There are easier assignments for a scuffling Frontier League baseball team than the one the Rockford Aviators were given Sunday evening.
After losing the first two games of a weekend series against the Wild Things, Rockford sent pitcher Dan Meyer, a reliever who was making a spot start, to the mound. The Aviators’ hitters, meanwhile, had the unenviable task of trying to bat against Washington starter Scott Dunn, the ace of the Wild Things’ pitching staff, who had lost only one decision in the last 21 months.
“You had to like our position,” Washington manager Bart Zeller said.
There are, however, no sure things in baseball. Meyer threw five strong innings and Rockford knocked out Dunn in the fifth en route to an 8-5 victory at Consol Energy Park.
The loss ended the Wild Things’ winning streak at five games.
“This is the kind of game that we might look back on and think it was a big win,” Rockford manager James Frisbie said. “We could have gone home with a 2-7 record and no confidence. Dunn is a great pitcher and we had to hit to beat him.
“There are a lot of expectations on us in Rockford. We completely changed the roster this year, and there has been pressure to win. But with the top five guys in our lineup, you have to think we’ll compete.”
Rockford scored two runs in the second and fourth innings, then broke the game open by scoring four times in the fifth against Dunn (1-1) and reliever Tyler Elrod to forge an 8-1 advantage. Kyle Dhanani, the No. 7 batter in the Aviators’ lineup, drove in a run in each of those innings.
“We had two wins in the series and had our No. 1 pitcher going. You had to like that, but it doesn’t always play out the way you think,” Zeller said.
Rockford opened the second inning with four consecutive hits, including a 75-foot infield single and a bloop just over the infield to right field, to take a 2-0 lead.
The Aviators made it 4-0 in the fourth with three singles that produced two runs.
Dunn then walked Tanner Witt – the first free pass issued by the Washington pitcher in three starts – to open the fifth, and Edgar Corcino followed with a two-run homer to right centerfield that gave the Aviators a 6-1 lead.
That was all for Dunn, who gave up an uncharacteristic nine hits in four innings.
“In that one inning, they had three hits off Scott that if you stick them together the ball didn’t travel the length of the field. He deserved a better fate,” Zeller said. “They hit a couple of breaking pitches that he was up in the zone with. They were hitting flares early, then they hit the ball hard.”
Rockford pushed across two more runs before Elrod could get out of the fifth inning.
The Wild Things, however, managed to chip away at the seven-run deficit. C.J. Beatty hit a two-run homer, his third of the season, off Meyer in the fifth to make it 8-3.
Meyer, who was starting in place of Josh Slaats (1-0), who did not make the trip, gave up four hits in five innings and struck out five.
With the game turned over to the Rockford bullpen, Washington closed to within 8-5 when designated hitter Maxx Garrett hit a two-run homer to left field in the eighth off Mike Schaub.
Gerardo Sanchez, the fifth Rockford pitcher of the game, had a 1-2-3- ninth for his second save.
The loss was Washington’s first in six home games and left them with a 5-4 record after nine games. Zeller has said he likes to break the season into 10-game stretches and winning six of every 10 should put his team in playoff contention at season’s end.
“Bart has a really good lineup,” Frisbie said. “Those guys are hot right now. Beatty is just killing the ball.”
Jim Vahalik’s RBI-groundout in the fourth inning scored Carter Bell with Washington’s first run … The loss was only the second for Dunn since Aug. 17, 2012, when he was pitching for Traverse City and lost a start at River City. … Washington begins a three-game series at Joliet Tuesday night before returning home Friday to play Windy City. … Rockford has used seven starting pitchers in nine games. … The Aviators’ Josh Smoker, who was a first-round draft pick (31st overall) of the Washington Nationals in 2007, did not appear in the series.