LANSING, Mich. — After fashioning an impressive two-out rally, the Lansing Lugnuts stranded the tying run at third base in the bottom of the ninth inning to fall to the West Michigan Whitecaps 7-6 on Tuesday afternoon at Cooley Law School Stadium.
Lansing starter David Rollins breezed through a clean first inning, with back-to-back swinging strikeouts and a first-pitch groundout to open the game. He then erased a one-out double in a scoreless second, where he battled through four foul balls from Whitecaps right fielder Jason Krizan before striking him out on the eighth pitch of the at-bat.
After Rollins retired the leadoff batter in the third, Whitecaps third baseman Colin Kaline skied a 2-2 pitch into the outfield for what should have been the second out of the inning. Instead, Lugnuts right fielder Markus Brisker dropped the ball and Kaline advanced to second on the play, which was ruled a hit and not an error. Then, the next batter, West Michigan center fielder Chad Wright, hit a hard grounder on a 3-1 pitch right to Lugnuts first baseman K.C. Hobson, who bobbled the ball and couldn’t get to the bag in time. Hobson was charged with the error, and instead of returning to the dugout following a 1-2-3 inning, Rollins faced runners on the corners with one out.
Both runners quickly scored after a RBI double and a sacrifice fly, but Rollins ended the inning himself when he cut off the throw to the plate and tagged Whitecaps second baseman Brandon Loy, who was trying to advance to third on the play.
The crippling blow against Rollins, however, came in the fifth, when Whitecaps shortstop Eugenio Suarez roped a two-run double down the left field line to give West Michigan its first lead of the game. That was Rollins’ only real mistake of the game, though, as he pitched better than the four runs (three earned) on his line suggest. The left-hander wound up settling for a no-decision, as reliever Brandon Berl came on in the ninth and allowed a Javier Avendano walk to score to hand Avendano the loss.
The Lugnuts’ offense opened the scoring early and never quit in the losing effort, regaining the lead midway through the game and nearly tying things up in the bottom of the ninth. The top of the lineup paced Lansing’s 12-hit attack, as struggling leadoff hitter Kenny Wilson broke out to go 3-for-5 with a triple and a RBI to improve to 9-for-33 (.273) with an .844 OPS in his last 10 games, while three-hitter Kevin Pillar also went 3-for-5 with a triple, a stolen base and two RBI.
After hitting ninth on Tuesday night and entering play with a .198 average, third baseman Kellen Sweeney found himself hitting in the two-spot for only the second time this season, a possible effort from Lugnuts batting coach and interim manager Kenny Graham to get him back on track. The move paid off, as Sweeney had his most productive game offensively this season, going 2-for-4 with a walk. It was Sweeney’s first multi-hit game of the season, and the way he managed to salvage his night was impressive after grounding out and striking out in his first two at-bats.
After working the count to 3-1 in the fifth, Sweeney hit a bloop single to right field to score Wilson and get his first RBI of the night. Two pitches later, he took off for second base and stole his first bag of the season before coming around to score on Pillar’s triple. Sweeney continued to show his patience at the plate in the seventh, as he drew a two-out walk — his 15th of the year — to prolong the inning.
The 20-year-old got on base with two outs again in the bottom of the ninth, when he singled home Wilson to cut the Whitecaps’ lead to 7-6. He also showed some heads-up, aggressive baserunning, advancing safely from first to third on a hard hit liner to right field. Sweeney has shown great all-around defense at the hot corner so far this season and has showcased his great eye at the plate but has yet to show anything offensively, so hopefully Wednesday night was a step in the right direction for him.