The Great Lakes Loons took the first game -of a three game series- against the visiting South Bend Cubs 4-1 in front of 3,112 fans at Dow Diamond Tuesday night. The Loons (51-49) scored three runs in the first inning and added another run in the seventh inning.
Great Lakes starter Pablo Fernandez (1-1, 4.08 ERA) was brilliant earning his first win in a Loons uniform and proving to the Dodgers he's worth every penny of his recent $8 million signing bonus. Fernandez defected from Cuba on May, 19 and spent a short time in the Arizona league before joining the Loons earlier in July.
The twenty-five year old Fernandez, who was previously a relief pitcher with the Cuban national team, was perfect through his first three innings. He retired the first nine batters he faced, throwing 25-of his first-37 pitches for strikes.
He seemed untouchable until Cubs right fielder Jeffrey Baez took him deep with a solo home run to lead off the fourth inning, his teams only run of the game. Fernandez finished his first victory allowing just one run off 4-hits, striking out 6-batters, through his six innings of work.
The Loons continued their long-ball dominance in the Midwest League with another home run by third baseman Michael Ahmed (3) Tuesday night. The Loons are now leading the MWL with 24 dingers in the month of July.
“We've been working hard, you know, we started the second half off a little bit slow,” Ahmed said. “But since July we've been really starting to hit more as a team, and once you start hitting well and making contact, the home runs will come along as well.”
The Loons definitely continued swinging the bat's well as a team, putting up 3 runs in the first inning on South Bend starter Erick Leal (7-7, 4.52 ERA). Leal, however, would ultimately settle down and hold the Loons to just three more hits (2 in the second, and 1 in the third) in his six innings of work.
Ahmed led off the game by taking Leal's second pitch fastball deep over the left field wall at Dow Diamond for his third home run of the season giving the Loons an early 1-0 lead.
“He threw a first-pitch fastball for a strike and I knew he was going to be aggressive during the first part of the game,” Ahmed said. “So I was still looking fastball and luckily he left one pretty much down the middle and I was able to get a barrel on it.”
Following singles by Alex Verdugo and Matt Beaty, Loons right fielder Kyle Garlick broke the game wide open with a two-out, 2-RBI triple to deep center field which scored Verdugo and Beaty, extending the Loons early lead to 3-0 after one inning.
Loons skipper Luis Matos attributed his teams success to scoring runs early, which in turn gives his pitchers enough of a cushion to increase their confidence as the game progresses.
“We are pitching better and continuing with good hitting,” Matos said. “We've had almost ten hits (in every game) over the last few games, and we scored some runs early in the game tonight which helps out our pitchers confidence early.”
The Loons will be back in action Wednesday and Thursday as they try to complete the series sweep over the Cubs at Dow Diamond.