By: Mike Rose
ROCHESTER, N.Y.– The Rochester Red Wings pitching staff was in desperate need of a starting pitcher to step up and Jackson Rutledge answered the call Saturday night. Rutledge pitched five shutout innings to lead the Red Wings to a 4-1 win over the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
"We needed a big pitching effort and we got it, " Red Wings Manager Matthew LeCroy said. "He (Rutledge) was big, he set the tone. We scored in the first and he went with it and was in control. It always starts with starting pitcher, they set the tone and he did a nice job of that."
Rutledge's effort was the longest by any Red Wing starter in the series after the previous four starters failed to complete four innings. Rochester pitching overall had surrendered 44 earned runs and a .340 batting average against in the first four games of the series. Rutledge ultimately surrendered just two hits while walking two on 74 pitches in his five innings of work.
Offensively, the Red Wings got the scoring started early. Travis Blakenhorn launched a first-inning 461-foot home run that made it a 1-0 game.
"I think that might be my farthest one," Blakenhorn said with a laugh about his homer, which was the longest home run hit by a Red Wing this season.
It was the 20th long ball of the year for Blakenhorn who became the first left-handed hitting Red Wing to produce a 20 home run season since Red Wings Hall of Famer Garrett Jones in the 2008 season. He continues a red-hot start to August for the Red Wings' top slugger that has seen him hit 14-for-34 (.411) with five home runs, 11 RBI runs, and 12 runs in nine games.
"He's (Blakenhorn) controlling the strike zone, that's the most glaring thing to me," LeCroy said. "He's not chasing as much and if he does swing and miss it's a ball that's in his spot or a little bit out of the zone. He's really bought in and he comes to play every day with energy and a smile on his face wanting to get better."
Rochester tacked on another run in the third. Richie Martin led off with a base hit and came around to score on an RBI groundout from Jack Dunn to make it a 2-0 lead.
Rutledge danced with trouble in the fourth after a two-out walk and hit batter but Drew Millas made the play of the night to end the threat. With runners positioned on second and third Esteban Quiroz popped one up into foul territory. Millas darted after it on a full sprint and made a sliding catch just in front of the third base dugout.
"When you look at this game the Millas play was a really, really big play. Not only was it probably one of the best catches I've ever seen from a catcher but that inning was going in the other direction and he stopped it," LeCroy said.
The score held there until the sixth when Blakenhorn led off with his second hit of the night. Millas followed with a base hit before two quick outs brought Erick Meija to the plate. He plated a pair of big-time insurance runs with a two-run triple that made it a 4-0 edge for the Red Wings.
The Red Wings bullpen followed up Rutledge with a scoreless inning from Tim Cate and two hitless innings from Luis Reyes to set up Gerson Moreno in the ninth. Moreno has been the unquestioned best pitcher for the Red Wings all season but danced with some trouble in the final frame.
After striking out the first batter he faced he allowed the next three batters to reach on a walk sandwiched between a pair of hits including an RBI single from Rafael Marchan. Moreno would walk the tying run before working out of the threat and finishing off the victory for Rochester.
The win brings Rochester(19-19, 53-58) back to .500 in the second half. They'll go for the series split in the final game Sunday afternoon. It will be a rematch on the mound of the game one matchup as Tommy Romero (4-4, 5.85) is slated to get the start for the Red Wings while Tyler Philips (0-1, 3.86) is the projected starter for Lehigh Valley (23-14, 59-51). The first pitch at Innovative Field is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.