runs for an 8-6 lead.

Sweet agreed that it just might be time for Triple-A rookies like Stokes and Erceg to start playing consistently well.

"The biggest jump in the game, in a lot of our opinions, is Double-A to Triple-A," Sweet said. "It is a tough jump.

"It's not here to the big leagues. Most guys, if they're playing well here, and they've got their game together, they're going to the big leagues.

"But that jump from Double-A to Triple-A is the toughest, biggest, and can be the most problematic jump in baseball."

Sweet said he sees that "all the hard work" for Erceg and Stokes is starting to pay off and that the two are starting to come around.

"Hopefully (outfielder) Corey Ray catches up quick," he said.

Missions pitching has led the PCL in earned run average for most of the season.

Even with numerous changes in personnel, it's still as effective as usual, coming out of the Fresno series with a league-leading 3.83 earned run average.

Among the current starters, Burch Smith, Trey Supak and Zack Brown all pitched well on the homestand. Together, they combined for 19 strikeouts in 18 scoreless innings.

With Black, the Missions' pitching staff is also much improved in the bullpen.

It's in in good hands with the likes of Black and Faria, along with mainstays Deolis Guerra, Luke Barker and Angel Perdomo.

In addition, all-star Jay Jackson is set to return from Milwaukee.

Devin Williams is a likely call-up, and Black and Faria may also start to cycle up to the Milwaukee bullpen down the stretch, as well.

In the meantime, Black is turning heads with the Missions, armed with a fastball that's hard to see, much less hit.

"That 101," Sweet said, "is legit."

PCL standings

American Southern Division -- San Antonio 71-43, Round Rock 68-45, New Orleans 61-51, Oklahoma City 52-61.

Pacific Northern Division - Sacramento 61-53, Fresno 54-60, Reno 53-61, Tacoma 52-62.

Coming up

Missions at Albuquerque, three games, from Wednesday through Friday.   Missions at El Paso, four games, from Saturday through Aug. 13.

 

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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