Tuesday night the Great Lakes Loons had an early meltdown, giving up 6-runs in the first inning (9-total throughout the first 3-innings) on their way to a 12-6 embarrassing loss in the first-of a-three game series against the Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays) at Dow Diamond. After falling 2-1 to the Hot Rods in a close game on Wednesday night, the Loons needed a boost to finish the series strong. Tonight's game was similar to Tuesday nights game, only in a good way for the Loons. Tonight, the Loons scored 8-runs in the first inning (9-total throughout the first two innings) on their way to a 12-1 victory. Sound familiar?
An 8-run first inning was a perfect cushion for Great Lakes newest starting pitcher, Jose DeLeon (1-0, 1.50 ERA) in his very first game out of the Dodgers advanced rookie league in Ogden, Utah. DeLeon came out strong, striking out the side in the top of the first inning, much to the delight of the 6,041 fans (the largest sellout this year) at Dow Diamond. DeLeon was drafted by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2013 MLB draft, and had a pretty tough year last year, moving from the Arizona rookie league, to the advanced rookie league in Ogden. DeLeon was 1-2 with a hefty 12.10 ERA last year in Ogden. The 6'-2” 220 lb 22-year old native of Isabela, Puerto Rico came into spring training (and extended spring training) ready to learn how to pitch professional baseball. He bonded with a pitching coach, lost a bunch of weight and suddenly his confidence went through the roof. DeLeon pitched 6- innings, allowing just 1- run, and 3- hits, while striking out 7- batters tonight.
“I think the best thing that happened to me was training extended (extended spring training),” said DeLeon. “During the spring, I was working with a pitching coach down there and he helped me out a lot, he helped me find 'myself'' and I'm more confident now; I lost plenty of weight too so my body is different now, I'm just more confident and I'm going to keep it rolling to the end of the year.” DeLeon played with a lot of the current Loons in the instruction league and in spring training this year; including his catcher tonight, Spencer Navin. “I didn't play with him last year, but he caught me in instruction league and spring training,” said DeLeon. “Yeah, he's a smart guy so we were in the 'same place' today, he knows me and I was definitely excited to pitch with him behind the plate.”
Loons skipper, Bill Haselman was very pleased with his new pitchers performance, as his team prepares for a playoff race with only 18- games remaining in the regular season. The skipper was particularly pleased to be able to rest a good portion of his bull pen, after being forced to burn through most of his relief pitchers Tuesday night. The Loons also got reliever, Luis De Paula back after a lengthy time on the DL. De Paula took over in the seventh inning and finished the game, further saving Haselman's bull pen.
“The nice thing about (DeLeon's performance) was (Tuesday) we had to use up a lot of our pen after that day off (Monday),” said Haselman. “But today, we were pretty much able to rest everybody except for (Luis) De Paula; so that was a really nice thing for the bull pen, and it really helps with 18-games left.”
Loons right fielder, Joey Curletta led the offense Thursday night, going 2-for-5 with 3-RBI; which included a 2-RBI double in the first inning, and a 412 foot solo home run directly over the Chemical Bank “giant glove” sign in center field in the bottom of the sixth inning for the Loons twelfth run of the game. First baseman, Webster Rivas went 2-for-3 with 2-RBI including a 395 foot home run over the center field wall in the bottom of the second inning. Second baseman, Jesmuel Valentin (son of former MLB star Jose Valentin) was 2-for-5 with 2-RBI, and DH, Josmar Cordero was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
With just 18- regular season games left, and the win over Bowling Green tonight, the Loons are now one game ahead of the Hot Rods, and currently tied with the Dayton Dragons (Cincinnati Reds) for the final playoff spot; while still a game and a half behind the Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians) for the top playoff spot. The Loons welcome the first place West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers) to Dow Diamond for three home games Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.