Kent shuts down Express again
For the past two nights, the Eau Claire Express struggled to get offense going against a pair of left-handed pitchers.
Their task didn't get any easier Saturday night as Rochester All-Star Matt Kent, a left-hander who happens to lead the Northwoods League in strikeouts, took the bump for the Honkers.
And he delivered. Kent went eight innings while giving up just one run in and striking out five in an 8-1 Honkers victory in front of 2,006 people at Carson Park.
“He was mixing some good pitches, had some good movement on his fastball, commanding his changeup really well and then he had his offspeed pitch,” Express catcher Brian Mundell said.
Eau Claire has only mustered up a total of five runs in the three-game homestand that has seen 24.2 of the 27 innings come against left-handed pitching. With a few injuries, Eau Claire's lineup has become left-handed dominated wth usually six or seven in the lineup.
“Lefties seem to be kind of our Achilles heel," Mundell said. "As much as people don’t want to talk about it, lefty-lefty matchups are hard.”
A sloppy second inning was the Achilles heel of Saturday's game. Three errors and four unearned runs chased Ian Doughty out of the game early as the Honkers built a lead that was more than enough for the All-Star Kent.
“Things happened in that one inning, but that inning really set the tone of ‘here we go again,’” Field Manager Dale Varsho said.
But Mundell showed a sign of life for an Express offense that was much more aggressive at the plate Saturday night.
In the bottom of the seventh, Mundell joined the theme of the night offensively by jumping on an early strike, a pitch he launched over the left-center field fence for his third home run of the season.
“I feel like I get a lot better pitches earlier in the count than later in the count," Mundell said. "I’ve found myself doing a lot better being aggressive and jumping on that first pitch.”
Jeremy Bagnall and Andy Davis, starters who have been resting the past few weeks because of a high pitch count, combined to go six innings while giving up just two runs.
Varsho said the squad will come to the ballpark smiling tomorrow as a right-hander finally awaits them as the probable pitcher. While he said they can't focus on the playoff chase right now, he still has all the confidence in the world in his team to come to the park loose and ready to play.
“We’ve got really good players, we’ve just got to figure it out the last 16 games and come to the ballpark and have fun," Varsho said.
The Express and Honkers face one another tomorrow at 5:05 p.m. on Wine, Women and Baseball Night sponsored by Angelus Day Spa and Salon.