Friday, June 6, 2014

Eight scoreless by Charlie Leesman hidden by 7-6 final in Knights win.

The Knights have spent the first two months of the season working towards a game like the one they nearly put together at BB&T BallPark on Thursday.

Charlotte played flawless defense, received a gem of a performance from starter Charlie Leesman, and what wound up being just enough offense to snap a three-game slide against the Red Wings.

Three quarters of the way through a stretch of 23 games in 22 days, the Knights pushed back any thoughts of fatigue for eight innings to take a 7-0 lead over Rochester in front of a sold out crowd of 10,222.

Those who stuck around for the final were rewarded by Maikel Cleto, who added some drama when he allowed five consecutive singles to begin the ninth before a three-run home run made it a 7-6 game.

After walking off the mound to a smattering of boos, Donnie Veal picked up his teammate by retiring the next three Red Wings to preserve the win and record his third save.

“There were a lot of good things that happened tonight, especially considering that we were coming off the double-header,” Knights skipper Joel Skinner said. “That Charlie was able to eat up some innings for us was a good thing. We played some real nice defense. That last inning, that’s just baseball.”

Leesman (2-5) had his cutter, curve and changeup all working for eight mellow innings, Tyler Saladino and Carlos Sanchez went back-and-forth trying to one-up the other’s web-gem and Charlotte even its record at 3-3 in June.

The Knights (21-40) stayed on the tips of their toes thanks to Leesman, who worked quickly, scattering three hits and striking out seven on eight innings, while recording 14 groundouts to outduel a former Arizona Fall League teammate in Trevor May (5-4), who fanned nine in six innings.

“I know May really well,” said Leesman. “Congrats for him too, he still pitched a great game tonight. But, you always want to do better than him. I’m sure he’s sitting over there too, like, ‘Hey I want to outduel Leesman,’ so it made things all the more interesting.”

It was fitting that the final two outs of Leesman’s night came on an inning-ending groundball double play off the bat of Rochester leadoff man Eric Farris. The bounce out was Farris' fourth of the game. 

Saladino (2-for-4, 2 R) stepped to the plate in the fifth inning and laced a 1-1 single to center to end a string of four consecutive punch-outs by May, who entered the day having not allowed an earned run in his previous four starts. After Blake Tekotte (2-for-4 2 RBI) became the fifth ‘K’ in May’s last five, Jared Mitchell worked a 3-2 base on balls.

Marcus Semien (3-for-5, RBI, R) then turned on an off-speed pitch and sent it down the left field line to score Saladino, breaking a 0-0 tie. Sanchez (1-for-4, RBI) followed with a double down the opposite line and May began to unravel.

A wild pitch with Jordan Danks (1-for-3, HR) at the plate made it a three-run fifth for the Knights.

At the time, the three-run edge felt like 15 the way Leesman was pitching, but in what wound up being a critical eighth, the Knights added four more, with a two-run home run by Danks – his third in two days – adding the exclamation point.

“To be honest, it was a good position, up 7-0,” said Saladino. “They got a couple runners on and you’re not too concerned because you can get a double-play and be one out away from winning the ballgame. Obviously, they put some good at-bats together and made it a tight one. We had to earn it.” 

Notes: Skinner spoke about the timetable for Micah Johnson's hamstring injury, "He’s still a ways away I would imagine. He was in Kannapolis, while we were away, doing some stuff with them. Today we got him back into a little bit of baseball activity just to kind of get him moving. He’s still a ways away though."... Skinner also explained that Marcus Semien has been used as the DH because he stubbed a finger on his throwing hand and the team is trying to manage the swelling. Skinner expects Semien back on the field soon. ... Charlie Leesman's eight-inning performance tied his May 9th eight-inning showing for the longest by a Knights starter this season.