ROCHESTER – There were several positive story lines Saturday afternoon when the Rochester Red Wings defeated the Lehigh Valley IronPigs 8-0 at Frontier Field.
· Recently assigned Zack Littell won his AAA debut, throwing six strong innings. Littell, called up Wednesday, allowed only two hits while walking four IronPigs and striking out six.
· Wings bats, mostly dormant so far this spring, came to life with 13 hits. Centerfielder Jake Cave and rightfielder James Ramsey each had three hits, while leftfielder Jermaine Curtis and third baseman Taylor Featherston each added two. Only two Rochester players, DH Brock Stassi and Willians Astudillo, did not have hits.
· Members of the Rochester bullpen continued their fine work as Alan Busenitz and John Curtiss threw a combined three innings, allowing a hit each while striking out five (four by Busenitz).
· The Wings defense played error-free while the IronPigs committed three miscues. Two resulted in Rochester runs.
Littell brought a record of 0-3 to Rochester when the parent Minnesota Twins assigned him to the Red Wings from AA Chattanooga. He was very efficient in his first AAA start, throwing only 12 pitches in both the first and third innings. He did struggle a bit in the second inning, walking the first two batters, DH Dylan Cozens and third baseman Mitch Walding. A flyout and two strikeouts ended that Lehigh Valley threat.
“You never want to walk guys like that,” Littell said after the game. Named Rochester’s Player of the Game, he also said he “really tried to stay with the game plan” in his first AAA start. He said he was told mid-week he was going up to Rochester and he was thankful for a few days to get acquainted with his new team and stadium. While he said he does not consider himself a strikeout pitcher, the 22-year-old North Carolina native has now retired 38 batters in 30 innings via strikeouts.
Of the four walks he allowed, Littell gave Walding three free passes. He said scouting reports let him know Walding “is a pretty good hitter. I tried to be too fine” in pitching to him. He was also appreciative of the offensive support provided by his teammates.
The Wings took a 2-0 lead after two innings when four consecutive two-hits singles plated Featherston and Ramsey. Second baseman Sean Miller and Curtis were credited with the RBIs. Featherston and Ramsey also keyed Rochester’s five run fourth inning.
Featherston worked IronPigs starter Tom Eshelman for a walk and went to third on Ramsey’s second single. On the play, IronPigs rightfielder Danny Ortiz threw to third in an attempt to get Featherston. His throw was off-line, but Ramsey was caught trying to go to advance to second. Ramsey proceeded to force the Philadelphia Phillies affiliate to try to tag him out. Instead, an IronPig was called for obstruction and Ramsey was given second base. Lehigh manager Gary Jones questioned the ruling but the call by umpire Ryan Wills stood.
Miller popped out to third but was followed by Curtis who was issued an intentional walk to load the bases. Leonardo Reginatto then singled softly to right, ruining the strategic move by Jones and brining in two runners. A passed ball then moved Curtis and Reginatto to third and second. Jake Cave drove in two runs with a double. A soft pop fly by Kennys Vargas over the head of Walding left runners on second and third as Cave was unable to advance on the hit. Stassi was also intentionally walked to again fill the bases with Wings. Astudillo then lined to centerfield and was credited with a sacrifice fly and RBI when Cave came home. Featherston, who started the inning also ended it with a fly ball to right field.
Rochester’s final run came in the bottom of the seventh when Featherston drove an Eshelman pitch 461 feet in left center for a home run. It was his third run scored in the game and second home run of the season. Featherston entered the game batting .151. His two hits brought that average up to .160. He now has seven RBIs as does Curtis. Cave has driven in 11 runs.
Then the rest was left up to the bullpen. Busenitz, who was returned to the Red Wings April 24 after being called up by the Twins nine days earlier, struck out the first two IronPigs he faced in the seventh. After former Red Wing Heiker Meneses singled, Busenitz retired lead-off batter Dean Anna on a line out to Reginatto at short. In the eighth, Busenitz repeated the formula, striking out Collin Cowgill and another former Red Wing, Danny Ortiz. Cozens ended the inning by flying out to Reginatto who roamed into left field to catch a pop fly.
John Curtiss, who went up to the Twins April 30 but was returned to Rochester May 2, finished on the mound for Rochester. He struck out his first batter, Walding, then allowed a single to Joey Meneses. After a wild pitch advanced Meneses to second, Curtiss walked Andrew Pullin. The game ended on a Rochester double play as Logan Moore grounded out to Reginatto who tossed to Miller to retire Pullin and the throw to Vargas at first beat Moore.
Manager Joel Skinner was, as would be expected, very pleased with Littell’s initial Rochester outing. “It was nice that we scored some runs for him early. He did walk a few there but he used all his pitches. It was good to see,” he said. Littell was originally drafted out of high school by Seattle. The Twins acquired him last July in a trade with the New York Yankees.
As for their 13-hit attack, Skinner said that was also “good to see.” He noted Jermaine Curtis has been swinging a hot bat lately.
Jermaine Curtis said he took it was a compliment when Lehigh chose to pass him intentionally in the third inning. Batting leadoff for Rochester, something he has not done much of in his professional career, had singled in both of his first two at-bats. He said he knew “Regi” would come through with a hit. While the team has struggled offensively this spring, the Wings talked about going out and “pick up each other, to have good energy and focus on every pitch.”
Curtis said hitting leadoff is to his liking as he tries to set a tone for his teammates each game, and to focus on getting on base to allow those following him in the order, such as Reginatto, Cave and Vargas, to drive him in. After playing most third base earlier this season, Curtis manned left field Saturday. “I just want to show I’m versatile, show I can be an asset to the team. I will do whatever I need to do to be in the lineup. I don’t have a preference on where I play.”
Saturday’s win broke a three-game losing skein for the Wings while also breaking a three-game winning streak for the IronPigs. Lehigh Valley entered the game in second place in the IL North at 14-12 while Rochester was last at 10-13. The two teams finish their four-game series Sunday, May 6 at 1:05 p.m. Scheduled starting pitchers are Stephen Gonsalves for Rochester and Jake Waguespack for the IronPigs.
WINGS TIPS – After this short four-day home stand the Wings head west to Buffalo Monday. Red Wings manager Skinner both played and managed in Buffalo. He said he always enjoys visiting Buffalo.
Saturday’s shutout was the third thrown so far this season by Rochester pitchers. The Wings pitchers had topped the IL’s ERA chart through last Tuesday, allowing 2.67 runs per game. But they had dropped to third after the opponents scored 23 times in three games prior to Saturday.
Rochester’s victory was also a rare occasion against the IronPigs. Prior to the 8-0 loss, Lehigh Valley had lost only once in the last 13 contests with the Wings. Since the start of the 2016 season the IronPigs won 27 of 43 games against Rochester.