Despite starting the game behind the eight ball, the Akron RubberDucks were able to use some late-inning magic to overcome an early deficit and win 5-3 over the Portland Sea Dogs on Friday night in front of a sellout crowd at Canal Park. The ‘Ducks were able to claim the victory behind some gritty pitching from left-hander Thomas Pannone.
It was not a night where he appeared to have his finest stuff. He seemed to just miss on several pitches that clipped the strike zone. Despite missing by inches, he was able to keep his head down and continue to work. Friday’s start epitomized the bulldog mentality he has.
“He’s a competitor,” noted Akron manager Mark Budzinski, “He’ll give you everything he’s got every time out and he did that again tonight.”
That’s something he is known for. The southpaw is not a flamethrower by any means and will probably not blow batters away consistently, but his ability to frequently spot his pitches all over the strike zone makes him an extremely effective pitcher. The lefty is always stingy on the mound and makes other teams work to score runs. Pannone threw 5.1 innings and surrendered seven hits but only two runs, two walks and struck out six batters.
A key part of his success on the evening was trusting his breaking stuff. That’s something the hard-working left-hander has been learning since coming to Double-A. He doesn’t always have to go to his fastball when he has full counts or big-time at-bats. He understands the importance of trusting his breaking stuff and throwing it in crunch time with the belief that either the catcher will block it or the batters will swing through it.
“I’ve had no problem throwing my pitches behind in counts. I have good feel for everything I’m throwing right now and feel I’ve elevated my game with the pitches I’ve thrown this year,” Pannone said.
The big hit of the night came from a familiar face. Catcher Eric Haase once again delivered as he belted a go-ahead solo home run off Portland reliever Taylor Grover. It marked the second straight time in as many nights that he went deep for the decision blast in the eighth inning.
“He’s been putting some so good swings together. (I’m) excited to see him step up there and get another big hit for us,” praised Budzinski.
That’s something that is becoming Haase's calling card. He may not always hit for average, but he possesses that unique ability to come through in the clutch. Akron battled for a lot wins this season and Haase has been an integral part of that. He always seems to be coming up in big-time situations before recording the clutch hits. He works hard everyday and is always ready to play, no matter if he is starting or is called on to pinch-hit.
“Honestly my approach, regardless of where I am in the game, is to hit a ball hard back up to the middle of the field,” the slugging catcher shrugged.
It’s not some fluke either. He has been enjoying a strong run of consistency dating back to last season during the team’s improbable run to the playoffs and eventual claim of the Eastern League Championship in 2016. The RubberDucks catcher is supplying an unexpected but reliable source of power in the lineup, helping take the pressure off some of their other big bats like Bobby Bradley or Yu Chang.
2nd Inning: 89, 91, 90, 73, 92, 91, 92, 75, 90, 90, 90, 84, 89, 74, 88, 90, 88, 89, 84, 74, 90, 68, 75, 91, 91, 89, 74
Pannone had to throw a lot of pitches in the second inning. He seemed to just miss on a few pitches and the Portland batters were able to jump on his fastball and collect a few hits. Things looked pretty grim when he loaded the bases with one out after walking center fielder Danny Mars.
“Obviously they were gonna be aggressive coming out when I had the bases loaded. I went first-pitch changeup (to Sea Dogs second baseman Josh Tobias) and I got ahead of him right away,” reflected the southpaw.
However, he was able to get out of the jam by throwing his breaking pitches for strikes. He got two straight batters to swing out of the zone on his off-speed to limit the damage to only one run. The Rhode Island native showed some poise in that inning. He was actually able to lower the velocity of his breaking pitches to 68-mph while his fastball topped out at the usual 92-mph.
Mr. Krieger’s wild ride
Second baseman Tyler Krieger has definitely been battling as of late. He has had to find a consistent rhythm despite getting constantly shuffled around in the lineup. Hopefully he can start to build on something after hitting an inside-the-park home run in Friday’s game.
“I just try and do my job each and every time I’m up at the plate and try and do things to try and help my teammates win,” Krieger professed.
He swatted a deep fly out to center field in the eighth inning and the center fielder Danny Mars couldn’t make the catch. The ball bounced around and off to the races went Krieger. He galloped around the bases without ever letting up and was able to cross home plate to give Akron a big insurance run after the go-ahead blast by Haase.