WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Coming off their best offensive night of the season in which they scored 11 runs on Wednesday, the Rocks sputtered at the plate against Matt Heidenreich and the Dash Thursday evening, as they fell by a final score of 3-2. Wilmington drops to 34-26, while Winston-Salem improves to 25-34 on the season. Jake Peter keyed the Dash attack with a two-run homer in the first, while the Blue Crew got their only runs of the evening on a Dominique Taylor double. With the loss and wins by both Frederick and Lynchburg, Wilmington’s magic number to clinch a first-half Carolina League North crown remains at six.
Wilmington starter Jakob Junis was good on Thursday, but not good enough to avoid the loss. The righty tossed six innings, allowing all three runs of the game to the Dash on six hits and a walk, while striking out five. Heidenreich was brilliant for Winston-Salem, as he did not yield his first hit until the fifth inning. He ended up hurling eight innings, giving up two runs on a pair of hits and a walk. He also struck out 10 batters, making him only the second pitcher to record double-digit punch-outs against the Rocks this season, the first being Potomac’s Lucas Giolito, who struck out 11 on May 14.
The Dash didn’t waste any time jumping on Junis, getting a pair of runs two batters into their offensive night. In the bottom of the first, Adam Engel drew a walk, then came home on Peter’s home run. Junis settled down after a rough start, as he got the next three batters out to escape the frame without further damage.
Winston-Salem padded their lead in the bottom of the third inning with another run. After two strikeouts by T.J. Williams and Engel to begin the frame, Peter came up with a two-out single. He would score when the next man up, Trey Michalczewski, doubled. Junis struck out Chris Jacobs to end the inning, but the Dash headed into the fourth with a 3-0 lead.
Not only did Wilmington finally get a hit in the top of the fifth inning, but they got on the scoreboard as well. Jack Lopez walked with one out, then moved to third base on Dexter Kjerstad’sdouble two batters later. That two-bagger was the first knock of the game off of Heidenreich. Both runners came around to score when Taylor followed Kjerstad with a double of his own, bringing the Rocks to within 3-2. That would be as close as the Rocks would get, however, as the game ended with that same score.
The Rocks are back in action on Friday when they play the Salem Red Sox for the first time this season in game one of a three-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m., and fans can listen to the broadcast on 89.7 WGLS-FM. Wilmington returns home for a three-game series against the Salem Red Sox on June 15 for a 6:35 p.m. game. For tickets, call 302-888-BLUE, or visit www.bluerocks.com.
PEBBLES OF KNOWLEDGE:
The Blue Rocks continued to struggle on the road this season. With the loss on Thursday, Wilmington now holds a record of 11-17 away from the First State. That mark stands in stark contrast with their 23-9 record in games at Frawley Stadium, the best home record in the Carolina League. The biggest difference between home and the road has been the pitching, with Rocks hurlers throwing to a 2.34 ERA at Frawley. That number balloons to 3.82 in away games. The Rocks have also now lost three of four games to the Dash on the road, as opposed to their 5-2 record against Winston-Salem in Delaware.
The Carolina League announced on Thursday that four Wilmington Blue Rocks have been named to the eight-team loop’s midseason All-Star team. Pitchers Alec Mills, Cody Reed and Eric Skoglund and infielder Ramon Torres will represent the league against the California League All-Stars in Rancho Cucamonga, CA on Tuesday, June 23. Mills ranks seventh in the Carolina League with a 2.97 earned run average. He also is second in strikeouts with 64 in 60.2 innings pitched. Overall, the 23-year-old right-hander is 4-3 with a .269 batting average against and only 10 walks. Reed’s scant 1.29 ERA is second in the CL. The 22-year-old Mississippi native also ranks among the league’s elite in strikeouts (fourth), batting average against (fourth) and whip (fifth). He began the season as a piggyback starter coupled with Luke Farrell, but took over a permanent spot in the rotation when Farrell was promoted to Double-A in May. The southpaw has been especially effective against left-handed hitters, who are batting just .167 against him. Skoglund is eighth in the Carolina League with a 3.06 ERA. The 14th-ranked prospect in the Royals system, according to Baseball America, is also third in the loop in innings pitched (67.2). Torres is third in the CL with 63 hits. He tied a Blue Rocks franchise record on Wednesday by registering five knocks in one game at Winston-Salem. Overall, the switch-hitting second baseman is batting .280 with a homer, 12 RBIs and 12 extra-base hits.
