Generals Manufacture Fourth-Straight Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jun 7, 2014, 09:10
Grant Cain unleashes a fastball during his first inning of work.
PETERSBURG — After a disastrous campaign last summer where the Generals won just nine of 52 games, Petersburg aimed to start the 2014 season on a positive note. However, their first six opponents had other ideas, delivering the Generals six consecutive losses while bringing doubt around the team that another miserable season would be on the horizon.
But the Generals quickly righted the ship after being outscored by 33 runs over their first six games to enter Friday's match-up with Morehead City on a three-game winning-streak. Over the previous three games, the Generals' starting staff had been tough on the opposition, limiting free passes and growing tough with runners on base.
It would be more of the same against the Marlins with Grant Cain getting the starting assignment for just the second time this season. The 6-foot-8 right-hander out of North Carolina Central University set the tone while facing Marlins' lead-off hitter Trent Leimkuehler.
After falling behind 2-0 after his first two fastballs were high and outside due to flying open, Cain settled down and remained square to the plate on his next three deliveries. The right-hander pounded the zone twice with fastballs on the inner half of the plate before unleashing a late-breaking slider out of the zone to pick up a strikeout.
Meanwhile, although his offense entered the game hitting just .199 as a team, Petersburg found a way to manufacture three runs and the combination of Cain and Jamar Hinton made it stand up in a 3-2 win.
"Grant came out and didn't have his best stuff early on, but got into a zone and was able to mix three pitches to the opposition," Petersburg manager Daniel Wood said of Cain. "If you can do that as a pitcher, you can keep them off-balance. I thought he did a fantastic job."
Wood wasn't just throwing out a compliment to his right-hander. Cain thoroughly impressed throughout the night as he fought his own command and a Marlins' (1-8) lineup with more pop than given credit for.
Perhaps most impressive was the way Cain was able to make the pitch he needed to in order to find his way out of some jams, partly due to his own doing. There was the two-on, one-out situation in the 2nd where Cain induced Morehead City's Manny Pazos to ground into a 6-4-3 double-play to end the inning.
Then, there was also the defining jam in the 5th inning when an E-5 on Petersburg (4-6) third baseman Brett Cash allowed Pazo to reach third on what should have been a routine out. But Cain stiffened, getting a shallow fly-out to left field before ending the inning with a strikeout of the Marlins' No. 2 hitter Tyler Burden on a slider down and in. In fact, it was that pitch which made all the difference on a night Cain completed 6 innings while surrendering seven hits, two runs and punching out six.
"This league is chock full of talent and all of these guys have bat speed and they all are trained to hit a fastball," Wood said alluding to the need of getting the breaking-ball over. "Having the ability to throw a breaking-ball in a fastball count ... it makes you so much more comfortable as a pitcher."
But a pitcher cannot come out on the winning end of the contest without his team scoring some runs in support and no one did more to help Cain grab his first victory of the season than second baseman Jerrod Groves.
Jerrod Groves' two bunt-singles helped jump-start the Generals' offense.
With the Generals' offense struggling to take advantage of five free passes surrendered by Marlins' starting pitcher Kyle Driscoll, Groves knew he had to do something to spark the offense. His first moment came in the 4th inning as he followed a walk and sacrifice bunt with a perfectly placed bunt down the third base line to reach base safely. Groves would then take off for second on a wild pitch, putting runners on second and third with two outs for No. 9 hitter Rashawn Tillman.
On a 2-1 offering, Tillman hit a slow-roller past the pitcher's mound and right behind the bag at second base. While Tillman chugged down the line to beat out the play at first, it was Groves' heads-up base-running which allowed him to score from second on a ball hit no more than 127 feet.
Then, Groves laid down another bunt in the 6th to eventually score the winning run on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Owens, showing the type of presence the Concord University product can bring to the diamond.
"He did a great job of reading the situation," Wood said of his second baseman. "Both times he laid down perfect bunts. In that situation, having a guy who can run a little bit and can handle the bat to extend the inning, is huge."
Jeremy Wolf high-fives Ryan Owens after he crosses home plate for the game's first run.
Yet, most important to the Generals is the way the team has come together over the last week to find a winning formula.
Petersburg may not have the power-hitting threats other teams lining the Coastal Plain League may possess, but they have a team full of players who know what it takes to win. They know how make the perfect pitch with runners in scoring position and to make the productive outs in order to win ball-games.
It's what has allowed the Generals to capture four-straight one-run victories over the last week and gives them a blueprint of the way they need to play to maintain a level of success all season long.
"As a club that struggles offensively, you need to rely on pitching and defense," Wood said of how the Generals have turned around their season. "That's one thing we are doing very well right now and it keeps us in the game ... the big thing is they show a lot of heart. They grind and play each inning like they are not out of it."
With a team full of grinders playing a small-ball type of game, Petersburg has found success after a tough start and if the pitching staff can remain stout, a formula is in place to keep the wins coming.