Fleet, Graham Play Hero In Richmond Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 26, 2014, 22:18
RICHMOND — Kyle Crick is the highest rated prospect to ever don the Flying Squirrels' uniform and with it comes the highest of expectations. After all, Crick was a No. 1 pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft and is compared within the organization to Matt Cain. But those expectations and comparisons came to a crashing halt during in his home debut in front of the largest crowd he's played in front of — sans the Future's Game — and he struggled to command his pitches.
Long at-bats and even longer innings ensued for the 21-year-old right-hander as his high-octane fastball was not enough to keep the Altoona Curve hitter's off the base-paths. His lack of command of his secondary pitches allowed them to sit on his fastball as he competed just 2.2 innings of work.
After the game, he noted the need to establish his secondary pitches — Baseball America credits him for having the best breaking-ball in the Giants' system — and adjust to the hitter's swings. And in his second go-around at The Diamond, Crick wasn't markedly better. He did pound the zone from the opening pitch, retiring the first four New Britain hitters in a row, but fell into old habits in the 2nd inning.
Crick walked three hitters, threw 31 pitches and was pulled with just two outs in favor of reliever Austin Fleet who struck-out A.J. Petterson to strand the bases loaded and gave Richmond the momentum following a loss in the opening game of the doubleheader.
On a night where top pitching prospects headlined the scorecard in Crick, Adalberto Mejia and New Britain's Sean Gilmartin, it was an unheralded long reliever and 30-year-old career Minor Leaguer Tyler Graham who stole the show during a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader.
"That is a lot of what you've seen in the first couple of weeks," manager Russ Morman said of his team finding a way to win. "Something has happened and someone has to come in from the bullpen and throw some big innings to give us an opportunity to score some runs."
The win, the Squirrels' 12th of the season, would not have been possible without the game-saving relief performance from Fleet who tossed 3.1 innings while surrendering two runs on the game. His attacking mentality to pound the zone helped shutout down a Rock Cats lineup which had their way in a 5-4 Game 1 victory.
However, this was not the first time Fleet stole the spotlight from Crick after a short outing, saving him in his home debut April. 11 with 4.1 innings which set up a walk-off win against Altoona. His previous starting experience has helped him take control of games which could have gone awry through seven outings this season.
"I'm just trying to throw strikes, get some quick outs and be real aggressive to keep us in the game the best I can," Fleet said after his 3.1 inning effort out of the bullpen. "I really take the same approach in those situations as I would if I were starting."
But even more important than Fleet's performances was that of Graham out of the lead-off spot. The Richmond center fielder had himself a most spectacular game with a team-leading three hits and three RBIs.
In fact, it was Graham's three-run home run in the bottom of the 7th inning which pulled Richmond all the way back and gave them life with two outs remaining. His hot-bat would also remain for Game 2 as he lined a two-RBI single to put the Squirrels ahead in the 2nd inning.
He even stole the show in the outfield, chasing down a hard-hit fly ball which reached the warning track on a full-out sprint to record the out. But to Graham, it was just another day on the baseball field attempting to help his team win.
"What a great day for him at the plate," Morman said after Graham's four-hit, five-RBI performance. "When you grow up, you dream of having those kind of days. You remember them as a little kid, but it becomes few and far between when you become a pro because the game is so competitive ... I couldn't be any happier for him."
And even though Crick disappointed his outing, Mejia continued his progression in his Game 1 start. The 20-year-old sandwiched two scoreless innings on both sides of two innings of surrendering two runs in a 6-inning, six-strikeout and four-run effort, showing an impressive ability to regroup and pitch effectively.
The growing process for the pitchers and the team continues as does the frequency of wins for a talented team sitting atop the Western Division.