The Wilmington Blue Rocks were able to secure a series tie against the Hickory Crawdads on Saturday, April 15, with a 3-2 victory at Frawley Stadium.
The win was thanks in large part to Kyle Luckham, who made his first career minor league start on the mound. In his starting debut, Luckham went four innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out four.
“It was good,” Luckham said. “Kind of fell into a few holes there but worked out of it and got the jitters out early. It was nice to throw up a few zeroes and give the team a chance to win.”
The start was out of the ordinary for Luckham, as he came out of the bullpen in all eight of his previous minor league appearances.
Luckham described the similarities and differences of his mindset and approach on Saturday in his different role.
“Knowing you have some more innings to work with, it’s always nice to have leeway there,” Luckham said. “It’s the same mentality: I go at guys right away, get ahead early, try to pitch deep into the game. Didn’t do that today, but I felt like I attacked hitters well, and we came out with the win, most importantly.”
Although Luckham’s job on Saturday was rare for him, it did not have an effect on his pitch arsenal. Luckham produced a steady diet of breaking balls that featured sharp movement.
Luckham expressed confidence in his breaking ball and noted that he is confident enough to throw that pitch in any count.
“I use it in any count,” Luckham said. “I like to get ahead with it, and there were some free swingers so it was good to get them chasing early. It kind of made my fastball play out, that’s how I do it, so I use it in any count and put guys away with it.”
Luckham was a big reason why the Rocks’ were able to stay in the game early. The offense struggled against southpaw Mitch Bratt, who went four innings allowing three hits, one run and one walk, adding in three strikeouts. Although Wilmington was able to put a run on the board against Bratt, they did not record their first hit off him until the bottom of the fourth inning.
Manager Mario Lisson noticed some things that Bratt was doing well that made it tough to get solid contact.
“He was pitching ahead in the count,” Lisson said. “He was using his fastball on both sides of the plate. We were glad he was out of the game; we were able to put runs up on the board.”
What was a close game in the fifth inning had a chance to be blown wide open. With reliever Jaren Zinn replacing Luckham in a scoreless ballgame, he got himself into a jam, loading the bases with just one out.
Lisson then paid Zinn a visit out on the mound which helped him settle down. He proceed to strike out the next two batters he’d face to escape the inning unscathed.
Lisson revealed what he told Zinn during the mound visit.
“Just make sure to stay confident with his pitches, he has the stuff to get those guys out,” Lisson said. “Also to set up the defense, make sure we’re all on the same page and know what to do.”
Zinn getting out of the jam and allowing no runs set up what would be the game-deciding moment in the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out and one man on, catcher Caleb Farmer stepped up to the plate and drilled a two-run homer over the left field fence, his first of the season and second of his minor league career to give the Blue Rocks a 3-1 lead.
“I’ve already seen him before, so I’d say I saw his fastball pretty well,” Farmer said. “My biggest thing is to try not to rush, try to stay under control, stay smooth. I kind of think Nick [Shumpert] got that inning going with that big walk. That was pretty big, giving me some momentum going into that at-bat.”
Farmer’s big moment made his manager proud as well.
“Big, clutch moment, we needed that,” Lisson said. “On a night like tonight, where we struggled to score runs, we needed that big hit and we got it done.”
Farmer has seen inconsistent playing time so far in 2023, with Saturday being just his third start. After his big blast, however, he is starting to feel more confident.
“I think I’m now getting settled in,” Farmer said. “First two games were a little rough, just a little nervous. But now, we’re starting to settle in and hopefully can win a lot more ballgames.”
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