- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Through two games, this hardly looked like a matchup between teams headed in the opposite directions when the series started.
The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, all but mathematically eliminated from first-half contention as the last-place club in the Freedom Division, gave the Atlantic League’s best team in Liberty Division-leading Somerset all it could handle Tuesday and Wednesday.
Starting pitcher Gaby Hernandez delivered his second straight dazzling outing Wednesday with just one earned run allowed on five hits in 7 1/3 innings, fanning seven and walking none, in carrying the Blue Crabs to a 2-1 victory over visiting Somerset, evening the series at Waldorf’s Regency Furniture Stadium.
The win halted a five-game skid, matching the Blue Crabs’ longest losing streak of the season, while the club experienced a rare win when tallying no more than two runs with a 3-17 record this season, as of Wednesday, in such a scenario.
Somerset (32-20) edged the Blue Crabs (21-32) with a 5-4 comeback win in Tuesday’s series opener.
The series was scheduled to resume Thursday but finished too late for inclusion into this edition. The series finale is slated for 7:05 tonight before the Blue Crabs’ eight-game homestand continues with another four-game series Saturday through Tuesday against York (31-22), tied for first with Lancaster in the Freedom Division entering Thursday.
“No doubt, you feel better about yourself. That’s a good team and all those guys have been around for a while,” Hernandez said about notching his first win of the season against Somerset to improve to 1-3. He’s pitched well enough to have at least three wins on his pitching tab but has been victimized by little run support. “Fastball command [was working well for me]. We worked off my fastball a lot. I had confidence in it to let it go. I have confidence in what I can do, and I just need to do that every start.”
Hernandez’s impressive numbers were almost identical to what he produced in his previous start, going 7 1/3 innings last Friday at Sugar Land with two runs allowed, one earned, on five hits with six strikeouts and a walk in a no-decision the Blue Crabs lost 3-2 in 12 innings.
“He just threw strikes, that’s the key. He worked ahead in the count,” Blue Crabs manager Lance Burkhart said of his starting hurler’s effort. “He can put guys away with his fastball or breaking ball. Working ahead is the key for him.”
Hernandez has dropped his ERA (5.43) by nearly two runs since it ballooned to 7.29 on June 6 due to getting roughed up by Long Island.
“Baseball has ups and downs and it’s early still [in the season]. The halfway [point] isn’t even here yet,” the righty said, his Blue Crabs hopeful of contending once the records are reset to start the second half of the regular season. “It’s going to happen [where we get hot].”
Back-to-back, two-out walks in the opening frame Wednesday set up the Blue Crabs with their first run as C.J. Ziegler stroked an RBI single to right field to plate Jake Opitz.
The Blue Crabs extended their lead to 2-0 in the third, scoring again with two outs when Opitz cranked a solo home run, his sixth of the season to match Ziegler with team-high honors in that department.
Somerset scored in the fourth with a leadoff solo shot from Brian Barden to get within 2-1, but Hernandez and the Blue Crabs bullpen closed the door from there with a huge defensive lift late in the game.
Blue Crabs right fielder Johermyn Chavez threw out Somerset pinch-runner Scott Kelly at the plate in the eighth after an errant throw to first base from Hernandez on a sacrifice bunt.
Then, with the infield playing in, Blue Crabs reliever Charlie Manning got Somerset’s Aharon Eggleston to bounce out to short, holding Edwin Maysonet at third. Erik Hamren, the Blue Crabs second reliever in the frame, followed suit by inducing a groundout of Barden to end the Somerset threat.
“We pitched well, which is what we’ve got to do, and our offense has been coming along. We’ve been swinging the bats a lot better,” Burkhart said, feeling his club has improved its offensive woes from earlier in the season despite scoring three runs or less in eight of his previous 12 games entering Thursday. “We’ve been going over some different [offensive] approaches in how to handle some situations, and I think it’s helping.
“We may have sat back and waited for things to happen three or four weeks ago, but I think we’re starting to pick it up now [in all phases of the game].”
Like Hernandez, Southern Maryland native Daryl Thompson was hoping to duplicate his best pitching outing of the season from the Blue Crabs’ Sugar Land trip last week, which saw him allow just an earned run in seven innings to notch his first victory in five appearances.
But Thompson was a bit rocky in Tuesday’s series opener, unable to hold an early 4-2 lead through three innings. A two-out, two-run homer from Adam Donachie in the fifth gave Somerset a 5-4 lead, and the Blue Crabs were held scoreless the final six frames despite having chances.
Thompson fell to 1-2 this season, his ERA enlarging to 4.86, after he yielded all five runs, four earned, on six hits through his five-inning stint, walking four and fanning four.
A four-run third, all the scoring coming with two outs, had the momentum seemingly on the Blue Crabs side. Luke Murton belted a two-run homer to give the Blue Crabs a 3-2 lead, which was extended by a run on back-to-back doubles from Amadeo Zazueta and Tony Delmonico.
“I know since I’ve been here, we’ve lost more than we’ve won. But it’s not like we’re going out there and losing by three and four and five runs every night,” said Murton, who was signed to the club on June 8. “I feel like every night we’re in the game. It’s one key play we could’ve made or we could’ve gotten a hit or situation could’ve gone differently.
“As a team, we’re confident that we have a chance to win every night. I think getting that win [Wednesday] was a good win, so we’re ready to go.”