With a major league pitcher on the mound and a two-game losing streak that needed to be snapped, the Wilmington Blue Rocks were able to overcome their division rivals, the Aberdeen IronBirds, one last time this season.
The Blue Rocks defeated the IronBirds 8-1 on Sunday, August 28, with Evan Lee starting for the Washington Nationals High-A affiliate.
Lee, a former Blue Rock, was sent to Wilmington on a rehab assignment after sustaining a left flexor strain back on June 18 while facing the Philadelphia Phillies. Prior to this matchup, Lee had already thrown in three rehab starts, two for the FCL Nationals and one with Wilmington.
His fourth outing on Sunday afternoon proved to be his strongest one yet, as he went three innings to record one run, one hit, three walks, and one strikeout.
“I feel like I’m getting better every time. Every time I roll out there, it’s kind of just been a struggle just getting my feet wet, getting back that mount time is precious,” Lee said. “I was glad to finish today with the inning that I had being able to attack the zone and be able to be free with some conviction behind it.”
Compared to his start earlier in the series down in Aberdeen, this start was definitely an improvement that needed to be seen.
“[Lee] was so much better today compared to his first outing,” Blue Rocks’ Manager Mario Lisson said. “Today he was able to command the ball a little bit better, I think there’s a lot more to keep getting better. So, you know, three innings that’s what we needed from him today.”
While Lee was the main focus in the top of the innings, when the bottom half rolled around, Wilmington focused on jumping ahead of the IronBirds so that they weren’t stuck trying to build a comeback like their previous two games.
“It’s always important to score first in the first inning,” Blue Rocks’ Outfielder Justin Connell said. “If you can set the tone early… it sets the tone for the game. We came out aggressive and I have a phrase ‘score early and often’ so that’s what we try to do every day.”
Scoring early was exactly what they did because, after Lee left the IronBirds scoreless in the top of the first inning, the Blue Rocks were able to take advantage and put four runs on the board to take the early lead.
“It’s good, especially [after] last night, where we couldn’t push more runs in and today we take four in the first inning and three more in the third,” Lisson said. “So that’s what we like to see, obviously again, being ready for the fastball and not missing.”
Even though the small ball has been Wilmington’s “bread and butter”, it was a three-run blast from Leandro Emiliani that blew this game open and put the Blue Rocks up 3-0.
Smart baserunning from Cody Wilson led to two of his three stolen bases of the day and a 4-0 cushion to give Lee as he went out for his second inning of work.
“When you get a big lead like we did in the first, your job as a pitcher is to pound the zone and to go out there and move the game,” Lee said. “We got a lot of momentum so the biggest thing is you got to go out there and throw strikes and you got to get early contact, early swings, and get your team back in the dugout so they can continue to add runs for you.”
The second inning wasn’t the best for Lee as Aberdeen was able to put a run on the board, but after giving up a single to start the third, he closed out his day cleanly, recording the last three outs.
Lee still has some things he needs to work out before returning to the Nationals, but Sunday was a step in the right direction.
“What I’m looking for, I’m looking for obviously the [velocity] has to tick back up which it will with time,” Lee said. “So just learning something new every day, getting my feet back in the game and performing at the highest level, that’s what I have to do.”
As for the rest of the Blue Rocks, they continued to attack the ball throughout the game, adding four more insurance runs and closing out their series with Aberdeen on a high note.
Wilmington looks to ride this momentum into Brooklyn next week as they are set to face the Cyclones in another six-game series.
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