Mudcats held scoreless vs. Blue Rocks, 6-0
Carolina left five runners stranded in shutout loss to Wilmington
ZEBULON, NC - The Carolina Mudcats suffered their fourth-straight home defeat in a 6-0 shutout loss to the Wilmington Blue Rocks on Tuesday night. The Blue Rocks broke the game open with multi-run innings late after stellar pitching from both teams kept the game scoreless early.
Manager Scooter Tucker lamented on the tough breaks that seemed to find his Mudcats hitters and pitchers.
"They pitched a good game and we hit some balls hard but they caught them," said Tucker. "That's just the way it goes sometimes."
The loss drops Carolina to 22-27 on the season, while Wilmington improved to 26-24.
Ryan Merritt (6-2, 1.71) looked strong in a losing effort by pitching 7.0 innings and allowing only two earned runs off of six hits. The Carolina ace struck out eight Blue Rocks batters without giving up a single walk.
Merritt attributed his success to his approach and strategy that he developed pre-game with pitching coach Steve Karsay.
"Me and my pitching coach had talked about attacking inside and using my curve ball more so when I got ahead in the count I used my curve ball to put batters away," explained Merritt.
Merritt is normally known for an effective fast ball and change-up combo, but his developing curve ball has given opposing hitters yet another pitch to worry about.
"I've been working to improve that pitch," said Merritt. "I know it's there and it can always get better and as it's been developing it's just been improving and getting the strikes that I need."
The performance had the approval of his manager, as well.
"He pitched extremely well," Tucker said. "He was low pitch count until the last inning and as always he threw a lot of strikes and did a good job again."
Both Ryan Merritt loses have come in games in which the Mudcats were held scoreless.
Wilmington's Glenn Sparkman brought his best in Tuesday's showdown of stellar pitching. The right-hander threw 5.0 scoreless innings and allowed only three hits. Sparkman recorded four strikeouts without allowing a walk.
Zeb Sneed took the win for the Blue Rocks after pitching 4.0 scoreless innings with only three hits allowed.
Tuesday night's game came without a walk from either team.
The game was delayed by about twenty minutes due to a persistent drizzle that covered many parts of the state. While the game was resumed, the offense from both teams took a while to catch up.
The first four innings contained a mix of brilliant pitching and little in the way of offense. Each team's starting pitcher showed command of their pitches coupled with the confidence of stout defenses backing them up.
Carolina nearly cashed in on a fourth inning error from the Blue Rocks, but great defense once again prevailed. After Logan Vick reached base on a throwing error from shortstop Jack Lopez, Erik Gonzalez singled to left to put some pressure on Wilmington. An Anthony Gallas ground ball advanced Vick, but resulted in a force out at second. With runners on the corners, Alex Monsalve drove a ball to deep center, all but assuring that Carolina would score two runners. An amazing leaping catch by center fielder Bubba Starling robbed the Mudcats and kept the game scoreless.
The first run of the game did not come until the seventh inning when Wilmington put a string of hits together. The Blue Rocks put runners on the corners with a Hunter Dozier single and a Zane Evans ground ball that just got past first baseman Jerrud Sabourin. Michael Antonio took advantage of the first scoring opportunity of the night with a RBI double off the wall in left to score Dozier. Daniel Rockett followed it up with a single to left that scored another to make it 2-0.
Merritt pulled himself out of the inning with consecutive strike outs of Cam Gallagher and Kenny Diekroeger.
"They hit some good pitches and there was a 0-2 count where I left a curve ball up in the zone," Merritt recounted. "So I could have done a better job but I mean they hit the ball that inning and got the runners in, that's just baseball and it just happens."
Carolina seemed to unravel in the top of the eighth after south paw Elvis Araujo replaced Ryan Merritt. Speedy left fielder Terrance Gore beat out an infield single, and was advanced to third on a Jack Lopez double down the right field line to start things off. Bubba Starling sent a sac fly to deep center to score Gore and a Hunter Dozier single scored Lopez on the following at bat.
Later in the inning, Zane Evans reached second base on a throwing error which allowed Dozier to score from first. Evans was moved to third when right fielder Luigi Rodriguez failed to make the catch on a routine fly ball from Michael Antonio, which set up another score off a Daniel Rockett sac fly.
All told the Blue Rocks produced four runs off three hits and two in the top of the eighth to extend their lead to six runs and secure the win.
Tucker remained optimistic despite the loss, and maintains a positive outlook on the future for his struggling ball club.
"This game is full of streaks and good and bad, right now we are going through one of those where we hit the ball hard and it's not finding a hole, but then you'll go through a stretch where everything finds a hole."
The Mudcats will hopefully find that stretch when they take on the Wilmington Blue Rocks on Wednesday night at Five County Stadium in Zebulon. Cole Sulser is set to take on Wilmington's Miguel Almonte.
Daniel is a communication and broadcast media major at North Carolina State University.