Heading into last Thursday's contest, the Aberdeen IronBirds, riding out one of the worst first halves in franchise history, were 14-32, but since then they've had something of a turnaround, winning five games against just one loss.
As of Wednesday, Aberdeen was still on the bottom of the New York-Penn League's McNamara Division at 19-33, seven games behind third place Hudson Valley.
Their most recent match-up saw the IronBirds break out of an eight-inning offensive rut, scoring four times in the 10th frame to drop the host-team State College Spikes 5-1 on Wednesday night.
Aberdeen, which had collected just four hits and one run in the opening nine frames, kicked off the first extra inning with a double from Austin Goolsby, who motored over to third when Dudley Leonora followed with a sacrifice bunt, then scored on Adam Davis' double to right. After Kyle Hoppy earned a walk, Davis scored when Martin Serrata lashed a base hit up the middle. Glynn Davis came up sixth and laid down a bunt single that allowed Hoppy to score from third. Mychal Givens took a pitch off his body to load up the bags, and Joe Velleggia earned a two-out walk that pushed Serrata home from third, making the score 4-1.
The IronBirds were quick out of the gate, scoring once in the opening frame when Givens ripped a triple to right that scored Sammie Starr, who had reached base on a one-out single. Through the next eight frames, Aberdeen would manage just two more hits.
State College produced its lone run of the game in third, scoring on Aberdeen starter Tyler Wilson with a walk and a triple. Wilson, the Orioles' 10th-round selection of the 2011 draft, was making his second start with Aberdeen. Over five innings, the 21-year-old righty surrendered just three hits, struck out three and surrendered one walk, but had to settle for a no decision as he was relieved while the game was still tied.
Zach Fowler came out of the bullpen in the sixth and tossed two innings of perfect ball, striking out two hitters along the way.
Angel Cespedes pitched the eighth frame for Aberdeen, and held the Spikes scoreless despite allowing a pair of hits.
Enrico Jimenez (3-1) picked up the victory, pitching a perfect frame in the ninth. Kyle Simon closed out the game for Aberdeen, striking out and surrendering one hit in the bottom of the 10th.
Givens was 2-for-4 with a triple and one RBI, while Glynn Davis, the only other IronBird with more than one hit, was 2-for-5 with one RBI.
Five-game win streak snapped
Aberdeen's string of victories was halted on Tuesday night with a 5-2 road-game loss to the State College squad.
Trailing 5-0 heading into the eighth frame, the IronBirds finally came to life, scoring twice in the frame. Kicking things off was Glynn Davis, who hit a leadoff grounder to the left side of the infield, and reached base safely when the Spikes' third baseman committed an error. Starr came up next and singled to right, moving Davis over to third. With Givens at the plate, the State College hurler attempted to pick Starr off at first, but his throw went wide, allowing Davis to score Aberdeen's first run. Starr, who moved over to third on the error, scored when Givens hit an RBI groundout to first.
State College scored all five of its runs on Aberdeen starter Parker Bridwell (2-5), who was saddled with the loss. Over five innings of work, Bridwell struck out three, walked four, and allowed five earned runs.
The three Aberdeen relievers who followed Bridwell held State College hitless for the balance of the contest. Luis Lebron pitched one frame, striking out two and walking one, while Matt Drummond followed with a one-inning stint in which he allowed one walk. Alex Schmarzo closed out the game with a perfect three-up three-down inning.
Starr and Givens were the only Aberdeen batters with multiple hits, as each went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. Davis and Leonora both had one base hit in the loss.
'Birds take fifth straight
The IronBirds extended their season-best winning streak to five games on Monday night, overcoming a pair of deficits to best the visiting Hudson Valley Renegades, 6-4.
"I'm happy with the way they were playing tonight, and to get another win," Aberdeen skipper Leo Gomez said. "We had good pitching. We did a good job of moving the runner over. I'm looking for them to keep playing the way we have over the last five games. They've been scoring the runs when we've needed them, and we've been pitching very well, so if they keep playing like they have, we just want to keep it that way."
Aberdeen's big inning was the seventh, which the two teams entered tied, 3-3. Hoppy was the first IronBird to reach, blasting a leadoff double, and Adam Davis followed with a walk. Starr moved his teammates over one base with a sacrifice bunt, and Hoppy scored what turned out to be the game-winning run when the Renegades committed an error on Givens' grounder to short. After Givens swiped second base to put a pair of men in scoring position, Velleggia cleared the bases, ripping a two-RBI double down the left field line.
