Wilking (yes, Wilking) Rodriguez

Wilking Rodriguez pitches for the Princeton Rays against Bluefield on Monday at Bowen Field. He picked up his first win of the season, striking out six in six scoreless innings.

BLUEFIELD — Pitch after pitch, Cody Rogers kept fouling the ball away, trying to find his pitch. He found it.

Rogers slugged a two-run home run, and Wilking Rodriguez and Kirby Yates combined to allow just four hits, as the Princeton Rays defeated the Bluefield Orioles 3-0 for an Appalachian League victory in front of 1,045 fans on Monday night at Bowen Field.

Princeton (18-13), which stayed in second place in the East Division, trailing Danville by 2 1⁄2 games, took a 3-1 lead on the Orioles in the Mercer Cup series.

“It is a good equation for victory,” Princeton manager Jared Sandberg said. “Good pitching, good defense and timely hitting.”

Bluefield (18-16), which has now completed half of its season, fell four games behind the Braves in third place.

Rogers’ two-run shot over the right field fence highlighted a three-run third inning for Princeton against Bluefield starter Bobby Bundy (2-4), who allowed five hits and three runs in five innings on the mound. He struck out three and walked none.

Chase Phillips, Pat McCrory and Andrew Heubner worked the final four frames for the Orioles, allowing just one hit, recording seven strikeouts and one walk. Phillips fanned five in two innings on the mound.

Bluefield had just three hits in six innings against Rodriguez (1-2), who mixed a low-nineties fastball with a mid-seventies breaking ball, striking out six and walking none. Yates fanned four in three innings, allowing three base runners, one on a hit.

Entering the game with a .236 team batting average, the Orioles hit just six balls out of the infield in the game, four of which resulted in hits, including doubles by Lance West and Corey Thomas, and singles from Daschenko Ricardo and Omar Casamayor.

“If you don’t get hits, you’re not going to score,” Bluefield manager Einar Diaz said. “They pitched well today, but we had a chance to score a couple of runs.

“We had two runners on with one out and we didn’t get nothing. Two times we had a runner on first and we don’t score.”

Princeton scored the game’s lone runs in the third. Alejandro Torres and Ty Morrison led off the frame with singles, and moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Brian Bryles. Bundy then unleashed a wild pitch to score Torres, setting the stage for Rogers, who entered the game eighth in the league with a .342 batting average.

Rogers worked a 2-2 count, patiently waiting for a pitch to drive. He found it on the eighth delivery from Bundy, drilling a shot for a home run and the 3-0 lead.

Princeton hitting coach Rafael Deleon said he was ‘very, very pleased’ with the approach shown by Rogers at the plate The same went for Kyle Spraker, who collected a two-out triple in the second on the 11th pitch of the at-bat against Bundy, possibly wearing the Bluefield starter down some for his teammate.

“It’s just battling and just trying to find a pitch I could drive,” Spraker said. “With two strikes, you’re just trying to find something to put your bat on and he got it over the plate and I got it.

“Having good at-bat like that — and a lot of good guys had good at-bats — you make them throw as many pitches as you can and try to get the (starter) out and try to get to the bullpen, which we did.’

Bluefield had scoring chances, especially in the third when West doubled down the left field line and Ricardo followed with a single to left, putting runners on first and third with no outs. However, Ricardo was thrown out trying to steal, and Javier Santana followed with a ground ball behind third and West nailed trying to score on the play.

It was more of the same in the fifth when Thomas led off with a double and moved to third on a bunt, but he was stranded there.

The Orioles threatened again in the ninth, with Larry Rivera drawing a one-out walk. Pinch-runner Mikey Planeta stole second, and tried to score with two outs on Casamayor’s single to right, but Bryles unleashed a throw to Torres, who tagged out Planeta for the game’s final out.

“It was the little things that you’ve got to do in the games,” Diaz said. “If we had got those two runs (early), and we could have got another one…If you don’t do the little things, you’re not going to win games like that.”

Princeton, which received a shutout in its last game in a 12-0 win last Friday over Johnson City, had a game suspended on Saturday, and were rained out completely on Sunday. Sandberg said the Rays were ready to get back on the field.

“That is something we can’t control, we talked about controlling the controllables and with the weather you can’t control it,” Sandberg said. “It definitely affects the rhythm of the game and the way you prepare.

“They’re learning the professional way and they’re learning what it is all about, but you can’t control the weather.”

Princeton, which received three singles among its six hits from Ty Morrison, won for the 11th time in its last 15 games.

“We’re having fun, we’re playing the game the right way,” Sandberg said. “I have no complaints.”

Bluefield will try to get back on the winning track by hosting Princeton at 7 p.m.

“We’ll come back tomorrow and try to win the game,” Diaz said.

— Contact Brian Woodson


At Bowen Field

Princeton…............003 000 00 — 3 6 0

Bluefield….............000 000 00 — 0 4 0

Wilking Rodriguez, Kirby Yates (7) and Alejandro Torres. Bobby Bundy, Chase Phillips (6), Pat McCrory (8), Andrew Heubner (9) and Daschenko Ricardo. W—Rodriguez (1-2); L—Bundy (2-4). S—Yates (2). HR—Rogers (3) 3rd, 1 on. Att—1,045.

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