The last seven days seemed like a year to Chris Phelan.
For a guy who makes a living – even on a minor-league player’s paycheck – throwing a baseball every fifth day, waiting an extra 48 hours between starts is akin to torture. Then factor in that Phelan was coming off the worst outing of his two-year professional career and you can see why the right-hander from Patchogue, N.Y., couldn’t wait to step on the mound at Consol Energy Park last night.
The waiting was worthwhile as the vintage version of Phelan re-emerged and helped the Wild Things extend their winning streak to four games with a 7-2 victory over the Rockford Aviators in the opener of a three-game series.
Phelan (1-1) and three Washington relievers combined on a four-hitter, and shortstop Ryan Kresky broke open the game in the third inning with his second home run of the homestand.
It was a much different Phelan than the Wild Things saw in a loss at Florence May 16, when he gave up five runs and lasted only two innings. Phelan had a 7-2 record last year in 16 starts with the Schaumburg Boomers and was traded to Washington in the offseason. Phelan’s Wild Things debut was the only time in his career that he allowed more than three earned runs in a game.
With Washington having consecutive off days in the schedule after the Florence series, and manager Bart Zeller preferring not to start Phelan and Scott Dunn on back-to-back games, Phelan was moved back two spots in the rotation. Zeller said Dunn and Phelan have pitching styles that are too similar, and he wanted to separate them in the rotation.
“The waiting was killing me,” Phelan said. “I like to stay in a routine, but the extra days off was an opportunity to work on some things. … I’m hard on myself, and to give up five runs in a game, that’s not what I do.”
Phelan did a good job of ironing out the wrinkles in his game during the layoff. He retired the first nine Rockford batters and threw strikes on 33 of his first 38 pitches. Pitching ahead in the count made it a comfortable night for Phelan.
“My accuracy is the key to my success,” Phelan said. “It’s a lot easier pitching ahead in the count at 0-2 than behind at 2-0. When you’re ahead in the count, you’re not rushing to make up for your mistakes.”
Phelan pitched six innings, allowing four hits and both Rockford runs. He struck out three and did not walk a batter.
Washington took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Danny Poma led off with a single and scored on a double by C.J. Beatty. The lead grew to 5-0 in the third against Rockford starter Nick Cicio (0-2), who was a reliever for the Wild Things in 2012. Consecutive singles by Garrett Rau and Poma set up a three-run opposite-field homer by Kresky that pushed the lead to 4-0.
It was the second home in three days for Kresky, who hit seven homers for Evansville last year. Zeller said his shortstop’s power surge can be credited to extra work with hitting coach Bob Didier and former major leaguer Bill Buckner, who tutored the Washington hitters the last two days.
“Kresky is not a home-run hitter,” Zeller said. “But he’s been listening to Bob and Bill Buckner about staying on the ball a little longer and hitting it to the opposite field with authority. We also like that he’s playing very good defense.”
Jim Vahalik’s sacrifice fly scored Stewart Ijames and capped the four-run third inning.
Rockford pulled to within 5-2 by scoring single runs in the fourth and sixth innings against Phelan, but Washington relievers Al Yevoli, Pat Butler and Jhonny Montoya combined to retire the final nine Aviator hitters.
“We took Chris out at the right time,” Zeller said. “We wanted him to have some success, and we had some fresh arms in the bullpen. I like the way our bullpen sets up.”
Washington had six stolen bases, including two by third baseman Carter Bell. … Pitcher Alex Kaminsky, acquired in a preseason trade with Lake Erie, will be activated from the disabled list and start tonight’s game.