The Knights finally gave Charlie Leesman some run support on Friday night after watching the lefty go 0-2 in his first five starts despite an earned run average of just 2.18.
The southpaw rewarded his mates with eight shutout innings of work against the Buffalo Bisons in an eventual 5-3 win for Charlotte in game one of a four-game series in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,308 at BB&T BallPark.
Matched up against former Toronto Blue Jays All-Star Ricky Romero, Leesman was more than up to the task, scattering four hits, while striking out a season-high nine on his way to the elusive ‘W’.
“It feels good to get that first win,” said Leesman, who lowered his ERA to 1.70. “It was a good outing. I got some great defense behind me. It’s nice to get that win on a night like tonight.”
The 27-year-old, who had received just 10 total runs of support in his previous five starts, spoke after the game about some mechanical adjustments that he’d been working on that paid dividends.
“I’ve just been trying to fine-tune some things,” he said. “I think keeping along with that, I was able to throw all of my pitches a little bit better tonight.”
Leesman’s lasted at least five innings in all six of his Triple-A starts this season, while never allowing more than three earned runs. On Friday, he threw 72 of his 108 pitches for strikes.
“I just go out trying to have fun,” he said. “I throw as many strikes as I can and try to test hitters. Sometimes you can get caught up working around guys a bit, but I’ve come to the realization that you should just try to throw your best stuff to everyone and see if they can hit it.”
Both Josh Phegley (1-for-3) and Tyler Saladino (1-for-3) hit home runs off Romero – with Phegley’s clanking off the left field foul pole – to help end the lefty’s night after just three innings and five earned runs.
Asked if his team had felt any kind of pressure to put up some runs for Leesman, Knights manager Joel Skinner responded: “We don’t get too caught up in that. We haven’t scored a lot of runs, period. That’s just the reality. It’s just nice for Charlie to go out and pitch the way he did tonight.”
Final: Knights 5, Bisons 3 -- Mitchell Boggs came on for Leesman and was touched up for three runs in 1/3 of an inning. Javy Guerra came on and threw one pitch and got a double play to record his third save of the season.
End of 8th: Knights 5, Bisons 0 -- Leesman walked the first batter of the eighth, but then K'd Ryan Goins, got Mike Nickeas to ground out and finished his night off with a strikeout of Jonathan Diaz.
Charlie Leesman's line: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K -- 108 pitches (73 strikes)
End of 7th: Knights 5, Bisons 0 -- Leesman allowed two hits but also fanned two in a scoreless frame. Alex Liddi singled with two outs for the Knights but was stranded at first.
End of 6th: Knights 5, Bisons 0 -- Two ground outs to short and a K for Leesman, who has faced the minimum through six innings of work despite allowing two hits and walking a batter. (Phegley caught a runner stealing and he's induced two double plays).
RHP John Stilson held the Knights scoreless in the sixth.
End of 5th: Knights 5, Bisons 0 -- Scary moment...with one out, Knights 2B Carlos Sanchez made a diving stop on a ball up the middle and collapsed to the grass holding his shoulder. However, after a several minute delay he was able to remain in the game. The next batter grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Sanchez looked ok turning it.
In the bottom half of the inning, Dan Black doubled off the wall in center, but was stranded there when Alex Liddi and Tyler Saladino each K'd.
End of 4th: Knights 5, Bisons 0 -- Leesman's no-no disappeared when he allowed a one-out single to Anthony Gose, but after Josh Phegley threw Gose out trying to steal second, the southpaw has still faced the minimum through four.
Rob Rasmussen tossed a scoreless inning for the Herd, working around a walk to Jordan Danks.
Ricky Romero's line: 3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 BB, 3 K -- 72 pitches (31 strikes)
End of 3rd: Knights 5, Bisons 0 -- Leesman struck out two on his way to a perfect inning. Through three innings the southpaw is yet to surrender a hit.
Romero ran out of luck in the third. Josh Phegley greeted him with a solo home run to begin the inning. With two outs and Dan Black (single) on first, Tyler Saladino took a 3-1 Romero fastball out for the Knights second home run of the inning.
End of 2nd: Knights 2, Bisons 0 -- Leesman walked Dan Johnson to start the inning, but recovered quickly by getting Jared Goedert to bounce into a double play and Brett Carroll to ground to third.
The Knights continued to miss opportunities to knock Romero out of this game. The lefty walked the bases loaded with two outs, but Jordan Danks was called out on strikes to end the threat. Romero has now thrown 52 pitches (19 strikes).
End of 1st: Knights 2, Bisons 0 -- After Charlie Leesman tossed a one-two-three first, the Knights put up two runs against Rickey Romero.
The southpaw allowed a leadoff double to Gorkys Hernandez, then walked Carlos Sanchez and allowed an infield single to Jordan Danks. On the Danks RBI single, Romero threw the ball into right field, allowing Sanchez to take third. Josh Phegley then knocked in Sanchez with a fielder's choice.
The inning could have been much worse for Romero, but Andy Wilkins grounded into a double play and Dan Black bounced back to him for the inning's final out.
Gorkys Hernandez RF
Carlos Sanchez 2B
Jordan Danks CF
Josh Phegley C
Andy Wilkins DH
Dan Black 1B
Alex Liddi 3B
Tyler Saladino SS
Jared Mitchell LF
Pitching: LHP Charlie Leesman (0-2, 2.17)
Darin Mastroianni CF
Anthony Gose RF
Kevin Pillar LF
Dan Johnson 1B
Jared Goedert 3B
Brett Carroll DH
Ryan Goins 2B
Mike Nickeas C
Jonathan Diaz SS
Pitching: LHP Ricky Romero (0-0, 4.88)
Game time: 7:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: MiLB.tv / ESPN 730
Stat of the Day: Rather than fly from Chicago to Charlotte, Jordan Danks chose to drive the 750 miles himself. He called the ride “not too bad” prior to today’s game.
Notes: To make room for Jordan Danks, who was optioned to Charlotte by the White Sox on Wednesday, the Knights have released outfielder Denis Phipps ... Knights 2B Carlos Sanchez has hit in 11 straight games and reached base safely in his last 24. … Knights 3B Matt Davidson said on Friday that his hand is “good now” and that he will be back in the lineup on Saturday. Counting today, Davidson has missed six straight games. … Andy Wilkins hit his team-leading sixth home run of the season on Thursday. Wilkins has now hit safely in three straight and 10 of his last 13. After hitting .183 in April, the left-hander is batting .276 in May (7 G). ... The Knights lead the all-time series against the Bisons 69-63, despite being swept in a four-game series in Buffalo earlier this season.
Knights Walkup Song of the Day: Blake Tekotte – White Walls, by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.