Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Charlotte Knights snap slide at eight games with 9-1 win over Durham Bulls

By Seth Lakso, Charlotte Observer Correspondent

The Charlotte Knights had watched their record go from a game above .500 to seven games below over the course of an eight-game losing streak that began on April 14th.

With each loss, you could feel the pressure building. In Fort Mill, S.C., they could fly under the radar. Here, in Charlotte, people were beginning to talk.

Wednesday was about putting all that to bed.

The Knights entered the game with a collective batting average of .213. They opted to skip their morning batting practice and instead wound up taking it off of Durham Bulls starter Nate Karns, on their way to a 9-1 win in front of a crowd of 9,574 at BB&T Ballpark.

The game’s first pitch came at t 11:12 a.m.; by 11:30, Charlotte had a 5-0 lead. By noon, they were up eight.

It had been 14 games since the Knights had scored more than six runs in a game. Three batters in, they had three runs on the board, thanks to Andy Wilkins’ second home run in four games.

Three batters later, Alex Liddi (1 for 5, 2 RBI) connected on a two-run shot to cap the first inning scoring and set the tone for Charlotte’s starter, Deunte Heath, who tossed five scoreless innings to record his first win of the season.

“We came out and scored quick,” said Wilkins, who finished the afternoon 2 for 5 with three runs batted in. “When you lose eight games in a row, any kind of early offensive push is good. (Heath) did a great job out there today too. I think it was just a good overall win.”  

In the second inning, Charlotte continued to tee off on Karns -- who lasted just the two frames and fell to 2-2 on the season -- for three more runs.

Jared Mitchell led off the inning with a triple and came in to score on a sacrifice fly.

After a walk and an error put runners on first and second, Hector Gimenez (1 for 3, 2 RBI, 2 BB) cleared the bases with a double.

By the end of the fourth inning, where Tyler Saladino picked up an RBI with a bases-loaded walk, the Knights had already set a season-high in runs scored with nine.

Every Charlotte starter reached base at least once via a walk or a hit. A feat made more impressive, considering both the starting third baseman, Matt Davidson, and starting catcher, Josh Phegley, were given the day off.

Heath allowed just two hits over his five innings of work and managed to toss just 49 pitches, before giving way to former New York Mets closer Frank Francisco, who made his Knights debut.

Francisco allowed a run on a walk, a hit, and an error. He threw 14 pitches -- all fastballs -- and looked out of place trying to cover first on an attempted 3-6-1 double play, but called the appearance a success following the game.

“The good thing today was that I was able to locate my fastball, you know, and make the hitter hit the ball on the ground,” said Francisco, who joined the team late Tuesday night from extended spring training in Arizona. “That’s what’s most important. My fastball was working really good, so I didn’t see the need to go to my other pitches.”

Asked where he's at physically, Francisco responded: "It’s my second game. I’ve got to be tested first, like have a long inning, and see how much gas I have in the tank. For me, I did good today."  

The win snapped a five-game losing streak to Durham, who the Knights will play again on Thursday and Friday, before heading out on an eight-game road trip.

“Everything in this game seems to be a little bit contagious from a confidence standpoint,” said Knights manager Joel Skinner. “You try to feed off each other. When guys are doing well, other guys usually start to chip in and that’s how it starts. Today was a good sign.”

Notes: Josh Phegely missed the game because of what Knights coach Joel Skinner termed, "a sore leg."
"It’s nothing big," continued Skinner. "We’re just being pertinent and taking care of the situation. We'll see how he does, but he’s feeling better." ... Asked about Matt Davidson's day off, Skinner replied: "When you have these 11 o’clock games, you try to pick a guy that maybe could use the time off and today I thought would be a good day for him to have a day off." Over his last 10 games, the 23-year-old is hitting .086 (3 for 35) with one home run and 19 strikeouts. ... The Knights improved to 2-6 against the Bulls this season. ... The road-loss was Durham's second this season. ... For a link to Jeff Siner's photos from the game, CLICK HERE