Blue Rocks offense goes cold despite the scorching temperatures

Joe Naranjo stands in the batters box. Naranjo drove in one of the team's two runs on Saturday. - Thursday, June 20, 2024. / Photo via Payton Tuorto

The Wilmington Blue Rocks fought through a scorcher, but fell to the Aberdeen IronBirds 4-2 on Saturday, June 22.   

Jose Atencio was on the bump for Wilmington to start but ran into trouble early. He left the ball over the middle early on, as Aberdeen hit three home runs in the first three innings. The ball was flying off the bat in the 96-degree weather, with wind pushing out of the stadium.  

“Absolutely, especially with the wind blowing out,” Joe Naranjo said. “The ball was definitely carrying today.”  

The Blue Rocks warmed up to the weather in the first inning, scoring two runs on three hits. Jared McKenzie drove in Viandel Pena with an RBI single, and Naranjo grounded out with one out, allowing McKenzie to cross the plate to cap the Rocks’ scoring for the day.

“Obviously it’s my first week back here,” McKenzie said. “Just trying to see the ball early in the counts and not miss the ones that are hittable.”

“Runner on third, just trying to put something in play,” Naranjo added. “Just something in the air or hit something hard to get that run in. Those runs are crucial going into the late innings.”

The heat isn’t much of an issue for McKenzie, who has played his fair share of baseball in the hot sun in his day. 

“It’s hot, but I’m from Texas so I’m used to it a little bit,” McKenzie said. “Hopefully it cools down in the next week or so, but it was definitely a warm one today.”

McKenzie has been moving around in the lineup, batting second, third, and fifth over the last three days.   In the last two days, he’s had big hits to help get the offense going in the first inning, something Wilmington has been lacking this season.  

“I think in college that plays more of a deal,” McKenzie said. “At this level, everybody is very talented, and everybody can hit. Whether I’m hitting two-hole, three-hole, or nine-hole, I know that whoever is hitting in the other positions is going to get it done.  It’s more so just trying to get on base and getting the next guy up to bat.”

In Naranjo’s first five games with the Blue Rocks, he has tallied four RBI and displayed plenty of highlight plays at first, showcasing his defensive ability.

“It’s definitely been an adjustment,” Naranjo said. “Taking two weeks off and coming to a new organization is definitely different, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and grateful to meet some of my new teammates, create friendships and win ballgames.”  

Naranjo turned two double plays in the loss, one on a tough ground ball in the sixth that he threw to second and received back at first. The second was on a line drive that he caught and launched across the diamond to Gavin Dugas at third to catch the IronBirds slipping down the line.  

“I take pride in my defense,” Naranjo said. “That all starts before the game during practice, getting the reps in, getting a feel, and that prepares you for the game.”

The defense has started to shine, but the Blue Rocks’ main concern entering the second half of the season has been the offensive production.  

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