Velleggia, who was selected to play in the upcoming New York-Penn League All-Star Game in Lowell, Mass., earned Player of the Game honors, finishing up 2-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs.
"They were kind of pounding me inside [the strike zone] the whole game, and I wasn't able to hit it at first," Velleggia said. "On that last [double], I got a fastball and was able to hook it down the line. In my second at bat, it was actually a slider that was left over the plate. I thought I was a little bit in front of it, but I got enough of the barrel on it. I was just trying to stay solid, to be ready for anything. My approach is normally to look for a fastball and adjust, so that's what I was trying to do."
IronBird starter Mike Wright, the Orioles' third-round pick in the 2011 MLB draft, put together his third solid outing in a row, working through five innings in which he allowed one earned run, struck out two and walked one.
"I felt good with all my pitches in the bullpen, but wound up having trouble with all of them during the game," Wright said. "My slider felt really good there later in the game. Most times I go into a game thinking I'm going to throw all fastballs, until they start doing something with them. I got into a little trouble [tonight], so I went to my slider because it was feeling the best for toward the end, and I'm going to throw anything that's working to get outs."
Aberdeen reliever Jose Mota (1-1) came on in the top of the sixth after Wright's departure, and stayed on the mound for the balance of the game, striking out three without issuing a walk and surrendering one earned run on four hits to pick up his first win of the season.
With Aberdeen down 2-0 heading into the home half of the second frame, the IronBirds cut the Renegade lead in half with a one-run rally. Wynston Sawyer led off and got to first via an error by Hudson Valley shortstop. After moving over to second on Connor Narron's walk, Sawyer tagged and advanced to third when Austin Knight lofted a fly ball to center. Sawyer scored for third on Leonora's sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the third, Davis cranked a leadoff double up the left field line, then motored all the way to third when Starr bunted for a single. Givens came to the plate third and hit into a fielder's choice that allowed Davis to score the tying run from third.
Down 3-2 after the Renegades posted one run in the top of the fifth, Aberdeen evened things up in the home half of the frame. Things did not start well, as Davis and Starr were retired to start the inning, but Givens took advantage off a two-out error, reaching second base after the Renegades pitcher threw away a grounder to him. Velleggia then strode to the plate and ripped the first pitch he saw to the corner in left, pushing Givens home and tying things up 3-3.
Davis went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and two runs. Givens was 1-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, while Sawyer was 1-for-4 with one run. Starr had one hit in the victory and Hoppy was 1-for-4 with a double and one run.
The IronBirds head out for a three-game road set with the State College Spikes beginning Tuesday, then return home on Friday night for a 7:05 p.m. home contest with Williamsport.
In stark contrast to his previous two starts, during which he allowed 15 earned runs over 4-2/3 innings, Orioles' first-round draft pick Matt Hobgood came through with a fine outing on Sunday night, taking a perfect game through 2-2/3 innings in the IronBirds 4-1 victory over Hudson Valley at Aberdeen's Ripken Stadium.
Hobgood, who was the fifth overall selection of the 2009 MLB amateur draft, was making his fourth start in Aberdeen since reporting to the club in July on a rehab assignment.
The 20-year-old righty retired the first eight hitters he faced in succession, five on pop outs and three on ground balls, before surrendering a two-out single in the third. After allowing an RBI double, which accounted for Hudson Valley's only tally, Hobgood escaped the inning with his first strikeout of the evening.
"It's nice to not give up six runs, or however many I gave up in the last [start]," Hobgood said in a post-game interview. "I felt like I was very in-control of myself, of my body, and all of my pitches. I threw a couple first-pitch curveballs for strikes, and I threw a change up first pitch for a strike. I threw an 0-2 change up that I wanted to bury, but the guy wound up hitting it over second base, then the next guy hit that double."
"This outing I was able to keep runners off base for the most part," he continued. "I got behind a little bit on some of the hitters, but was able to stay confident. My arm feels good, and I was peeking up there at [the radar gun reading] to see how fast I was throwing."
In the top of the fourth, Hobgood coaxed a pair of fly outs from the first two Renegades batters, then followed by allowing his final hit of the evening, and plunking the following batter. With a man now in scoring position, the Aberdeen starter got out of the frame with his second and last strikeout of the contest.
Hobgood was lifted in the fifth after surrendering back-to-back walks. As he left with the IronBirds trailing 1-0, he had to settle for a no decision.
