Rodney Theophile fans a new High-A career-high as Blue Rocks take down IronBirds in series opener

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Rodney Theophile delivers the pitch. Theophile recorded 10 strikeouts in the win. - Tuesday, June 18, 2024. / Photo via Ryan Griffith

After a 2-4 road trip against the Jersey Shore BlueClaws, the Wilmington Blue Rocks (30-34) returned home and got back in the win column with a 12-7 victory over the Aberdeen IronBirds (33-31) on Tuesday, June 18.

After scoring in back-to-back innings to go up 2-0 and chase IronBirds’ starter Edgar Portes out of the game, the Blue Rocks offense exploded for six runs in the fourth against reliever Graham Firoved, who was the first of four relievers to come out of the ‘pen today for Aberdeen. 

“We always love to see runs on the board,” Jared McKenzie said. “We get to see their bullpen and hopefully seeing those guys tonight and then later on can help us out.”

Maxwell Romero Jr. got the scoring started in the fourth with a leadoff home run over the right-center field wall. Then, TJ White and Viandel Pena drew two of the team’s three walks in the inning and 11 total, to reach base and would later come around to score. The 11 walks were the third most in a game this season for the Blue Rocks.

“That’s what we talk about all the time – try and stay in your hot zone and do damage on your pitches and when it’s not there, take them,” manager Mario Lisson said. “They did not chase much and when you do that you get free bases, people on base, and you make it hard on that pitcher to get outs and that’s what we did.”

After missing just about two months with a hamstring injury, McKenzie made his return to the lineup and helped add on in the fourth with a two-run double that scored Pena and Kevin Made and gave the Rocks a 6-0 lead. 

“It was a long two months but I’m glad to be back and playing ball again,” McKenzie said. “I did a lot of rehab down there [Florida Complex League], had some time in Fredericksburg, and it was just nice to come back here, see a ball fall and make a couple plays in the outfield tonight.”

“It’s great [having him back],” Lisson added. “Someone who can come in and drive runs in, that’s what we need. I think him and [Joe] Naranjo did a good job today providing offense. That’s what we’re looking for.”

McKenzie’s return to the lineup couldn’t have come at a better time with the recent promotion of Nationals No.7 prospect Daylen Lile, who was called up to AA after a .271/.352/.410 slash line in 57 games with Wilmington this year.

“I called him yesterday when we found out about it,” Lisson said. “He did a good job for us, man. It’s part of the minor leagues. When those guys are ready to move, it’s a good thing that they move… hopefully, he continues to do what he was doing here at the plate.”

Another guy who made an instant impact in the lineup was the newly acquired Joe Naranjo, who played first and went 1-4 with a walk, run scored, and a two-run single in the fifth to put the Rocks up 10. Naranjo was claimed on June 17 after putting up a .211/.305/.266 line in 34 games for the Akron RubberDucks, the AA affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians. 

“He’s got some AA experience so hopefully he’s going to help us offensively,” Lisson said. “Looks like he has a solid glove at first base so that’s going to help and hopefully the bat comes around, that’s what we signed him for.”

While the offense was grinding out long innings, Rodney Theophile was in cruise control on the bump for the first five innings, as he retired 15 of the first 17 batters he faced.  

“Fastball was alive, he was attacking the strike zone and using his secondary stuff for strikes and chases,” Lisson said. “That’s pretty good and that’s what we like from him. He’s done a good job for us and hopefully he can continue that.”

Theophile ran into trouble in the sixth though. After a leadoff single from Angel Tejeda, he recorded the next two outs on just six pitches but struggled to get that final out. Mac Horvath drew a walk, which was then followed by an RBI single from Creed Willems and then a three-run home run from Carter Young to make it a 10-4 game. 

With his pitch count at 94, Lisson went out to pull Theophile from the game, however he was able to convince his manager to leave him in for the final out. 

“I was not giving up that ball right there,” Theophile said. “I just put the ball in my glove and put my glove behind me. I was like ‘no, this is my inning, I’m getting out of this’”.

His manager’s trust in him paid off, as he struck out Jalen Vasquez for his 10th strikeout of the night, the most he’s recorded in his 32 starts at the High-A level.

“My fastball was pretty good at the top of the zone and my changeup down, that was helping me a lot, and also my curveball,” Theophile said. “I was mixing it all up.”

After going through four relievers, Aberdeen waved the white flag in the eighth and had first baseman Maxwell Costes pitch. Costes had the best outing of all the IronBirds’ pitchers, as he got three outs on just four pitches. 

“Sometimes I want to kick myself in the head sometimes for that,” Romero Jr, who popped up to Costes on the first pitch, said. “You know those guys try to do some funky stuff and he quick pitched me and he was messing with timing and stuff, but I know better and I should do better. That was just a given at-bat and I gave it away there.”

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