Salem, VA – On frigid night with penetrating winds that shattered the warmest of layered clothing, the cherry on top had the Wilmington Blue Rocks (8-8) facing a rehabbing big leaguer in Daisuke Matsuzaka. What appeared to be a recipe for offensive anemia instead cooked up a healthy helping of 12 hits and three home runs, both season-high marks, in a 7-2 defeat of the Salem Red Sox (7-8) on Monday night. Wilmington’s third straight win, its fifth in seven games, lifted it to .500 for the first time on the young season.
Whit Merrifield found himself down 0-2 in the count against the two-time World Baseball Classic MVP to begin the game. He then found himself rounding the bases, as he sent a ball over the 25-foot high wall in left for his first home run of the season. Two batters later, Cheslor Cuthbert doubled and Brian Fletcher followed with a lengthy at-bat. He fouled off pitch after pitch before sending a single to left that scored Cuthbert for an early 2-0 lead.
Geulin Beltre got in on the act when he slammed Matsuzaka’s first pitch of the second over the left-field fence for his first homer and a 3-0 margin. Matsuzaka (0-1) gave up three runs on six hits over four innings in his first rehab outing since undergoing Tommy John surgery last June.
Wilmington starter Jason Adam saw an infield hit, a soft single and a walk all come with two outs to load the bases in the second. But the 20-year-old induced a fly-out to center from Jackie Bradley, Jr. to leave the bases loaded and cruised to his first win as a Blue Rock. Adam (1-1) tossed five scoreless frames, struck out five and lowered his league-leading ERA to 0.40.
Cuthbert provided run-scoring hits in the fifth, seventh and ninth. They combined with Brett Eibner’s first Wilmington homer in the eighth to make it 7-0. Cuthbert, a highly-touted 19-year-old third baseman, went 4-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs in his best game as a Rock.
After Sam Runion held the Sox scoreless in the sixth and seventh, Jon Keck did the same in the eighth. In the ninth, Chase Boruff had two outs and two strikes on the board when he gave up a two-run double to Brandon Jacobs that spoiled the shutout. He struck out Travis Shaw thereafter to end the game.
Yordano Ventura (0-1, 3.86) looks for his first win as a Blue Rock when the series continues at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday night. He will face fellow right-hander Keith Couch (2-1, 3.38). Broadcast coverage begins at 6:35 p.m. as studio hostRob Cunningham brings fans the Rocks Report Pre-game Show, presented by Wawa, on 89.7 WGLS-FM and online at wgls.rowan.edu.
PEBBLES OF KNOWLEDGE:
According to the National Weather Service, winds gusted in excess of 30 mph during the course of the night. The flags showed the wind flowing toward left field most of the game, where two of the Rocks’ three homers cleared the fence. Brett Eibner’s blow went into the wind in right-center field.
Whit Merrifield’s leadoff homer was the third of his two-year tenure with the Blue Rocks. He fell a triple short of the cycle and scored four runs.
Sam Runion’s two scoreless innings lowered his ERA to 1.17. The former starter has allowed just one run in four relief appearances and 7.2 innings.
Over their first 13 games of the year, the Blue Rocks scored a total of 36 runs. In their last three they have plated 22.
While the stats from Sunday’s suspended game will not count until the game is completed and official on June 8, consider this. A Wilmington club that entered the weekend as one of baseball’s two teams sans home run now has seven over the last three days.