The team leading the league in batting average and pitching ERA didn't do much to damage those numbers on Tuesday evening, at the expense of the Princeton Rays.
The Elizabethton Twins jumped on the Rays early and cruised to a 7-2 win in front of 974 fans at Hunnicutt Field.
Both Princeton (9-6) and Elizabethton (10-5) entered the game as co-leaders in their divisions of the Appalachian League. The Rays dropped a game behind Danville with the loss.
The Rays, who won the first game of the series 6-4 and then lost 13-1 on Monday, again surrendered double-digit hits to the visitors. Half of Elizabethon's 10 hits came in the first inning, building a comforting 5-0 lead.
Twins manager Ray Smith said, “When you put a five-spot up there in the top of the first inning, [it's important, because] you know runs are going to be hard to come by, against a good club like this with good arms like this. It's something we didn't expect, but we'll take it every time.”
“We feel very fortunate just to hang with these guys,” Smith said about Princeton. “I know the Rays have got some good young talent [and] they've got a quality, experienced staff that's going to be able to work with these guys and maximize their potential.”
The Rays started 6-foot-4 Bruedlin Suero on the mound. The left-hander began with control issues, throwing balls on five of his first six pitches. Doubles later in the inning by Max Kepler and Romy Jimenez plated one run each.
Travis Harrison launched a ball into center field that allowed two runs to score, but he was cut down at the plate trying to complete an inside-the-park home run.
Suero got his composure back after that and sat down six straight batters in the next two innings. He left the game after four innings and took the loss, after giving up seven hits.
Pedro Silvestre pitched the next four innings and gave up only two hits. But the first batter he faced, Kepler, got his second double of a 2 for 4 night and trotted home when Adam Walker hit the game's only home run to left field, wrapping up the game's scoring.
Princeton manager Michael Johns said, “They can swing it. They had good approaches, all three games. … They're a tough team to hold down. A bad inning cost us. The first, that seems to be a sore spot for us, the first inning. But [Suero] settled down, mixed his pitches and kept them off balance. Our bullpen did a good job, as well.”
“It's one of those games we got beat. We didn't beat ourselves, we got beat. They're a good team, and we got beat.”
Taylor Rogers, the Twins' starter, hit Omar Narvaez with a pitch in the first frame, and he scored on Willie Argo's double to the gap in right-center. The Rays' other score came in the fourth, Rogers' last inning. Andrew Toles, in his second game for Princeton, led off the stanza with a triple to center on an 0-2 count. He made it home on an RBI groundout by Julian Morillo.
Toles was the Rays' bright spot, going 2 for 4. He said, “They gave me some fastballs to hit and I got a good swing on it.”
He had heard about the Twins' pitching corps from an inside source.
“I have a pretty good friend on the team [Niko Goodrum], and he hold me about some of the other guys' pitching.”
He said he and Goodrum had attended high schools near to each other.
The Twins led the league in earned run average with a staff mark of 2.20 coming into Tuesday. The four pitchers that took the mound, with their ERAs, were Rogers (1.13), winner Tyler Herr (1.17), Brett Lee (1.00) and closer Zach Jones (0.00).
Smith said that Rogers “wasn't exactly as sharp as he's been in the past, but he was able to persevere and we made some defensive plays when we had to.”
Jimenez, whose average was .439 prior to the game, went 2 for 4 with doubles in the first and eighth. He, too, was thrown out trying to stretch his final extra-base hit into a triple.
As a team, Elizabethton is averaging a sizzling .313, and has the top two hitters for average in Jimenez and Rory Rhodes. The 6-foot-7 Rhodes was 0 for 4 on Tuesday, and was erased in the seventh by the Rays' only double play of the night.
Hugo Duarte pitched the final inning for Princeton, getting three outs including a strikeout. Jones then gave up a single to Toles but induced three straight outs after that to end the game.
The two teams will not meet again until the final week of the season, on the Elizabethton diamond.
Princeton is scheduled to play in Pulaski today at 4 p.m., followed by 7 p.m games at Calfee Park on Thursday and Friday. The Rays return to Hunnicutt Field to host Danville, Saturday through Monday.
Johns said, “After a loss, you want to play right away, so a 4 o'clock game is good for us.”
—Contact Tom Bone
At Hunnicutt Field
Elizabethton..............500 020 000 — 7 10 0
Princeton...................100 100 000 — 2 6 2
Taylor Rogers, Tyler Herr (5), Brett Lee (7), Zach Jones (9) and Bo Altobelli. Bruedlin Suero, Pedro Silvestre (5), Hugo Duarte (9) and Omar Narvaez. WP – Herr (2-0). LP – Suero (0-2). Time – 2:31. Att – 974.