Aberdeen was shut down by Hudson Valley’s pitching staff on Friday night, dropping the first game of a two-game series, 5-2 at Ripken Stadium.
New York-Penn League Pitcher of the Week Bruno Sanchez did not duplicate his performance of late early on in Friday night’s game. Sanchez issued a leadoff walk to second baseman Robby Price who stole second during shortstop Dio Luis’s at bat. Luis struck out, but leftfielder Steve Tinoco singled to advance Price to third. After getting third baseman Nick Schwaner to strike out, Sanchez surrendered a single to right by first baseman Phil Wunderlich to score Price and give Hudson Valley a 1-0 lead.
Sanchez settled down in the second and third innings, but Hudson Valley got to him in the top of the fourth for four more runs. Leadoff batter Wunderlich singled to center, before catcher Mayo Acosta walked. A fielder’s choice put Acosta and Wunderlich on second and third, and a wild pitch during designated hitter Kyle Holloway’s at bat scored Wunderlich and put Acosta on third. Holloway walked, putting runners on first and third with one out. Centerfielder Chris Winder laid down a suicide squeeze, but no IronBird covered first, allowing Acosta to score and Winder to reach base safely. Price singled to left to load the bases. Luis grounded sharply to first baseman David Anderson, but Anderson’s throw to second hit Price in the back, causing the ball to carom towards right field and allowing Holloway and Winder to score and Hudson Valley to take a 5-0 lead.
“The fourth inning was just our bugaboo all around tonight,” pitching coach Scott McGregor said.
Sanchez was lifted by pitching coach Scott McGregor after Luis’s at bat for Jose Barajas. Officially, Sanchez went 3.1 innings and allowed five runs on six hits and three walks while striking out four. Barajas was able to end the threat in the fourth by throwing Price out at home after Price tried to score on a wild pitch and striking out third baseman Nick Schwaner.
“[Sanchez] wasn’t as sharp tonight, he was behind hitters more, he was having to battle a little bit,” McGregor said.
Hudson Valley’s Jacob Thompson, a second-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, frustrated Aberdeen’s bats all night, allowing one hit through four innings and three hits through the first five shutout innings. The closest the IronBirds came to scoring was in the bottom of the fifth when third baseman Michael Flacco and catcher Joe Oliveira strung together back-to-back singles with one out. Flacco made it as far as third before the inning ended. Thompson was done for the night after his five scoreless innings. His final line included three hits and three strikeouts.
“He’s got a live fastball, a nice little breaking ball, and went right after people,” McGregor said. “Guys like that, with a live arm, are a little much for guys to handle at this level.”
“He was throwing a lot of fastballs early on and I think guys just wanted to get all over the fastballs,” Flacco said. “They just weren’t sitting back and getting their pitch.”
Aberdeen was finally able to break through in the bottom of the sixth against reliever Robert Dickmann, scoring two runs to cut the Hudson Valley lead to 5-2. Centerfielder Trent Mummey drew a leadoff walk, second baseman Sammie Starr reached on an error, and leftfielder Kipp Schutz singled to left to load the bases with one out. Then Anderson grounded into what appeared to be an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play, but Price’s throw was wide, allowing Mummey and Starr to score.
The resurgent Aberdeen bullpen was able to keep the IronBirds in a position to claw back into the game. After Sanchez was lifted, Barajas pitched 3.2 innings of one hit ball in which he struck out five batters. Jason Gurka came in and pitched the last two innings, surrendering only one hit.
One notable change to the Aberdeen lineup tonight was Flacco making his first start at third base after spending the whole year at either first base or designated hitter, and giving regular third baseman Adam Gaylord the night off. Manager Gary Kendall did say before the season that Flacco would be moved around the field, but it had not happened over the first month of the season. Flacco did not see much action come his way at third and was just getting comfortable at the position.
“He needs to be able to play third and first and have some utility,” McGregor said. “He just has to get comfortable with that throw across the diamond again. I’m sure right now it looks like a long way away.”
“I played third all year last year at college and I split time at Bluefield last year and haven’t played over there at all this year. I still see myself as a third baseman,” Flacco said. “The problem is the throw looks so far. The throw is just looking so far right now.”
Flacco had a decent night at the plate as well, going 2-for-4 with two singles. Flacco was the only IronBird with multiple hits Friday night.
“I got enough of those balls to get them over the infield and not quite enough to get them to the outfield,” he said. “Just a night where the ball happened to fall for me.”
Aberdeen finishes up this brief two-game series with Hudson Valley on Saturday night when Brandon Erbe, rehabbing from Triple-A Norfolk, makes a start for the IronBirds against Hudson Valley’s Miguel Sierra (2-1, 4.45). On Sunday and Monday, Aberdeen plays two games in Hudson Valley before an off day. After the off day, the IronBirds return home for a three-game series against Brooklyn that starts on July 28.