TRENTON – One night after the Thunder defeated Richmond by a score of 5-2 in the season opener, the Flying Squirrels returned the favor and defeated Trenton by that same score on Friday night at ARM & HAMMER Park.
The Thunder were done in by the inability of the pitching staff to command the strike zone. Southpaw Justus Sheffied, the Yankees third ranked prospect on the Pinstriped Prospects top-75, issued a career-high six walks and labored through 93 pitches, just 48 for strikes, over 4 1/3 innings of work.
One night after giving Richmond an early lead in the season opener with a second inning homer, left fielder Dylan Davis again put the squirrels on the board first with a second inning RBI double off of the base of the right field wall that narrowly missed leaving the yard.. Sheffield tossed 46 pitches over the first two frames.
After rebounding nicely for a quick and efficient six-pitch third inning, Sheffield walked two more batters in a 24-pitch fourth inning but managed to escape without allowing a run to cross.
Now at the 76-pitch mark heading to the fifth, Manager Jay Bell opted to stick with the lefty. Despite having walked five batters over the first four innings, Sheffield had allowed just the second inning double to Davis as his lone blemish in the hit column.
For the second consecutive inning and third time over the first five, Sheffield walked the leadoff batter to put Richmond in business early. After striking out shortstop Ryan Howard looking, an RBI triple from catcher Aramis Garcia off of the center field wall put the Squirrels ahead 2-0 and ran Sheffield from the game.
Bell summoned southpaw Stephen Tarpley from the bullpen to try to navigate through the remainder of the fifth inning scot-free. The lefty was greeted rudely by an RBI single from third baseman Jonah Arenado to score Garcia and officially close the book on Sheffield. After fanning first baseman Jerry Sands for the second out, Tarpley proceeded to walk four consecutive batters, including two with the bases loaded to put Richmond ahead 5-0.
“That was probably the most disappointing thing tonight,” said Bell. “They weren’t pounding the strike zone; I thought that they were picky a little bit too much.”
“It’s out of the ordinary for Sheff and Tarp,” added Bell. “Both of them are pretty good command guys and tonight was just a tough night.”
Meanwhile, Squirrels starter Shaun Anderson was impressive in his Double-A debut. The 2016 third-round draftee out of Florida was obtained by the Giants last summer as part of the package that sent infielder Eduardo Nunez to the Red Sox. The right-hander allowed just three hits and a lone run, surrendered on a solo shot to Jhalan Jackson, over five strong innings.
Trenton managed to add a run in the seventh inning on an RBI triple from catcher Chace Numata to draw the score to 5-2, but that is as close as the Thunder would get on Friday night.
On a night where Thunder pitching walked 11 batters, Relievers Kaleb Ort and Jordan Foley were impressive in their Double-A debuts; they combined for four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and seven strikeouts between the pair.
First baseman Chris Gittens went 2-for-4 in the defeat.
“Ort came in and did a great job, and so did Foley,” admitted Bell. “If there is anything positive about tonight, it’s those two guys that pitched really well and of course Gitty [Gittens] swung the bat good and Jhalan [Jackson] hit the big home run.”