Dan Jansen will always remember his first professional home run.
A 16th round draft choice out of Appleton, Wis., in 2013, Jansen played 36 game in the Gulf Coast League last season, but was still looking for that first long ball in his sixth game with the Blue Jays.
“I played the whole season in the GCL, no home runs,” Jansen said. “Spring training and extended I had a few, I hit five, and tonight I get the first one, it feels good.”
One night after suffering a 6-5 loss at Kingsport — despite leading 5-3 going into the bottom of the ninth — the Blue Jays (3-4) rebounded, collecting 13 hits and scoring in five of eight innings, while allowing first place Pulaski just three hits in a 8-2 Appalachian League win in front of 877 spectators on Wednesday night at Bowen Field.
“It is huge, last night was a tough one, that happens, it is part of baseball, but it is big,” Jansen said. “A comeback game right here, the team is getting hits, starting to hit again like we should and we are ready to roll.
“Everybody is contributing, that is awesome.”
Jansen was one of four Bluefield players to get multiple hits, joining Angel Rojas — who was a home run shy of the cycle — with three hits apiece. Jesus Gonzalez and Richard Urena had two hits each for the Blue Jays.
It wasn’t just the hitting. Bluefield’s trio of Chase Mallard, Ryan Borucki and Michael Kraft combined to allow just three hits, striking out six, walking two and surrendering a pair of unearned runs.
“Last night we were just one pitch away, one strike away, but stuff happens,” Bluefield manager Dennis Holmberg said. “It was tough, but I like the way they came back, they rebounded against a pretty good ball club over there.
“They are hitting pretty good as a team and they were in first place. It is early in the season, mind you, a very typical game as was the one game (on Monday) in Kingsport, one we are capable of doing, contributions from a lot of guys and terrific pitching.”
Jansen had the best view of the park for the pitching performance, serving as the catcher for the Blue Jays. He threw out a would-be base stealer, making him 3-for-3 in throwing out runners attempting to steal in four games at Bowen Field.
“I have always said hitting home runs is the by-product of a good swing, you put together a good swing and that was the case with Jansen, a beautiful swing, he really went down and got it,” Holmberg said. “I know he felt good about it, three hits tonight is a positive thing, those things tend to breed confidence.”
Borucki picked up the win in relief, allowing two hits in four innings. Mallard surrendered one hit in four frames, along with two unearned runs on three Bluefield errors in the second. Kraft pitched a perfect ninth.
“Unbelievable, those guys were all consistent, they have confidence in me and the guys behind them and I have got complete confidence in them,” Jansen said. “The team has got their backs so they just go out there and with no stress, no nothing, just playing their game.”
Pulaski (5-2), the defending Appalachian League champions, scored twice on three errors, one hit-batsman and a double to left by Gianfranco Wawoe. A third run was cut down at the plate on a relay throw home by Urena from short left field.
That was about it for the Mariners, which got runners on first and second in the fifth and sixth, but never got anyone else as far as third. Pulaski was retired in order in six of the nine innings.
“It starts with that stuff and then good defense and the hits that bring in the runs,” Holmberg said. “It is old story, when you win it is usually pitching, defense and hitting.
“I was pleased with our approach to hitting tonight, obviously you have got to score runs to win games. All in all, I think it was a very good night.”
Bluefield tied the score at 2-2 in the third on two-out RBI singles by Gabriel Cenas and Josh Almonte. The Jays took the lead for good in the fourth with three runs, two on a two-run triple by Angel “Cookie” Rojas, and an RBI single from Urena off Zack Littell, the first of three Pulaski hurlers, who was saddled with the loss.
Rojas is in his second season in Bluefield, collecting just nine hits (.125) last year for the Blue Jays. He had three on this night, including a single in the sixth and a double and run scored in the eighth.
“He was a steady glove last year, he has been pretty much of a steady glove again this year,” Holmberg said. “We have always said if he can just get a little stronger, the ball he hit out there, he laced that ball, he was running for his life.”
Gonzalez, who also struggled at times last season, finished with two hits, including an RBI single in the fifth, drew a walk and had one of four stolen bases for the Jays. Jansen followed in the seventh with a solo home run over the left field fence.
“I had a couple in extended (spring training), but this is my first professional home run,” Jansen said. “It felt good, it is one of those things where you hit it on the sweet spot and you don’t feel anything, that is the best feeling right there.”
Bluefield returns to Bowen Field tonight to face Pulaski again, with Alberto Guzman and Joey Aquino slated to pitch for the Jays on what is Hardee’s Night at Bowen Field. Miquel Burgos will start on Fireworks Night on Friday.
Jansen is glad to be back in Bluefield, after the Jays dropped two of three in Kingsport.
“Absolutely, the fans are great here, a great community,” he said. “It is awesome.”
So is getting to live his dreams, by playing professional baseball.
“I got drafted and that is what I wanted,” said Jansen, who passed up a scholarship offer to Jacksonville University (Fla.) to accept an offer from the Blue Jays last summer. “That is what I have always wanted.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Bowen Field
Pulaski.........020 000 000 — 2 3 1
Bluefield......002 310 11x — 8 13 3
Zack Littell, Taylor Byrd (5), Rohn Pierce (7) and Wayne Taylor. Chase Mallard, Ryan Borucki (5), Michael Kraft (9) and Dan Jansen. W—Borucki (1-0); L—Littell (1-1). HR—Dan Jansen (1). Att—877.