Friday, May 15, 2015

Knights issue Chiefs free pass, fall 9-3 in Micah Johnson's return

Don't walk the leadoff man. It's Baseball 101.

On Friday, the Charlotte Knights' pitching staff chose to put the long-held theory to the test and paid for it in the win-loss column, dropping a 9-3 game to the Syracuse Chiefs in front of 10,534 at BB&T Ballpark.  

Statistically speaking, a leadoff walk will score 38-percent of the time. In Friday's loss, the Chiefs scored 100-percent of the time.

Syracuse batters earned free passes to begin the third, fifth and sixth innings, and in each occasion went on to post a crooked number on the scoreboard.

Erik Johnson (3-3) got the start for the Knights (19-15) and was perfect through two innings before walking Matt den Dekker to start the third inning. Following back-to-back groundouts handled easily by the newly-reassigned Micah Johnson, Emmanuel Burriss (3 for 5) ripped a triple to right-center to tie the game at 1-1.

Two innings later, Johnson missed wide with a 3-1 fastball to Steve Lerud. After the right-hander once again retired the next two batters (sacrifice bunt, strikeout), Tony Gwynn Jr. came up with a two-out RBI double to put Syracuse (16-19) on top for good.

It was the final inning for Johnson, whose final lane read: 5IP, 3H, 3R, 4BB, 5K -- 101 pitches (59 strikes).

An inning later, it was Jared Casey's turn to spot the Chiefs a runner on first. After a second walk, a wild pitch and a single, Burriss knocked in his third and fourth runs of the game with a single that bounced off the pitcher's mound and into centerfield.

Matthew Spann (1-0), who was promoted from the Class A+ Carolina League's Potomac Nationals earlier in the day, made the spot start for the Chiefs in place of A.J. Cole, who was promoted to the Nationals, and held the Knights to one unearned run on two hits over six innings.

Charlotte loaded the bases with no one out in the bottom of the seventh and made it a 6-3 game thanks to a RBI fielder's choice by Drew Garcia and a sacrifice fly by Johnson, but that's as close as the Knights would get, with the Chiefs adding three insurance runs in the ninth off Daniel Webb.

"The (leadoff walks) pushed up (Johnson's) pitch count. You could probably take away 25-30 pitches just from that alone. Leadoff walks make it conducive for the other team to score, and even because of that, he still was able to pitch around it a little bit. But, you know, I think he threw close to 100 pitches through five innings." -- Knights' manager Joel Skinner. 

Worth mentioning
In his first appearance since being reassigned by the Chicago White Sox to the Knights, Micah Johnson batted leadoff and played second base. Johnson finished the night 0-3 with a walk, a stolen base, and a sacrifice fly. Johnson filled the roster spot vacated by Carlos Sanchez, whose promotion to Chicago was made official on Friday. ... Knights first baseman Dan Black (1-for-3, 2B) knocked in his 21st run of the season with a first-inning double to pull even with Matt Davidson for the team lead in RBI. ... The sellout crowd of 10,534 was the Knights' largest of the regular season and their 10th in 20 openings at BB&T Ballpark this year. The Knights posted a Minor-League best 31 sellouts in 2014. 

What's next?
The Knights will play the second game of their three-game series with the Chiefs on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. at BB&T Ballpark. RHP Kyle Drabek (0-1, 1.89) will take the mound for the Knights against Chiefs’ RHP Scott McGregor (3-2 3.62).

Micah Johnson spoke after the game

Here's the transcript...

Q: What was the message from the White Sox when they reassigned you to Charlotte?
A: Nothing really, they don't tell you much. They just send you down. 

Q: That was it? They just walked in and...
A: Na, I got a phone call.

Q: What are you planning to work on in Charlotte?
A: I'm going to work on everything I've always done. I work every day at the same stuff. No need to change. I'll keep working in the cage, on the field defensively, stealing, base running. Nothing specific, I'm just going to keep working. That doesn't' change. 

Q: More confidence at the plate after facing Major League pitching all season?
A: No, I'm a pretty confident guy I think. My confidence was pretty good at the plate. I thought I held my own pretty decently at the plate, so my confidence has always been there. Tonight, I hit balls well and that's all I can do. You can't follow it, so all you can do is put the barrel to it -- which I did three times tonight -- and the rest will take care of itself.

Q: How do you feel defensively right now?
A: Great. I feel really good, really confident. My hands have been working really well. Me and (White Sox third base coach) Joe McEwing did early work pretty much every day for probably the last three weeks, just working on ground balls and everything has been great. The ground balls have been smooth really. Today, I got a chance to go out there and make a few plays, but, you know, defense is good man. I feel confident about it.