The Hagerstown bullpen served as an operator, twice connecting long distance balls from home plate to the trees lining South Cannon Avenue in a 7-4 loss to Lakewood. Thanks to the Intimidators, who beat the Grasshoppers 3-1, the Suns still remain a game up with two to go in the race for the second-half division title.
It’s hard to believe, but this game was a pitcher’s duel through five innings with Hagerstown’s Reynaldo Lopez trading doughnuts with Ranfi Casimiro. The hype about the heat from Lopez? Believe it. His first five pitches were 96-96-98-98-98 in a whiff of BlueClaw leadoff man Malquin Canelo.
Part of the joy of following prospects is seeing the development, and this was a different pitcher than the one I saw in June. The curve, which might be the only thing he throws below 90mph, was more than a show-me this time around — especially when he dropped it over the back corner for a called third strike to end the 2nd.
Lopez finished with five shutout innings with one hit — by Canelo, and it was a clean single — two walks and five strikeouts. In addition to the high-90s four-seamer, he brought a mid-90s two-seamer and a Strasburg-like low-90s change. Perhaps most impressively, everything seemed to have some kind of movement — a tail, a dip, a break.
Unfortunately, Lopez had but one run to work with, which came in the 1st when Rafael Bautista doubled over the left fielder’s head, stole third after Wilmer Difo flew out to CF, then teamed up with Austin Davidson on a double steal after Davidson walked. Speed giveth, speed taketh away as Davidson was caught trying to match Bautista’s feat (feet?) to effectively kill the rally.
Ryan Ullmann was the first man out of the Suns to start the 6th, and when he threw the ball away for a three-base error, it wasn’t difficult to predict this would be a bad outing. The next batter missed a home run by about a foot to tie the game at 1-1. The third batter blasted a two-run shot to put Lakewood on top 3-1. A walk, another double — that’s five straight batters without an out — pushed the score to 4-1.
Ullmann struck out the sixth batter he faced, then induced a flyout to right before giving up his fourth hit, a single to center that Narciso Mesa managed to skip to home on five or six bounces to get the lead-footed Zach Green at home for the third out.
The Suns answered with one in the 6th on a Bautista single followed by Difo double, and tied it in the 7th with a two run golf shot by Wilman Rodriguez off the pavilion beyond LF, scoring James Yezzo who had gotten with the first of his two singles.
Justin Thomas followed Ullmann in the 7th and turned in two scoreless before giving up back-to-back singles to start the 9th, then the second Lakewood home run to Andrew Pullin for an Earl Weaver special. Thomas retired the next three in order, but it was too little, too late.
Yezzo singled again in the 9th with one out but was picked off to end the Suns hopes of yet another tie or walkoff as they fell, 7-4.
Nick Pivetta (13-8, 4.24) gets the call tonight against Lakewood’s Matt Imhof (0-2, 4.10) followed by Wander Suero (4-1, 2.13) vs. Jon Prosinski (5-5, 3.50) tomorrow afternoon as the Suns wrap up the regular season in preparation for their best-of-three playoff series against the Grasshoppers, which begins on Wednesday at the Muni.