(Greenville, SC) – Joe Cruz struck out a season-high eight batters on Monday night but the righty had a tough third inning, allowing three earned runs in an eventual 13-0 loss to the Greenville Drive (36-27). Cruz took the loss despite the high strikeout total, falling to 2-3 on the season. With the loss, the Hot Rods (31-33) were swept for the first time this season which, coupled with a win by Charleston, officially eliminates the Hot Rods from the first half divisional race.
Cruz was ‘cruising’ through his outing against Greenville after two innings despite after sitting through a 39-minute rain delay after striking out lead-off man Zach Gentile to begin the game. After the rain, he picked up right where he left off, giving up a single to Tim Federowicz before striking out the next five batters through the end of the second inning.
In the third inning the Drive figured Cruz out. Joe would strike out two more batters, bumping his total to eight, but not before the Drive got three runs against him. It started with a double by Michael Almanzar and a walk to the No. 9 hitter David Marks. With the top of the order coming up, Gentile laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt. Cruz threw to third too late to get Almanzer, but the ball got by Jeremy Beckham to allow Almanzar to score the first run.
One batter later Federowicz picked up his second hit against Cruz, a double to right-center to score both runs and give Greenville a 3-0 lead. Cruz would get out of the inning from there, picking up two more strikeouts along the way to bump his total to eight.
In the fourth the Drive added to their lead, knocking Cruz from the game after a lead-off single, stolen base, and a walk left Greenville with a runner at third base with one out. Neil Schenk came on in relief of Cruz and proceeded to allow the first four batters he faced to reach, extending the lead to 5-0. Cruz was charged with four runs over his 3.1 innings. He allowed four hits and two walks to go along with the eight K’s.
While Greenville’s bats were swinging away the Drive was forced to mix-and-match its pitching. That’s because starter Stephen Fife was removed after the rain delay after throwing a scoreless first inning. Reliever Mike Lee came on for Fife and he was flat-out dominant. He threw five scoreless innings, allowing just two hits in his last inning of work. The 6-7 righty struck out five and walked only one in his second appearance against Bowling Green. In those two outings Lee has eight scoreless innings allowing just three hits, with nine strikeouts and two walks.
Greenville would add more runs as the game progressed, scoring runs one against Schenk, three (two earned) against Jamie Bagley, and then five more off of Diego Echeverria in the seventh inning. Marquis Fleming pitched a scoreless eight allowing just a one-out single.
The Hot Rods begin the second leg of their road trip on Tuesday night at Applebee’s Park in Lexington, KY. RHP Nick Barnese (0-0, 1.50) makes his third start of the season against Lexington RHP Jordan Lyles (2-6, 3.26).