AVON — Matt Smith began the season as the Lake Erie Crushers’ closer with mixed success.
His bread-and-butter in his two previous stints with the team was as a starting pitcher.
On Thursday night against the team’s perennial nemesis, the Joliet Slammers, manager Jeff Isom gave Smith the ball.
Despite a two-hour rain delay that led to a 9 p.m. first pitch, the man they call “Smitty” didn’t disappoint, pitching six shutout innings and scattering five hits with five strikeouts.
Coupled with the Crushers’ offense continuing to swing red-hot bats, Smith led to a
5-1 victory over the Slammers at All Pro Freight Stadium.
Lake Erie (6-7) won its third straight game and improved to 3-1 on the currentsix-game homestand. Joliet fell to 4-9.
“Smitty did an outstanding job tonight,” Isom said. “We talked in the offseason about him being a starter, but he came in (to training camp) a little late and we wanted to get him extending outings, so we put him in the closing spot.
“That didn’t really work out to well, but we knew we had to do something with him. So, we decided a couple nights ago to give him the start, and boy, he took advantage of it. He led the way for us tonight and really set the tone for the game. He did a good job of keeping them off the board early and giving us a chance to get the lead.”
Smith, who lowered his ERA to 1.64 with his six shutout innings, was excited to be back in a starting role.
“Last year, I started some games for us and did pretty well,” he said. “It felt good to finally work up a little bit. Before, you only go one or two innings at a time, I might have been pressing a little bit. Now when the second or third inning rolls around, I was able to kind of settle in and build my arm up a little bit.
“To come out in the first couple of innings and score some runs, that’s huge. I told the guys today that it works both ways. You throw a couple of scoreless innings and it makes them want to swing the bat more, and if they’re swinging the bat well, it’s my job to go out there and throw up zeros.”
Smith said the two-hour delay didn’t bother him.
“Luckily, I had a lot of caffeine in my system,” he said. “I had a Red Bull and another energy drink, and luckily that stayed with me. I didn’t get tired at all. I just kind of hung loose and that was about it.”
Joliet committed five fielding errors, and the first three played a big part in the Crushers getting some runs on the board.
A single to center by Anderson Hidalgo with one out in the second was misplayed by Slammers center fielder Javan Williams, allowing Hidalgo to go all the way to third on the error. He scored on Emmanuel Quiles’ sac fly to left to give the Crushers the first run.
Max Casper led off the third with a single and took second on a passed ball. On a fielder’s choice grounder to short by Gauntlett Eldemire, the throw to get Casper at third was dropped by Kyle Maunus, putting runners at the corners. Casper scored on Kevin Berard’s double-play grounder to second to make it a 2-0 game.
Lake Erie broke the game open in the fourth on three hits. The biggest were Andrew Davis’ leadoff double, followed by an RBI triple by Daniel Bowman. Bowman scored on a one-out single to right by Quiles to make it a 4-0 lead.
“After we talked the first week, the biggest concern we had was the lack of two-out hitting with men in scoring position,” Isom said. “You want to take advantage of their mistakes and put pressure on their defense, and that’s what the guys have been doing.
“You think about tonight’s game, we had a guy on third, more often than not, we got him in. We took advantage of our opportunities today, and if we’re going to be a good team, we’re going to have to do that consistently. These last three games, the guys have been consistently doing that.”
The Crushers only had six hits, but they made every single one of them count. Six different players had hits, while Quiles (two) and Bowman had the RBIs.
“We’re not relying on one single guy,” Isom said. “Every guy in this lineup is contributing somehow, one way or the other. It’s everybody, and that’s fun when everybody can contribute.
“We have the flexibility in our lineup to do things like move Berard to the leadoff
spot and put Gauntlett at the nine-hole, put (Russell) Moldenhauer in the two-hole ahead of (Andrew) Davis and put a guy like Bowman behind him in the cleanup spot. So
far, I like this combination and it’s starting to pay dividends.”
Relievers Spencer Clifft, Brad Duffy and Dale Dickerson held Joliet to a combined two hits and one run in three relief innings. Dickerson struck out two in the ninth.
Isom said getting Friday’s game completed was huge.
“We were worried about the weather (today) and becoming backed up,” he said. “If we lose tonight’s game followed by tomorrow’s game, that’s a game that we’ve got to make up at their place. We tried to do everything possible to get this game in.
“I don’t like that down time, since guys are focused on that 7 p.m. start. I told the guys, ‘We need to come out there with more energy than the other team and put pressure on them,’ and they responded.”
Prior to the game, the Crushers signed right-hander Ricky Bowen and released second baseman J.C. Figueroa. Bowen was released by the Evansville Otters on Monday after going 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA in one appearance (a start).
Bowen was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 43rd round out of Mississippi State in 2009, spending two season in the Reds organization and 2011 and ’12 seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization. He’s 10-18 with a 4.28 ERA in his five-year career.
“Our bullpen has been a concern, and Bowen’s a guy who throws in the mid-90s who’s been a successful reliever in affiliated ball,” Isom said. “We had our eye on him in the offseason but Evansville got him. We’re looking for him to be a welcome addition to the backend of our bullpen.”
Figueroa, who was last year’s starting second baseman, batted .238 (5-for-21) with a run and an RBI in eight games this season.
* Due to a quirk in the schedule, this is the last Friday home game for the Crushers until July 5. The Crushers will have no weekend home series’ in the month of June.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.