Crawdads surge after early deficit to even series against Blue Rocks

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Jordy Barley (left) and Viandel Pena (right) warm up before the inning begins. Wednesday, April 12, 2023. - Staff Photographer / Tyrese Williams

The Wilmington Blue Rocks (3-4) fell to the Hickory Crawdads (3-2) 6-3 on Friday, April 14, in a quiet game offensively. 

Early on it was a back-and-forth game. Blue Rocks starter Dustin Saenz allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base with two singles and one reaching on an error. This was followed by an RBI single for Geisel Cepeda, giving the Crawdads an early 1-0 lead.

Saenz worked himself out of the jam with minimal damage, however, which was the overall theme for Blue Rocks’ pitching in this game.

“He [Saenz] had a game plan going in,” pitching coach Mark DiFelice said. “It was a good game plan. We tried to get fastballs in… he was missing his spots, he created a lot of weak contact base hits… it could have been a lot worse.”

Saenz went 3.1 innings, allowing nine hits and five runs with four of them earned while walking one, striking out four and hitting one batter.

The Rocks bounced back in the bottom half of the first. Donovan Casey was able to reach base after being hit by a pitch, followed by a Derek Hill single that sparked a three-run first inning. 

That would be all for the Blue Rocks’ bats though, as they struggled to get anything going for the rest of the game. 

As for the Crawdads, they would have a man reach base in eight out of nine innings but could only muster up six runs.

“I think we did an excellent job of minimizing that damage,” DiFelice said. “There were some miscues defensively here and there but we didn’t let that affect us and we just went right back at it and tried to fill up the strike zone… We threw strikes. We didn’t have forced errors.”

The Rocks had to use four arms in this game with two games still remaining in the series, which is something DiFelice knows could be hard on his relievers.

“They [starting pitchers] can only go five [innings] and 80 [pitches] for the first few,” DiFelice said. “It’s gonna be heavy on our relievers so if we can get those five innings out of our starters, it’s huge… We have some arms for tomorrow, it might rain so rainouts are always nice and then maybe a doubleheader on Sunday.”

The Rocks ended up surrendering 17 hits to the Crawdads but kept the game close by limiting the damage and controlling the runners.

“I just think it’s a mindset thing,” DiFelice said. “Our whole game plan going into this season is to have our catcher set up at the middle of the plate and really forcing contact and unfortunately you’re going to run into games like this… To be able to minimize it to only five or six runs is pretty good.”

The Rocks will look to take control of the series on Saturday night, April 15, barring a postponement from the weather. The Rocks will have 6-foot-2-inch right-hander Kyle Luckham on the bump. Luckham has appeared in one game this season with a 0-0 record and a 4.50 ERA. The first pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.

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