After twenty-two straight days of games to begin their season, the Eugene Emeralds, a team of mainly young players just drafted out of college who are not used to the grueling schedule of professional baseball, received a day of rest on Tuesday. When they finally got that day off, they did what anybody would do: nothing. They spent the day off relaxing and most likely watching the Major League All-Star game.
“My legs haven’t felt this good in a long time. One day off is crucial,” said Emeralds outfielder Chad Huffman about the rest. “After twenty-two straight games, legs started feeling a little dead, bats started getting a little slow. So, it’s important to take care of your body and get in the weight room and lift when you can.”
Coming off their day off, a rejuvenated Emeralds team won their third straight at home and look forward to doing more of the same with the rest of the series against the last place Bears. The Bears, the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate, came into tonight’s game with a record of 7-15 and sent Edward Romero to the mound for his third start of the season. The Emeralds, now 12-11, countered with Nate Culp, who was making his second start of the season.
Culp was able to add to his impressive start to the season by pitching four scoreless innings, striking out one and allowing only two hits. He retired the first eight batters he faced, before giving up the first hit of the game to Jason Watson in the third. Culp, who was drafted in the fourth round of this year’s draft out of the University of Missouri, has now pitched 12 innings without giving up an earned run in four appearances. He has allowed nine hits.
The Ems ended the scoreless tie in the fourth inning as Matt Antonelli and Craig Cooper led off the inning with successive walks. After getting the next two batters out with a strike out and pop out, Bears pitcher Chad Beck walked designated hitter Luke Cannon to load the bases for Willy Crafort. Crafort was able to answer the crowd’s chants as he lined a grounder between short and third for a hit that scored Antonelli and Cooper.
After relief pitcher Steve Faris retired the Bears side in the top of the fifth, the Emeralds struck again in their half. Mike Epping led off with a double that hit high off the right-center field wall. Epping then stole third as second baseman Tom King walked. Antonelli followed by hitting a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Epping. Cooper followed with a double of his own, down the third base line. Huffman came up next, and hit a 3-run home run to left field on a 1-and-1 pitch to put the Emeralds up 6-0.
“I was just looking for a pitch I could drive, and I got it and hit it well,” said Huffman about the homerun.
In the top of the sixth, the Bears struck back with a two-out rally. Joey Side and Cyle Hankerd had back-to-back singles off Faris and Brad Miller followed with a three-run homer. Nick Tucci replaced Faris, and recorded the third out after giving up a hit and hitting a batter.
The Emeralds scored their final two runs in the bottom of the seventh, when Cooper drew his second walk of the game, and moved all the way around the bases to score on three wild pitches by new pitcher Peter Duda. Huffman walked and then advanced to second on a fourth wild pitch by Duda. After advancing to third on a fielder’s choice hit by Crafort, Huffman scored his second run of the game on the fifth wild pitch of the inning. Duda exited the game before he could record three outs.
Jackson Quezada, the fourth Emeralds pitcher of the game, struggled to start the 8th inning. He hit Side and walked Hankerd to start the inning. Back-to-back singles by Miller and Connor Janes followed as the Bears scored their fourth run of the game. Quezada was pulled in favor of Rolando Valdez, who inherited a bases loaded and no out situation. With the possible tying run being represented by the batter, Valdez performed well as he allowed only one run to cross, retiring all three batters he faced. It was the only inning Valdez pitched; as he picked up his third win of the season to bring his record to a perfect 3-0.
R.J. Rodriguez came on to close the game in the ninth for the Emeralds, picking up his second save of the season. Rodriguez, who joined the Emeralds on July 4th, is an un-drafted free agent signed this year out of Bethune-Cookman College.
Huffman, who is now third in the Northwest League in homeruns, excited the crowd in the first when he made a diving catch on the first batter of the game. He has a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in his 15 games this season with two assists.
“Culp has done great for us ever since he’s got here,” said Huffman after the game. “Our pitching staff is coming along and the hitting is getting better and better. I’m anxious to see what this team can do in the future.”