Blue Rocks fall short in home opener versus Crawdads 3-2

Frawley Stadium boasts partly cloudy skies in their home opener in Wilmington, Deleware. - Features Editor / Drew Peltzman

On Tuesday, April 11, Washington Nationals High-A affiliate the Wilmington Blue Rocks played a game in front of their home fans at Frawley Stadium for the first time in 213 days.  

“We had a good crowd today, it was nice to see,” Blue Rocks Manager Mario Lisson said. “Hopefully, they can continue to come in and support the team.”

Unfortunately, the Rocks’ long-awaited return ended in sorrow for their fans, as the 2023 home opener was dropped by a final score of 3-2.

Wilmington’s new-look lineup, which features top-ranked Nationals prospect James Wood, struggled to get the bats going all night long. A big reason for that was the opposing pitcher for Hickory, Kumar Rocker, the third overall pick in the 2022 MLB draft.

In his first career minor league start Rocker went five innings, allowing just two hits and striking out eight. The standout performance left Lisson in awe of the arsenal that the Texas Rangers No. 9 ranked prospect possesses.

“The guy has good stuff,” Lisson said. “You have to give him credit for that. I think we could’ve done a better job with the fastball, being ready for it. But it’s a good arm, it’s early in the season. We’ll see him again on Sunday.”

The pitching wasn’t just strong for Hickory, however, as Wilmington starter Rodney Theophile also turned in a stellar performance. After going 6-8 with a 3.25 ERA in 2022, the 23-year-old right-hander from Nicaragua started the 2023 season off on the right foot, going five innings, allowing four hits, two runs, and two walks, while also fanning five. Theophile made just one mistake, giving up a second-inning home run to Josh Hatcher.

Theophile was able to bounce back following the long ball and claimed he felt great while having full control of his pitches in his first start of the season.

“My arm felt pretty good, it felt pretty good being out there,” Theophile said. “Just one bad pitch I had on that changeup, gave up a homer. But I just had to get back to work, and that’s what I did.”

A theme throughout the game that led to Theophile’s success was working the outside part of the plate to the Crawdads’ left-handed hitters. The four lefties in Hickory’s lineup on Tuesday went just 3-14 with five strikeouts, and Theophile credits this success to one pitch that was a big part of the game plan.

“This year, I added a new pitch,” Theophile said. “I was working a lot of sinkers today, and it worked out pretty good.”

Although Theophile exited with a respectable stat line, there were times where Hickory’s lineup had the opportunity to blow the game wide open. Overall, the Crawdads left 17 men on base throughout the game and they left men on base in three out of the five innings that Theophile pitched.

Theohpile explained how he was able to calm the storm and escape those early jams.

“I was just trying not to get too anxious,” Theophile said. “Just tried to make the pitch, get some ground balls and get out of there as quickly as possible.”

Although there is much to be proud of in terms of the Blue Rocks’ pitching, there are also things that need to be cleaned up. For example, Rocks’ pitchers threw four wild pitches on Tuesday evening that led to free bases, and in some cases, runs for the Crawdads.

Lisson is seeking improvement in this area moving forward.

“We’ve got to continue to work,” Lisson said. “This is development, we’re going to continue to work and hopefully continue to get better; that’s the idea. Obviously, there’s things we gotta talk about, but we’re going to continue to get better and work on it.”

Through four games, the Blue Rocks now sport a 1-3 record on the season after losing their season-opening series to the Aberdeen IronBirds. As previously mentioned, there are very few players returning from last year’s team, and as a result, Lisson believes there is plenty to work on as the rest of this week’s homestand progresses.

“We’ve gotta get better in all three aspects of the game,” Lisson said. “Pitching, hitting and defense. We will continue to work; that’s the main thing, continue to work to improve. We have a very talented team, so we’re hopeful, and we’ll work enough until they eventually get to where they need to be.”

Lisson and company will have an immediate opportunity to bounce back in Game 2 of their six-game series against the Hickory Crawdads on Wednesday, April 12, at 6:35 p.m.

For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.