By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Chase De Jong and Shane Dawson combined to toss a shutout and Eric Arce had a bases loaded triple to lead the Bluefield Blue Jays to a 5-0 win over the Greeneville Astros in the Appalachian League opener for both teams, Thursday night at Bowen Field.
Greeneville leadoff hitter Marc Wik greeted De Jong with a double to left center and Jack Mayfield lined the ball to deep right. Jays right fielder Jesus Gonzalez made the catch, then a perfect throw on the fly to third baseman Mitch Nay to nail Wik who had tagged on the play. It was the first of four double plays Bluefield executed in the game.
“That was an unbelievable showcase throw,” said Blue Jays manager Dennis Holmberg. “They get a leadoff double, the guy hits the ball to right, you think he’s going to move the runner to third base. He (Gonzalez) comes over, catches the ball, hooks, wraps and throws. He has made plays like that all extended spring training. He is a very good outfielder and he is very accurate with his arm.”
Going down one-two-three in its half of the first, the Jays turned another double play in the second to keep the Astros off the board.
Bluefield catcher Jorge Saez collected the team’s first hit of the year, a double down the left field line to open the second. He scored on Nay’s hit to right. Destined to be at least a double, Nay and first baseman Bobby Borchering became tangled. Interference was called and Nay awarded second base. He scored on Matt Dean’s single to center to give the Jays a 2-0 lead.
Pitchers and defense then took over for both teams. Greeneville’s Enderson Franco gave up a third inning hit to Dawel Lugo and sat the Jays down in order on four pitches in the fourth. In the fifth, his final inning of work, he gave up singles to Gonzalez and Lugo, but the Blue Jays failed to score.
De Jong continued to sit down the Astros. He retired the side in order in the fourth and gave up a two-out single in the fifth, throwing 10 pitches in each inning before giving way to Shane Dawson.
“I didn’t have my best stuff tonight, but I competed,” De Jong said. “Any time I can keep my team in the game by minimizing the amount of runs I give up, it’s going to be a great day and it ended up a win for us.
“Big props to the guys playing behind me tonight. They saved my butt a bunch of times. We had two double plays turned and a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out. They picked me up. It’s great to see in the first game that we’re meshing.”
De Jong in his five innings allowed six hits and struck out two.
Dawson picked up where De Jong left off, keeping the Greeneville batters off-balance. In the sixth the southpaw from Drayton Valley, Alberta, Canada, struck out the side in order, the last two batters looking.
Astros manager Josh Bonifay turned to his bullpen, using different pitchers in each of the last three innings, Frederick Tiburico in the sixth, Jordan Miller in the seventh and Gerardo Ramirez in the eighth. It was in the eighth that the Blue Jays bats again came to life.
Lugo opened the frame with his third hit of the game, a single to left. Saez Walked and Nay singled to right loading the bases. Dean hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Lugo at the plate for the first out. Enter Arce who battled and with a 1-2 count pulled the ball into the right field corner. By the time Wallace Gonzalez retrieved the ball and threw it into the infield, Arce was sliding into third and three runs had touched the plate to give the Blue Jays a 5-0 lead.
Dawson retired the Astros in order in the ninth, the final out coming on a pop foul down the first base line, cradled by Dean, who is making the transition from third to first base this season.
“I was nervous the first inning but Chase really set the table for me, throwing lots of strikes, so all I had to do was come in and do the same,” Dawson said. “With guys like Gonzalez in the outfield and Mitch Nay on third base, you can be pretty confident on the mound, knowing if they (Greeneville) hit the ball, they (the defense) have got your back.”
Dawson, just like De Jong, said pitching in the local weather conditions was much better than what they had to endure in Florida.
“It’s easier to pitch here,” Dawson commented. “I feel like you’re not so drained by the time you get on the mound from throwing in the bullpen. Also the atmosphere is much better here, having fans who want to see you win. This is pretty exciting for me.”
Dawson pitched four innings of one hit ball, walked one and struck out four.
Holmberg was pleased with the opening game performance of his pitching staff.
“I think our rotation is going to be pretty close to what you saw tonight, crisp, clean, work fast. Greeneville got some hits with two outs and two strikes. Chase got in four innings and one more to take us to the fifth, then Dawson came in. Those two guys are going to piggy-back and next time Dawson will start and De Jong will come out of the pen,” Holmberg said. “We saw two pretty good arms tonight and we’ve got three other rotation guys piggy-back and one guy will fly solo. I think you will see good pitching.”
Lugo led Bluefield with three hits and Nay had a pair. Arce had three RBI while Nay and Dean each knocked in a run.
Bonifay said things just did not fall for the Astros when they needed them to do so.
“I thought we swung the bats well. We didn’t get the big hit when we needed one,” Bonifay said. “We were in the ball game all night long. Our guys battled, they played hard and we just lacked the big hit.”
The Astros’ skipper felt his pitchers did a good job against Bluefield.
“Our pitchers commanded the zone well and I felt they threw the ball very well tonight,” Bonifay commented. “Our guys battled, we threw the ball well and we’ll be back tomorrow.”
Game two of the series has Tazewell High’s Zak Wasilewski starting for the Blue Jays, piggy-backing with Alberto Tirado. Greeneville will give the ball to Christopher Lee.
First pitch is slated for 7:05.
At Bowen Field
Greeneville...........000 000 000 — 0 7 1
Bluefield...............020 000 03x — 5 9 0
Franco, Tiburico (6), Mills (7), Ramirez (8) and A. Gonzalez. De Jong, Dawson (6) and Saez. W-De Jong, L-Franco, S-Dawson. HR-None. A-1,009