Bullpen Locks Down Nailbiting Win: Long Shines in First Career Start

Coming off of a three-game sweep, there was some excitement in the air in Visalia as Yoan Lopez, the eight-million dollar man out of Cuba who had been ranked as high as the 5th best prospect in the Diamondbacks system in 2015, was scheduled to get the start. But after completing his warm-up pitches he felt discomfort in his throwing arm and never took the field. So it was up to the bullpen. Enter Keegan Long, who had never started a game in his pro career, who was thrust into the starting role.

“I heard about 10 minutes before game time (that I was starting), so it wasn’t ideal, but I just had the mindset of going in there and doing what I do and throwing strikes,” said Long.

Long shined, going 3.2 innings while allowing only one run on four hits with four strikeouts. It wasn’t enough to pick up the win, but he gave the Rawhide exactly what they needed: a good start where the rest of the bullpen could pick up the remainder of the game. Long worked around trouble in every inning. He only put together one clean frame in the third, but was able to weave in and out of traffic on the base paths to minimize the damage. The only run he gave up was on a solo homer hit by Josh Naylor in the fourth, a blast over the left-center field wall. Long was lifted with a runner on first and two outs, and gave way to Kirby Bellow.

“We ambushed Keegan Long with the start and it was amazing what he did…. We can’t be more thankful for his appearance tonight,” said Rawhide Manager Shelley Duncan. “It’s funny, sometimes with the bullpen guys, that’s when (a good start) happens, when they don’t have time to think about it. When you ambush them like that, they can just get in their bullpen routine like a normal performance. This outing showed a lot of people what (Long) is capable of.”

Bellow (1-0) picked up right where Long had left off, getting out of the jam by inducing a groundout from Ruddy Giron. Long would end up tossing 3.1 scoreless innings in relief, striking out four and allowing only one hit. Mason McCullough gave up a run in the eighth but struck out the side to preserve the lead. Then in the ninth, Bud Jeter was called upon for the save and things got interesting.

Giron reached on a ground ball single up the middle and advanced to second on a wild pitch, putting the tying run in scoring position with one out. After Jeter struck out Taylor Kohlwey, he hit Chris Baker with the first pitch of the at bat, putting the go-ahead run on. Then catcher Frank Christy saw a pitch to Edwin Moreno skip out of his glove, advancing the runners on the past ball and putting the tying run 90 feet away with 1 out. But Jeter (SV, 4) struck out Moreno on a high fastball and induced a flyout from Michael Gettys to end the game.

The Rawhide put together a solid offensive night as a club, bunching hits in the third and sixth to score runs. Daniel Lockhart acted as the spark plug in the third inning with a one-out double, his third extra base hit in the last two games, and scored on a Sergio Alcantara single. Then in the sixth, Matthew McPhearson reached on a leadoff bunt single and was scored by an Alcantara triple. Alcantara would come home to score on a wild pitch, giving Visalia (10-8) their third and final run of the game.

Lake Elsinore (7-11) got another fantastic start from right-hander Chris Huffman. Huffman (1-1) went the distance in the loss, tossing eight innings and allowing three runs on eight hits with four strikeouts to pick up his first career complete game. He had entered play with 15 straight scoreless innings to start the season.

The Rawhide continue the series tomorrow evening and will send RHP Jose Almonte against Lake Elsinore’s LHP Joey Lucchesi. First pitch will be at 6:00 PM and it’ll be a Two-fer-Tuesday at the ballpark. Fans can pick up a 2-1 voucher at participating Chevron and Texaco stations and receive two tickets for the price of one when they bring it to the Rawhide Ticket Office tomorrow night. Tickets and more information are available on rawhidebaseball.com.

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