The Wilmington Blue Rocks opened their series with the Jersey Shore BlueClaws on Tuesday, July 26, in a rough way, dropping the first game 8-1.
Unable to build momentum on either side of the field, their pitching is where they had the biggest struggle. Starter Dustin Saenz allowed seven runs to score through the first three innings of play, putting the Blue Rocks in a hole they would never get out of.
“Hats off to them,” Saenz said. “I hadn’t really been banged up like that this season, so I think I needed that. I’ll take that with a grain of salt and just move forward, flush it.”
Saenz was recently moved to Wilmington earlier this month from the Washington Nationals’ Low-A affiliate, the Fredericksburg Nationals. There, the starter had an ERA of 2.95 through 11 games, but through two starts with the Blue Rocks, his ERA sits at 12.46.
“This was Dustin [Saenz]’s second game here,” Blue Rocks Pitching Coach Mark DiFilice said. “He kind of had a rough game in Hickory and we tried to gain confidence as much as we can… He just needs to understand, he just needs to do the same things he was doing down in Fredericksburg.”
It was clear that this would not be the game that Saenz built back his confidence as his troubles started right away when Carlos De La Cruz hit a two-run homer in the top of first inning.
Two frames later, things went from bad to worse for Saenz when he gave up an RBI single, a three-RBI double, and even allowed a run to score off a hit by pitch.
“I think he got real complacent with location tonight,” DeFelice said. “He kept the ball relatively down and in, down and away where he needed to kind of change eye-level and he just wasn’t able to do that– and I think his slider was a little flat tonight. So fastball wise, he looked great in the ‘pen warming up, I just think his secondary pitches didn’t play as he would have hoped.”
The lefty would be allowed to close out the third inning despite causing the 7-0 deficit, striking out the last batter he faced.
“I’m happy I was able to finish it out, for sure,” Saenz said. “I wanted that game, that’s my game, so it is what it is.”
DeFelice explained why he kept Saenz in to close out the inning, even after giving up seven runs off seven hits.
“It’s a developmental kind of league, so we can’t just pull guys just because they’ve given up runs. We want to kind of see how they handle that as well,” DeFelice said. “To be able to pitch through adversity is something that we kind of judge them on.”
While Saenz’s performance was a huge blow to the Blue Rocks’ game, their offense didn’t help their cause. Wilmington only recorded three hits on the night and scored their lone run off a throwing error in the bottom of the fourth.
Overall though, it was the BlueClaws’ ability to take advantage of the Blue Rocks’ pitching that caused them to end the day with a loss.
“I think it’s because we throw a lot of fastballs and they’re a good, fastball-hitting team. I think a lot of other organizations throw a lot of offspeed, a lot of breakers and we’re an organization that lives by our fastball,” DeFelice said. “We have to be able to execute that fastball, so it’s not more them beating us, I think we kind of beat ourselves in that.”
Saenz will likely get the chance to try to redeem himself, as he is scheduled to face Jersey Shore in the last game of the series.
“I thought I had a pretty good plan going into tonight’s game and you know, they got me tonight,” Saenz said. “So I’ll bounce back Sunday and get after it again.”
Before Saenz gets that chance, the Blue Rocks and BlueClaws still have a lot of series to play, and that series will continue on Wednesday, July 27, with an early start time of 11:05 a.m.
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