After a powerful series-opening performance, Las Vegas dropped the next two games to Fresno, losing 7-4 on Wednesday and 12-4 on Thursday.
Game two starter Ricky Knapp and Game three starter Donovan Hand each suffered a rough second inning in which the Grizzlies scored five runs and took the loss. Knapp didn’t last beyond the second. He was relieved by Kevin McGowan, Logan Taylor and Beck Wheeler who collectively held Fresno to two runs for the rest of the game, but the 51s offense couldn’t overcome the early deficit. Hand gave up a total of seven runs in his first two innings Thursday, but settled down after that hanging three zeros. Cory Burns and Ben Rowen coughed up five more runs leaving the game out of reach. Vegas mustered a late rally scoring three in the ninth, but still falling well short.
Friday night, the 51s looked to regroup and even up the series for a split. Even though he had just worked in relief on Wednesday, they sent right-hander Logan Taylor to the mound. The scheduled starter Sean Gilmartin was called up to the Mets to fill out their beleaguered bullpen after a 16-inning contest on Thursday.
Vegas scored two in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by first baseman Dominic Smith, bringing in third baseman Matt Reynolds who had singled. Smith had reached third on the throw after his double. After a walk to designated hitter Travis Taijeron, catcher Kevin Plawecki reached on an error allowing Smith to score.
In the top of the second, Fresno tied the game when right fielder Jon Kemmer tripled to center scoring first baseman Colin Moran. Shortstop Reid Brignac followed with a double to score Kemmer. But Taylor followed with a scoreless inning which was followed by a group effort to keep Fresno off the board for the remainder of the game.
Left-hander Kyle Regnault, just up from AA Binghamton came on in relief of Taylor and pitched two scoreless to hold the Grizzlies while the offense worked on regaining the lead. Righty Beck Wheeler followed with two more scoreless and righty Chase Bradford with another.
In the meantime, Vegas bats were able to generate a run in the bottom of the second to take the lead. Reynolds doubled in left fielder Phillip Evans who had been hit by a pitch. They added a run in the bottom of the fourth. Josh Rodriguez led off lining a double to center. Evans walked and then center fielder Desmond Jennings moved both runners over with a round out. Fresno opted to walk second baseman Gavin Cecchini intentionally. But that backfired when Reynolds drew a bases loaded walk to score Rodriguez.
The Vegas bullpen was able to hold the slim two-run lead by running up seven scoreless. Righty Paul Sewald got into a bases loaded jam in the ninth aided by a one-out Reynolds error, the ball scooting through his legs allowing former 51 Juan Centeno to reach. One out later, second baseman Tony Kemp singled, so Sewald walked left fielder Derek Fisher to load the bases. This time the strategy paid off as he struck out designated hitter Teoscar Hernandez to earn his first save of the season.
After the pitchers were battered around in game two and three, the relief corps proved the star of the final game of the series. After Taylor’s emergency start, Regnault, Wheeler, Bradford and Sewald held the lead to nail down the victory.
Reynolds went 2 for 3 with a single, double and bases loaded walk, collecting two RBI. Smith was 2 for 4 with a run-scoring double, bringing his batting average to .417. Shortstop Amed Rosario also had two hits, raising his average to .361 on the season.