"I wasn't tired," Hobgood said. "I usually pride myself on finishing better than I start. I was just trying to get ahead of them, and threw a couple sinkers down that just didn't hit [the strike zone]. I'm a little disappointed with that, but I'm glad I was able to get the four innings in."
Ryan Berry, Baltimore's ninth pick of the 2011 draft, took over for Hobgood with two on and no out in the fifth, and got out of the jam by retiring the next three hitters in order. Over two innings of work, Berry (1-1) struck out two, walked one and allowed one hit to pick up his first win of the season.
Zach Petersime came out of the Aberdeen bullpen in the seventh and worked through two innings, striking out two, allowing no walks and holding Hudson Valley to one hit.
Simon closed out the game, retiring the side in the ninth after allowing two walks in his first save of the year.
With the hosts down 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth, Aberdeen's offense came to life.
Narron began the rally by earning a leadoff walk, moved over to second on Knight's sacrifice bunt, then made it over to third when Leonora grounded out to the right side of the infield.
Hoppy drew a two-out walk, and Glynn Davis followed with a base hit to right that drove Narron home, tying things up 1-1.
With runners on the corners, Serrata belted a double to left, bringing home Hoppy and Davis, and putting Aberdeen up 3-1.
Aberdeen added an insurance run in the eighth with an attempted double steal of home and second base, a move that the IronBirds have successfully pulled off several times this season.
Davis started the frame with a leadoff walk, and moved over to third when Serrata's sacrifice bunt was misplayed. With two out after Starr and Velleggia went down swinging, Serrata broke for second base, drawing a throw from the Renegades' catcher. Serrata was caught, but Davis sprinted for home, crossing the plate before his teammate could be tagged for the inning-ending out.
"I feel good," Hobgood, who is recovering from a strained rotator cuff that was discovered in the off-season, said in a further assessment of Sunday's performance. "I think every start now, even if it doesn't statistically look good, I feel that I'm slowly getting my feel back for the pitches. If you can't throw your pitches for strikes, that gives the hitters the ability to zero in, whether you're throwing 89 or 95 [mph], they can look for [your fastball], whereas, if you're throwing your curveball for strikes, and your change up for strikes, it's going to make your fastball that much better. I feel that's something that I took a step forward on today, in terms of feeling more comfortable out there."
'Birds cruise to 10-3 win
Last Friday, the IronBirds dropped Hudson Valley, 10-3, going away.
Trent Howard (3-1), Aberdeen's most successful pitcher thus far, picked up his third victory of the season, holding Hudson Valley to three earned runs on four hits, striking out six and walking three over five innings of work.
Velleggia led the way offensively for the IronBirds, going 2-for-5 with a home run, his seventh of the season, three RBIs and one run scored. Starr went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, two runs and one walk, while Leonora was 2-for-5 with two runs. Sawyer was 1-for-3 with a run scored and one RBI, while Narron also had one RBI and scored once. Knight went 1-for-4 with one RBI and one run, while Serrata drove in two runs, scored once, and was 2-for-4 with a double.
Devin Jones picked up his first save of the season with a three-inning relief stint, striking out four, allowing zero walks and holding the Renegades to three hits. Lebron relieved Howard in the sixth and retired all three hitters he faced in order.
Aberdeen drops Lowell 9-1
Aberdeen scored early and often in last Thursday's road match-up with the Lowell Spinners, putting up seven runs in the first two frames en route to a 9-1 victory.
The IronBirds posted three tallies in the opening frame, then followed up with four more in the second. Aberdeen's final runs came in the sixth and ninth innings, while Lowell scored its lone run in the third.
Starr was Aberdeen's hottest bat, going 2-for-3 with a home run, a double, three runs scored, two RBIs and two walks. Sawyer went 2-for-5 with a double, three RBIs and two runs, while Knight knocked in three RBIs on one hit. Glynn Davis was 1-for-5 with one runs, while Givens reached base in all five of his at-bats, going 3-for-3 with a double, drawing two walks, scoring once and driving in one run. Leonora and Hoppy both scored one run in the win.
Cespedes (1-2) earned his first victory of the year, tossing 3-2/3 innings of relief in which he scattered three hits, struck out one and walked two.
Making his first start in Aberdeen after being promoted from the Gulf Coast Orioles was Tyler Wilson, who put up a fine outing, striking out four, allowing no walks and holding the Spinners to one earned run on four hits in four innings.
Jimenez closed out the game for Aberdeen, allowing one hit and striking out two over 1-1/3 frames.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun