Last night’s game between the Lansing Lugnuts and South Bend Silver Hawks featured the most impressive starting pitching matchup that has taken place in the minor leagues so far this season, and the bout definitely lived up to expectations.
On a night where gusty winds made for a chilly atmosphere for the announced attendance of 646, I was fortunate to be one of mere 30 actual people that were on-hand to witness this impressive pitching display from two highly-touted right-handers.
Ranked as the Jays’ best pitching prospect and No. 99 in all of baseball by MLB.com, Noah Syndergaard, known for his blazing fastball, lived up to the hype while showcasing an impressive curveball.
That curveball got Syndergaard his first strikeout of the game in the first inning, but a throwing error from Lugnuts backup catcher Pierce Rankin allowed the runner to reach base. After a stolen base and a groundout advanced the runner to third, Syndergaard induced a popout to end the frame unscathed.
Using his curveball once again in the second inning, Syndergaard threw off the timing of his next victim, Silver Hawks first baseman Bobby Stone, to record his second swinging strikeout of the night. Then, after giving up a single, Syndergaard proceeded to freeze the next two batters and strike them both out looking — the first on a curveball and the second on a fastball, for good measure.
Then in the third inning, after using a fastball to rack up his fifth strikeout of the night, Syndergaard fielded a bunt attempt down the first base line and twirled an off-balance toss that wound up taking Lugnuts first baseman K.C. Hobson off of the bag, allowing the runner to reach safely. He responded by going right after Silver Hawks DH Gerson Montilla, who flailed helplessly out in front of yet another curveball to give Syndergaard his sixth and final strikeout of the night.
For a guy who apparently needs to work on his off-speed stuff, Syndergaard seems to be doing just fine. He toggled between his fastball, curveball and circle changeup while allowing merely three hits in three scoreless innings with six strikeouts. The man he was up against, however, pitched even better.
Archie Bradley, considered the Diamondbacks’ No. 2 prospect and No. 20 in baseball overall, single-handedly overpowered the Lugnuts in five no-hit innings. Hovering in the mid-90s with his fastball, Bradley, who told MiLB.com later in the night that he could have gone the whole game if his manager wanted him to, looked exactly like a top prospect. He fanned a personal-high eight batters – including a stretch of six straight – induced nine groundouts and issued a pair of walks that both came after full counts.
Despite not managing a hit, the Lugnuts had runners in scoring position in three of Bradley’s five innings thanks to some poor fielding by South Bend and a stolen base from Lansing center fielder Markus Brisker, who had been hit in the helmet with a fastball moments before. The Lugnuts that reached base gave Bradley a few chances to showcase his impressive pickoff move, and there was one time where he started to walk off the mound because he thought he had gotten a runner at first.
The star pitching duel between Syndergaard and Bradley overshadowed an impressive performance by Lugnuts right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, who worked quickly and finished with three scoreless innings of his own, including three strikeouts.
Things got interesting for DeSclafani in the fifth, though, when Lugnuts third baseman Kellen Sweeney fielded a two-out grounder but airmailed the throw way over the head of Hobson to extend the inning. Then, fielding a single from the very next batter, Brisker misplayed the ball in center field but threw out the potential first run of the game rounding third with a great throw to the plate.
Also important not to be overlooked was a dominant performance from right-handed Lugnuts reliever Javier Avendano, who struck out all six batters he faced thanks primarily to his filthy curveball. Avendano, a 21-year-old from Venezuela, was selected by the Blue Jays in the minor league portion of last year’s Rule 5 Draft.
Lugnuts closer Ajay Meyer, who found his footing with Bluefield last year but has really carved himself a role in the back end of Lansing’s bullpen, logged his league-leading fifth save of the year in only the Lugnuts’ 11th game of the season.