The 2015 season was finally unkind to Cody Stubbs on Thursday night. The Rocks outfielder saw his 11-game hitting streak come to a close with an 0-for-4 night, which included three strikeouts. That stretch was the longest such streak for the Blue Crew all season long, with the previous high being Frank Schwindel’s nine-game hitting streak, which took place from April 22 to May 1. Stubbs joined the Blue Rocks on May 27, coming off an injury that he was rehabbing in extended spring training. During his 11-game hitting streak, Stubbs batted .463 with a homer, six doubles, three RBIs, and eight runs.
June has not exactly been a friendly month to Dexter Kjerstad, but the Blue Rocks right fielder took a step towards breaking out of his funk on Thursday. In nine previous games since the calendar flipped to June, Kjerstad was batting .172 (5-for-29). On Thursday evening, he collected a double in three trips to the plate, including one of the two runs the Rocks scored on the night. Kjerstad is coming off a very good month of May in which he was named Kansas City Royals Adv.-A hitter of the month. During May, he batted .308 with a homer, one triple, a pair of doubles, six RBIs, and three runs.
THEY SAID IT:
Starting Pitcher Jakob Junis:
“The beginning of the game, I was having a tough time having a feel for my fastball and my off-speed (pitches). I was just trying to throw strikes, give myself a chance. After the first inning, I kind of settled down a little bit, started hitting my spots a little better. My changeup came along, and then the third or fourth inning, my curveball really started to (work). I haven’t had that in a few starts, so that was good to have that later in the game.”
“Any time I can have a feel for (my curveball), it’s going to be a big help in my outing. Hopefully I get my five days rest, work on it some more during the week, get on the mound, throw a bullpen with it, and try to get the feel for it at the beginning of the game next week.”
“Physical (adjustments are important) a little bit, but for me I think it’s mental. I’ve got to tell myself at the beginning of the game ‘I can’t wait until you’re in trouble to turn it up’…start from the beginning, get the first guy out every inning, try and limit the damage and keep those guys off the base paths and you’ll have some success. I think definitely sometimes I’ve just got to tell myself to bear down and don’t let myself get into those situations in the first place.”
“Obviously, you never want to lose three of four anywhere, but tonight was a close game. The doubleheader, those were tight games. We’ve just got to put it all together in this next series in Salem. Hopefully we can come out with a couple wins there, go back home, get a couple more, and we’ll be fine.”
“Everybody wants to get that clinching game and celebrate and stuff like that, but for us, I think we really just need to take it one game at a time. Get a win, worry about the next one, not worry about getting six wins or seven wins. Just take it one game at a time.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever (played a team six times in a row) to be honest. Three away, and then three at home like that, it’s kind of a weird swing, but we’ll see.”
Right Fielder Dexter Kjerstad:
“(Matt Heidenreich) kept the ball down well, he had a good breaking pitch that he was throwing for strikes, and he was also able to throw it even when he didn’t have two strikes to get ahead in the count. He had good stuff, he kept the ball down, and kept his pitch count down too, which allowed him to go deep into the game.”
“It was big to get a hit like (the double in the fifth inning), especially in an important part of the ballgame, and then (Dominique Taylor) was able to come up and hit me and Jack (Lopez) in. It was big. Unfortunately we didn’t get the win tonight, but I think we competed well.”
“Absolutely (we are balanced in our lineup). At any point, it doesn’t matter what part of the lineup it is, we can bust something open and have a three-run inning.”
“Just going out there (playing hard), to me, that’s just competing. Going hard on every play, just hustling, and doing all I can do. That’s the way the Royals want us to play, and that’s just what I do.”
“I take big pride in (how hard I play). It’s the way I’ve always played the game, and I feel like I’m never too tired to hustle.”