Rocks Return To .500 Mark In Dramatic Fashion By Sweeping Doubleheader Against Carolina

Blue Crew Routs Mudcats In Opener, Walks-Off In Nightcap

By Seth Bernstein / Wilmington Blue Rocks | May 22, 2014 12:19 AM

Wilmington, DE - The Wilmington Blue Rocks climbed back to the .500 mark Wednesday night in dramatic fashion by sweeping a doubleheader against the Carolina Mudcats. Wilmington took the opener in a rout, 9-4, and then walked-off on Carolina in the nightcap, 3-2. The pair of victories brought the Blue Rocks' record to 22-22 and helped the team establish a season-high four-game winning streak.

Trailing, 2-1, and down to their final out in the seventh inning of game two, the Blue Rocks mounted a furious rally off of Mudcats closer Louis Head. Kenny Diekroeger began the comeback with a one-out single. After Terrance Gore struck out for the second out of the frame, Jack Lopez delivered a base hit to bring up Bubba Starling. Starling delivered his biggest hit of the season and smashed a triple to right-center field. The three-bagger plated Diekroeger from second and Lopez from first, giving Wilmington the 3-2 victory.

The Blue Rocks first broke through against Carolina starter Clayton Cook in the sixth inning of game two. Cook held the Rocks off the scoreboard for the first five frames but, with one out in the sixth, Starling singled to left, ultimately leading to Wilmington's first run of the ballgame. The speedy outfielder moved to second on a balk by Cook and scored on an RBI double from Zane Evans, drawing the Blue Crew to within one. Cook threw 5.2 innings and gave up one run on four hits.

Carolina broke the nightcap's scoreless tie in the top of the fifth inning by scoring a pair of runs off of reliever Kyle Bartsch. Bartsch struggled with his command and, despite only yielding one hit, issued four free passes. The Mudcats took a 1-0 lead on an RBI walk from Todd Hankins and went ahead, 2-0, when Jeremy Lucas delivered an RBI groundout to first. Bartsch had entered the game in relief of starter Glenn Sparkman, who tossed 3.2 scoreless frames struck out six and gave up just three hits.

Wednesday's opener was decided early on, when the Blue Rocks scored four times in the first inning off of Carolina starter Michael Peoples. Wilmington sent eight batters to the plate and five of the first seven reached. After a one-out single from Starling, Hunter Dozier ripped an RBI double into the left-field corner to give the Rocks a 1-0 lead. Michael Antonio followed Dozier's two-bagger with a walk to put runners at first and second for Mark Donato, who singled home Dozier to make it 2-0. Daniel Rockett then struck out before Cam Gallagher delivered the big blow, a two-RBI double to left-center that plated Antonio and Donato.

Wilmington kept the pressure on throughout Wednesday's opener by adding a run in the second, a pair of runs in the fourth and two more tallies in the sixth. The back-breaker for Carolina was a two-run triple from Daniel Rockett in the sixth that plated both Starling and Dozier.

Starting pitcher Sean Manaea pitched five innings for the Blue Rocks in the first game and missed a lot of bats. Though the 6-foot-5 lefty did yield three runs, he struck out 10, tying a Blue Rocks individual season-high set by Christian Binford on April 12 against the Winston-Salem Dash. Carolina scored runs in the first, second and fifth against Manaea, but the only major mistake the southpaw made came in the fifth, when Jeremy Lucas launched a solo blast to left.

For Wilmington, Manaea (2-2, 5.40) was victorious in game one while Johnny Walter (2-0, 2.35) picked up the win in game two. Michael Peoples (2-4, 6.48) absorbed the loss in the opener for the Mudcats, while Louis Head (0-2) suffered the defeat and blew his first save in the nightcap.

The Blue Rocks return to action Thursday morning at Frawley Stadium to try and complete a four-game sweep of the Carolina Mudcats. Wilmington will send southpaw Daniel Stumpf (1-6, 4.01) to the mound while lefty Ryan Merritt (5-1, 1.65) will take the bump for Carolina. First pitch is slated for 10:35 a.m. and fans can listen to the broadcast on 89.7 WGLS-FM. For ticket information, call 302-888-BLUE or visit BlueRocks.com.

PEBBLES OF KNOWLEDGE:

Bubba Starling's two-run, walk-off, triple gave Wilmington its third walk-off victory of the year. All three walk-off wins have been at Frawley Stadium and each has been filled with a different kind of drama. On May 12, Jack Lopez ripped a two-run homer to left that gave the Blue Rocks a 4-3 victory over the Salem Red Sox. The Blue Crew's April 27 walk-off against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans featured one of the most bizarre plays anyone had ever seen. With Terrance Gore at third, Raul Mondesi struck out, but reached on a dropped-third strike. That allowed Gore to sprint home from third and score the winning run. Catcher Jorge Alfaro attempted to tag Gore instead of throwing to first, but missed the tag, allowing Mondesi to reach and Gore to score the winning run.

Bubba Starling also extended his hitting streak to a personal and team-high 10 games Wednesday night with base hits in both ends of the doubleheader. Starling went 1-for-2 with a pair of runs and a hit-by-pitch in the opener. In the nightcap, he finished 2-for-4 and delivered a two-run, walk-off triple. During Starling's ten-game hitting streak, he is batting .343 (12-for-35) with 10 runs, a double, five walks and nine RBIs. His batting average has steadily risen over the stretch from .149 to .190. Entering play Wednesday, Starling had been tied with Hunter Dozier and Johermyn Chavez for the Blue Rocks' longest hitting streak of the season with eight.

Over the course of Tuesday night's game and Wednesday night's opener, Hunter Dozier managed to reach base in nine consecutive plate appearances. The right-handed hitting third baseman went 3-for-3 with a pair of walks and two runs Tuesday, reaching base a season-best five times. In Wednesday's opener, Dozier was 2-for-2 at the plate with two more free passes and three more runs. Dozier now has eight multi-hit contests on the campaign, three of which have been three-hit games. In the nightcap Wednesday, Dozier went 0-for-3 at the plate. During this current stretch, his batting average has risen from .230 to .252. Entering play on Tuesday, he had slumped to a .086 (3-for-35) average since May 7. Dozier is hitting .313 on the road but just .197 at home.

Glenn Sparkman made the first start of his professional career in Wednesday's nightcap. He was outstanding, tossing 3.2 scoreless frames and punching out six. Sparkman gave up just three hits and one walk but took a no-decision. The right-hander now owns a sparkling 1.98 ERA to go along with his 2-1 record. Sparkman had been one of Wilmington's most reliable relievers this season, posting a 2-1 record and a 2.28 ERA in 11 relief appearances. He has now completed two or more frames in nine of the 12 total games he's appeared in. Following the conclusion of Wednesday's doubleheader, manager Darryl Kennedy announced that, for now, Sparkman will continue to be used as a starter and in piggyback situations.

In 2014, the Wilmington Blue Rocks have dominated the Carolina Mudcats more than any other team in the Carolina League. In nine games against the Mudcats, the Blue Crew has compiled a 7-2 record, a 3.20 ERA and a .262 team batting average. The wins have come in bunches for the Rocks, both at Frawley Stadium and at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, North Carolina. Wilmington is now 4-1 against Carolina at home and 3-1 against the Mudcats on the road. Against the Mudcats this year, Hunter Dozier is batting .500 (15-for-30), Raul Mondesi is hitting .381 (8-for-21), Zane Evans is batting .333 (10-for-30), and Bubba Starling is hitting .294 (10-for-34). Mondesi has not appeared in the current series as he continues to recover from minor back spasms over the weekend.

THEY SAID IT:

Manager Darryl Kennedy:

"The last four games have been outstanding. They're really starting to swing the bat well. Bubba [Starling] is seeing the ball well. Zane [Evans] is hitting the ball hard. [Hunter] Dozier is right there too, he's getting hot. Hopefully that's a sign of good things to come."

"With Sean [Manaea], there's still more in there. He battled through those five innings tonight. The good thing is he's got the stuff where he cannot be as sharp and still get guys out. I truly believe there's better things to come for Sean. He's just got to get a little more consistent in the zone. He's got no experience. Drafted last year but he didn't pitch at all. Really, this is his first true test of competition. For the most part, I think he's done a very good job. [Glenn] Sparkman, [in] his first start in professional baseball, I thought he threw the ball well. We had him on a limited pitch count because it was his first start. Just because he only went 3.2 it is not indicative of what he did, it's just limiting his pitches. He threw the ball well like he's done all year for us. He was a big part of our bullpen at the beginning of the year. My hat's off to both of those guys. They kept us in the ballgame."

"[Johnny Walter has] done a very good job. Starting the year off on the DL and then getting him activated. He's pitched some big innings for us. With the low amount of innings he has had, they've been pretty big innings for us. He's come in in some tough situations and done a good job. The bullpen, in general, has been really good for us."

Center-Fielder Bubba Starling:

"[The walk-off triple] was a fastball away and I just threw my hands out. 2-2, he threw a slider three pitches before that. Like I said, I was just staying on the fastball…I knew Lopez was hopefully getting home and that was the end of it."

"The pitchers have been pretty solid all year and it makes it easy on us outfielders. It was nice to get some hits there towards the end and in the first game, all of us up and down the order. Just takes the pressure off of them a little bit to get some runs."

"Our bats are starting to come back. Before these last couple of games we were having four, five, six hits a game and we had ten the last few times. We're battling up there but definitely feeling better."

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

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