One strike away from their second shutout loss in the first three games of the season on Wednesday night, the Aberdeen IronBirds avoided the whitewashing with a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth, but those were all the runs they managed in a 6-2 loss to the Hudson Valley Renegades.
Through Wednesday, the IronBirds had lost all three of their games this year. They are on the road in New York – Brooklyn and Staten Island – for a six-game stretch that started Thursday; they return to Aberdeen to host the same New York teams for three games each beginning Wednesday.
There are a couple bright spots to an otherwise dismal start to the season.
Through Wednesday's game, the lone IronBird batting over .300 was Hector Veloz, who was sitting at .455 with three RBIs, a home run and a double.
The second-youngest player on the IronBirds roster, behind pitcher Luc Rennie, 19-year-old Veloz is no stranger to the professional ranks, having played in 112 games with the Orioles organization since being signed out of the Dominic Republic in 2011.
Kemp getting comfortable
The only Maryland-born talent on the IronBirds' roster, second-baseman Jeff Kemp, a 23-year-old Bowie native who played ball for the MIAA Conference's Archbishop Spalding in high school, was making his third professional start in Aberdeen's Wednesday matchup, in which he went 0-for-3 at the plate.
The 6'1", 170-pound Kemp, a 33rd-round draft pick out of Radford University in this year's MLB June draft, has not collected a hit yet in 10 plate appearances, but he did post his first professional RBI on Tuesday in the IronBirds' 10-5 loss, driving a teammate home from third with a second-inning groundout. Following Wednesday's game, he said he is still trying to find his groove at the plate following the long gap in competition between the end of his college season and the start of Aberdeen's campaign.
"I'm just trying to get some at-bats under my belt, get my timing back and get comfortable at the plate," Kemp said. "I haven't faced live pitching in about a month, so I need to see some more, get focused, get some swings in. The more at-bats you have, the more you settle down, and you start to read the pitches better."
Having played in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, where wood bats are used, Kemp said he did not have as tough a time switching from metal bats to wooden ones, a transition that plagues some hitters as they enter the professional game. The pitching, however, is a step up from what he faced in college ball.
"You have to get used to facing good pitchers every night," Kemp said. "I'm seeing some of the same guys I played against in college, but you don't get off days up here. Everyone can throw pretty [well]."
Three in a row
Aberdeen, which lost to Hudson Valley, 5-0 on Opening Night and 10-5 Tuesday, was trailing, 6-0, with two men on and two outs in its final at-bat Wednesday, when first baseman Trey Mancini wailed 1-2 fastball to left for a two-RBI single.
Until the top of the ninth, when Aberdeen reliever Alex Santana served up a three-run homer, the IronBirds were within striking distance, three runs behind the visitors. The game was a scoreless tie until the fourth, when the Renegades notched one run. Hudson Valley went up 3-0 with a pair of runs in the seventh.
Aberdeen starter Luc Rennie (0-1) took the loss, going 4-2/3 innings in which he struck out seven, walked three and allowed one earned run on five hits.
After getting skunked, 5-0, and managing just two hits Monday in their season opener, the Aberdeen IronBirds were a bit better at the plate Tuesday, scoring five times on seven runs, but that wasn't enough to overcome the visiting Hudson Valley Renegades, who walked away with a 10-5 victory.
After scoring in the first and second innings, Aberdeen led, 2-0, but Hudson Valley tied it with a pair of runs in the third, then broke the game open with a six-run fourth. The visitors scored twice in the seventh to go up 10-2. The IronBirds scored three in the home half of the eighth, but it was too little, too late.
Third baseman Veloz, who had Aberdeen's lone extra-base hit Monday, led the IronBirds at the plate again, going 3-for-4 with a three-run homer. Center fielder George Barber was 2-for-4 with a triple and two runs in the loss.