Doolittle & Wood lead Blue Rocks to comeback victory over Hudson Valley

Two time All-Star Sean Doolittle looks home during his rehab assignment for the Blue Rocks. Saturday, May 27, 2023. - Photo via @WilmBlueRocks on Twitter

The Wilmington Blue Rocks (22-21) took down the Hudson Valley Renegades (26-18) 7-5 Saturday night by virtue of late inning heroics from the plate and on the mound.

After taking an early 2-0 lead, the Renegades appeared to be cruising through the Blue Rocks lineup as starter Chase Hampton struck out six of the first eleven batters he faced.

Replacing injured catcher Israel Pineda, Matt Suggs made quick work in his first at-bat against Hampton, drilling a deep homerun to left field for his first round-tripper of the season.

“They called me up and I was just hopefully ready to go and do my thing,” Suggs said.

The next batter, Will Frizzell, complimented Suggs’ homer with one of his own, this time to straightaway centerfield. The back-to-back home runs locked the game up at two at the end of four innings.

Hudson Valley refused to quit, plating two runners in the top of the fifth off a sacrifice fly from Antonio Gomez and an errant throw on a groundball allowed the second to score.

Hampton finished the game with 10 strikeouts in 5.1 innings, leaving it up to the bullpen to secure the series win against the Blue Rocks.

The Blue Rocks bullpen saw Dannel Diaz relieve starter Andrew Alvarez in the top of the fifth. Diaz threw a dominant 1.2 innings, not surrendering a baserunner.

Down two heading into the seventh, manager Mario Lisson sends out rehabbing Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle to keep the deficit stagnant. Doolittle injured his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his left elbow in the spring of 2022. Before opting for surgery in July of the same year, he underwent stem cell and platelet-rich plasma injections but received unpromising results in his elbow. Thus Doolittle opted for an “internal brace procedure”, less invasive and easier to recover from than full Tommy John surgery.

Doolittle looked in peak condition the rest of the inning. The first batter he faced reached on a miscue from centerfielder Jeremy De La Rosa. Afterwards, he struck out the next two batters he faced, and pitched a flyout to end the inning.

“Doolittle put his contribution on the game and that’s what we need,” Lisson said. “Sometimes it’s not as easy as people think and so we’re competing and that’s what we want.”

The momentum gained from the 2019 World Series champion’s dominant inning carried straight to the Blue Rocks sluggers in the bottom of the seventh.

A leadoff double from De La Rosa and walk to the next batter Leandro Emiliani set the Blue Rocks up for a big inning with no outs. Viandel Pena, in an attempt to sacrifice the runners over a base, struck out after bunting it foul with two strikes. Reliever Carlos Gomez subsequently struck out the next batter Jordy Barley to bring the top of the lineup up with two outs and the tying run on first.

Enter Jacob Young.

via @WilmBlueRocks on Twitter

Young’s second triple of the season tied the game at four and brought up Nationals top prospect James Wood, with a chance to give the Blue Rocks the lead with a single. Perhaps a foolish possibility, as half of Wood’s hits this season have been for extra-bases (according to MLB Pipeline). He did not hit a single.

via @WilmBlueRocks on Twitter

The go-ahead two-run blast gave the Blue Rocks a 6-4 lead, and set up Doolittle to record the win. Now it was up to the Blue Rocks bullpen to hold them down for the last two frames. Todd Peterson answered the call, completing a six-out save and surrendered one run. Luckily, Peterson received an insurance run in the form of an Emiliani RBI single in the top of the eighth, giving him some breathing room to finish the job.

For a team that has been struggling to produce with two outs and runners on, the seventh inning appeared to be a large step in the right direction.

“It’s good to come back today… down two going into the seventh, the reaction with two outs, that was big. The two run triple and two run homerun was huge to get us going,” Lisson said.

Wood has been off to a red-hot start to the season with eight homeruns, eight stolen bases (on nine attempts) and an OPS of .972. He looks to continue his treachery against Hudson Valley pitchers on Sunday, as the Blue Rocks look to even up the series 3-3.

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