TULSA - The use of a relief pitcher as an "opener" is becoming more popular in professional baseball, and the Tulsa Drillers used the strategy to perfection Saturday night in a shutout win at ONEOK Field. A group of four Tulsa pitchers, including normal reliever Andre Scrubb as the starter, combined to hold Midland to just three hits as the Drillers blanked the RockHounds 3-0. The win was the second straight for the Drillers and allowed them to stay just one game behind first-place Arkansas in the North Division standings of the Texas League.
Scrubb served as an opener for the second time this season. The right-hander was effective, retiring the RockHounds in order in the first inning and sandwiching a walk around two strikeouts in the second. Of the five outs that Scrubb recorded, three came on strikeouts.
Parker Curry followed Scrubb to the mound and continued the strong pitching, and Midland starting pitcher Matt Milburn was also effective as neither team produced a hit through the game's first three innings.
Tulsa's Zach McKinstry finally got the first hit of the night when he led off the bottom of the fourth with a double into the right field corner. It led to the game's first run when Omar Estevez followed with a lined single into center, scoring McKinstry to give the Drillers a 1-0 lead.
Midland's first hit in the game did not come until there were two outs in the sixth inning when Tyler Ramirez lined a single into centerfield off Curry.
The RockHounds threatened to score in both the seventh and eighth innings. In the seventh, they put runners at first and second with two outs on a double and a walk. Curry escaped the jam when he retired Mickey McDonald on a soft liner to shallow centerfield.
In the eighth, a single, a walk and a wild pitch put runners at second and third with two outs, but reliever Yordy Cabrera enticed Dan Gamache to fly out.
The Drillers added their second and third runs in the bottom half of the eighth. Midland reliever John Gorman issued a one-out walk to Jared Walker, and McKinstry followed with a base hit, and thanks to a throwing error, the Drillers ended up with runners at second and third. Estevez hit a chopper just past the mound, and Walker slid in safely ahead of the throw home, giving Tulsa a 2-0 lead. Cody Thomas followed with another slow roller that Midland third baseman Taylor Motter misplayed for an error, allowing McKinstry to score to make it 3-0.
Nolan Long had no trouble protecting the three-run lead, setting the RockHounds down in order in the ninth to close out the win and pick up his second save of the season.
WHAT YOU MISSED
*Curry worked 5.1 innings and allowed just two hits. He walked two batters while striking out a season high nine. His previous strikeout high was six and came back on May 10 at Arkansas. Curry was credited with the win, improving his record to 3-4.
*Milburn was the hard-luck loser. The right-hander surrendered just three hits and the fourth-inning run in seven complete innings. He walked just two batters and also set a season high with eight strikeouts.
*The well-pitched game did feature four errors, two from each team.
*McKinstry accounted for two of the game's seven total hits, going 2-3 with two runs scored.
*The shutout was the sixth this season for the Tulsa pitching staff.
*The victory improved the Drillers July record to 10-9. Tulsa has not had a losing month since May of the 2018 season.
UP NEXT: Midland at Tulsa, Sunday, July 21, 7:05 PM at ONEOK Field. RHP Kyle Friedrichs (3-5, 3.95 ERA) versus LHP Rob Zastryzny (0-1, 3.00 ERA).
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.