Twenty-four hours into his tenure as Wild Things manager, Bob Bozzuto didn’t expect to be making such an interesting decision.
Four innings into his first start of the season, Washington pitcher Matt Sergey understood the decision Bozzuto made and didn’t sense the need to plead his case.
Sergey pitched four no-hit innings – facing the minimum 12 batters – in the second game of a doubleheader Sunday against the Frontier Greys. When Sergey returned to the home team’s dugout after the top of the fourth, Bozzuto congratulated the right-hander from Plantation, Fla., and informed him that his day was done. Sergey would not have a shot at throwing the first no-hitter at Consol Energy Park in Wild Things history.
That’s what happens when you’re a relief pitcher and you’re making a spot start.
“Matt had thrown 53 pitches, and that was the most he had thrown in any game all year,” Bozzuto said. “(Pitching coach) Kevin Gryboski and and I talked about giving him one more inning, but we decided to go with player safety. There’s still a long way to go in the season and he’s a valuable arm.”
So Sergey was replaced by Shawn Blackwell in the fifth inning and they combined with closer Jonathan Kountis on a one-hitter in the Wild Things’ 1-0 victory that secured a split of the doubleheader. The Greys won the opener, 4-2.
“We didn’t even discuss me going out for the fifth inning. I knew going in that I would piggyback the game with Blackwell,” Sergey said. “I was expecting to go three innings, so I was happy to go out for the fourth.
“Being that this was my first start, I just rolled with the decision. I didn’t have a problem with it.”
Sergey walked one batter and struck out five. The only baserunner he allowed was a walk to Steve Rogers with one out in the third. Rogers was erased when Chase Tucker bounced into an inning-ending double play.
The only hit for the Greys didn’t travel very far. With two outs in the sixth and only four outs from a no-hitter – doubleheaders in the Frontier League are seven-inning games – Tucker, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, hit a slow chopper back up the middle. Blackwell made a backhanded stab at the ball but it was out of his reach and bounced off the side of the mound. Hard-charging shortstop Ryan Kresky made a strong effort, trying to scoop the ball and make a quick throw but he couldn’t field the ball cleanly.
Tucker was the second and final baserunner of the game for the Greys. Blackwell (8-4) struck out three of the seven batters he faced and Kountis pitched a 1-2-3 seventh for his league-leading 25th save.
“Matt did a fabulous job,” Bozzuto said, who added that Sergey will be going back to the bullpen.
Washington scored the game’s only run in the fourth against Greys starter Clint Wright (6-6). Ryan Kresky lined a leadoff single to right centerfield, and when the ball scooted past right fielder Jon Minucci for an error, Kresky raced all the way to third base. C.J. Beatty followed with a single up the middle.
Beatty provided the first run of the opening game, a solo homer off Brandon Rhode (6-6). It was Beatty’s 17th homer of the year, which is one behind leader Shayne Houck of Evansville.
Playing six games in five days and having traded starting pitcher Alex Kaminsky to Joliet on Friday, the Wild Things were short on starting pitchers. Right-hander A.J. Holland, who spent four seasons in the Atlanta Braves’ system, was signed and made his Wild Things debut.
Holland (0-1) pitched three innings and gave up four hits in the Greys’ three-run second inning. Michael Vaughn, Steve Rogers and Tucker had consecutive run-scoring hits.
The Greys made it 4-1 in the fifth when Tucker scored on a sacrifice fly by Chris Ellison.
The Wild Things pulled to within 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth as Kresky doubled and scored when Danny Poma beat out an infield single and the throw to first base went down the right-field line.
The split pushed the first-place Wild Things to 1½ games ahead of both Evansville, which lost 7-6 in 14 innings at Lake Erie, and Southern Illinois in the East Division. Southern Illinois defeated River City, 6-1. Lake Erie is only 4½ games back in fourth place.
“Hey, we did win a Sunday game,” Bozzuto said, referring to Washington’s record of 3-10 on Sundays.
The most pitches Sergey had thrown in a game this season before Sunday was 47. … Kountis’ 25 saves are three shy of the Frontier League record. He has 43 career saves, which ranks fifth on the league’s all-time list. … The Greys are the league’s traveling team. They play all 96 games on the road. … Since starting the season 9-31, the Greys have gone 15-14.