The wide smile on Chad Tracy's face and the endless congratulatory text-message notification beeps from his phone said it all: the rookie manager's first professional victory was "good, REALLY good!"
The Burlington Bees used a combination of strong pitching and hitting to win their season opener over the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers) 9-3 on a wild and windy night.
"It not only sets the tone, but we were sloppy defensively Tuesday night (in a scrimmage against a local junior college team) and we cleaned it up tonight," said Tracy of his team's performance Thursday.
Sean Newcomb got the ball on Opening Night and showed why he is one of the top prospects in the Los Angeles Angels' system. He struck out nine Rattlers in just five innings, while walking two and giving up two hits. A wind-blown/misplayed triple led to the only run he gave up. He left after 80 pitches, five under the limit Tracy said all of the Bees' starters will be on early in the season.
"We want to keep the starters around 85 pitches because we don't want to wear anyone out."
Tracy thought Newcomb's command and overall performance was decent, "Except for a hiccup in the fourth when he walked a guy and gave up that crazy triple". But, he was satisfied with the way his young ace battled back and got out of the inning with no additional damage, keeping it a 2-1 Bees lead.
The offense got contributions from everyone in the line-up. Designated Hitter, Fran Whitten, got things started with a two-run single in the bottom of the first, and finished the night 4-for-5. Lead-off hitter Jake Yacinich went 2-for-5, drove in a pair, walked, and made a sparkling diving stop at shortstop. Second baseman Caleb Adams reached base four times.
The Bees' got a pleasant spark out of their ninth-hole hitter, center fielder, Miguel Hermosillo. Hermosillo went 2-for-2, walked three times, and drove in two runs. Tracy was pleased with that production, saying, "It was a beautiful thing, turning the line-up over and giving the top of the order chances to drive in runs." With 13 hits and 10 walks, the offense more than did its job.
So did the pitching. In addition to the fine start by Newcomb, relievers, Jonah Wesely, Tyler Carpenter, and Jordan Piche allowed just one earned run (two total) in the final four innings, while striking out seven and allowing just one hit. Tracy said his team had "a good idea" what the free-swinging Timber Rattlers' approach would be since they faced them three times in spring training. He liked the way Newcomb and the others attacked the zone, resulting in 16 strikeouts.
Another factor was the weather. A cold front swept through the area right before game time, dropping temperatures 20 degrees in a two hours and producing wild winds from left to right with gusts up to 40 mph that played havoc with fly balls. Tracy was pleased with his defense in light of the horrible wind and conditions.
Game two of the three-game series is set for Friday night at 6:30. The Bees are scheduled to go with their "piggyback" pitching combination of Michael Bolaski and Austin Robichaux, while the Timber Rattlers will send 2014 third-round draft choice Cy Sneed to the mound.
Dave Bohnenkamp is an affiliate correspondent for InsideTheHalos.com, and can be found on Twitter, @PenaltyBoxBones.