Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pitchers' Duel in Lakewood as Yanks' Club Visits

On a beautiful day for morning baseball in New Jersey, Wednesday saw two shining prospects from last year's World Series opponents facing off in front of a matinee crowd at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park. The Low-A level Yankees affiliate, the Charleston RiverDogs, are in town visiting the defending South Atlantic League Champions, the Phillies' affiliate BlueClaws, and as might be expected if the parent clubs met up again, a pitcher's duel broke out.

22-year-old Graham Stoneburner, a starter for the Yankee's Low-A level Charleston RiverDogs, came into the game leading the South Atlantic League in strikeouts with 43 K's in 38 innings pitched. Although, he was winless through 5 starts, Stoneburner had become somewhat of a darling among Yankees farm followers, because of his name and the high strike out rate. He entered the game sporting a 2.61 ERA, so the win issue was certainly not his fault. The RiverDogs had been shut out twice in Stoneburner's 5 starts. Stoneburner, a righty hurler, who was a 14th round selection by the Yankees in last year's amateur draft, struck out 7 straight BlueClaws at one stretch in Wednesday's contest. By the end of his outing, Stoneburner struck out 11 BlueClaws over 7 innings.

On the other side of the field, Lakewood's lefty hurler Nick Hernandez entered the game sporting an ERA even better than Stoneburner's at 2.12. Hernandez, 21, entered his sixth start as the only BlueClaws starter to throw at least 6 innings in each of his starts to date this season. He extended that streak by day's end, going 7 innings, striking out 9 and allowing just 1 earned run.

Unable to muster a single run against the RiverDogs, the BlueClaws fell 2-0. Stoneburner, whose fastball was still being clocked at 95 MPH in his final inning, held Lakewood to just 2 hits, and Ronny Marte completed the shut out with two innings of work.

The BlueClaws threatened in the 8th inning, as Domingo Santana led off the inning with a double and moved over to third base on a single by catcher Torre Langley. Jonathan Villar then followed with a liner back to Marte, who started a 1-6-3-2 triple play that ended when the 'Dogs cut down the 17-year-old Santana at home plate. According to the BlueClaws, it was the second triple play turned in FirstEnergy Park history.

Speaking about his performance, Stoneburner gave credit to his team for the excellent outing. "Defense played great behind me, and (Ray) Kruml threw a guy out at third," Stoneburner said. "My catcher (Kyle Higashioka) and I were on the same page all day. He called a great game and whatever he called I just tried to put it where he called it, and I was able to execute some pitches today."

The home plate umpire, Shaun Lampe, appeared to be calling a game that was advantageous to the pitchers, with a large strike zone. Asked about that playing into his favor, Stoneburner finally took some credit. "I consistently hit some spots and, maybe, one or two he gave me. But other than that, he didn't really give me too much." Lakewood pitcher Nick Hernandez was more humble regarding the pitcher-friendly Lampe's zone. "He was definitely on the generous side," Hernandez, the Phillies' 12th round draft selection in 2009 stated. "That's pretty much why I punched out 9. Both pitchers had a pretty big zone today."

The victory on Wednesday was Stoneburner's first professional victory. "I just try and go out there and keep the runs to a minimum and do my best to put my team in a position to win", Stoneburner said. "I don't worry about wins and losses too much because I can't control it. It's good (for me) to get a win, but it's really not the priority."

Charleston's victory takes their record to 12-15, placing them 5 1/2 games out of first place in the SAL Southern division. The BlueClaws, now 14-13, are now 2 1/2 games behind Northern division leader Hickory. The two teams are back at it tomorrow evening at 6:35pm. All BlueClaws games can be heard live online on The Shore Sports Network's internet feed.
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