On a night where Darth Vader threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Volcanoes Stadium, the force was squarely with the AquaSox as they scored the final eight runs on a 98-degree night to even a three-game series with Salem-Keizer. Walter Suriel gave up five hits and four runs in the first two innings and looked like he would be heading for the clubhouse early, but he battled impressively through four more innings, allowing just three hits and no runs in that span. Stephen Hensley, Eddy Fernandez, and Javier Martinez threw an inning each to close out the night. On the offensive side, all nine Everett starters had at least one hit and seven different players picked up RBIs. Travis Howell led the way with three hits, an RBI, and two runs scored. George Soto, Fleming Baez, and Kevin Reynolds each had two hits.
Walter Suriel looked lost early. His release point was all over the place, which led to poor location to the first few hitters he faced. Suriel looked like he was overthrowing a bit, as he was yanking a lot of fastballs low and away to righties. He was lucky to only give up four runs in the first two innings --- his teammates made several stellar defensive plays to limit the damage. I saw Suriel get to 90 a couple of times on the scoreboard radar gun, but he was mostly in the 86-88 range. His off-speed repertoire seemed to consist of a slider he threw in the upper 70s.
Stephen Hensley, the M's fourth-round pick this year out of Elon University, threw the seventh inning. He struck out the first hitter with a knee-buckling curve --- a devastating pitch if he can locate it that well on a regular basis. That was the only great hook he threw in his 13-pitch, 1-2-3 outing. His fastball was in the upper 80s, reaching 89 once. Hensley uses a pretty high leg kick, and a whipping arm motion. It's a fairly smooth motion, but looks like it might put a lot of stress on his arm.
Eddy Fernandez pitched the eighth inning. Fernandez struggled this year with Wisconsin and was sent down to the AquaSox. The lanky left-hander relied on a steady stream of off-speed stuff. His fastball was only in the 77-79 range, but he threw a big looping curveball that was clocked as low as 59 on the gun. The fact that he can change speeds can keep hitters off balance, but he can't overpower anyone in a fastball count. The leadoff hitter in the eighth ripped a 3-2 offering into left field for a base hit. He was fortunate that a couple of the Volcano hitters were impatient and got bad swings in early in counts. As long as he's ahead in the count, Fernandez can use the junk to get hitters out in front. But if he has to come in with a fastball and the hitter knows it, it's batting practice time. Patient hitters will have success against Fernandez.
Javier Martinez was effective in the ninth. This wasn't a save opportunity, but the AquaSox closer looked confident on the hill. His command isn't spectacular (he walked a hitter after getting ahead 0-2) but he got two swinging strikeouts and pop up into right field to end the game. We'll have to see where Javier's numbers go as the season moves along. With tonight's game he only has nine professional innings under his belt. He was throwng 88-90 with the fastball, mixed in with a hard slider and a decent curve.
George Soto continued to look like the best athlete on the Everett roster, but he's still a frustrating specimen. He made a very nice play on a ground ball in the hole and showed off a cannon arm to nip a Salem-Keizer runner by half a step and save a run. But he followed it by misplaying a soft line drive that went for an error. Soto got some good swings in tonight, ripping two hits, including a laser beam into left-center for a leadoff double in the sixth. But, with the bases loaded in the eighth, he hit into a 3-2-3 double play that ended with him inexplicably diving into first base to try and beat the throw. The tools are clearly there with Soto, but the package isn't complete yet.
Nate Tenbrink is looking comfortable over at third base. He handled five chances with no problems, making on-target throws to first or second on each occasion. Nate also looks like he's going to have some power. He likes to elevate the ball. His best swings came in his first two at bats when he was nice and relaxed and really waited on the ball. I think he'll lead this team in home runs.
Fleming Baez has played well the first two games of the series. He's already 27 years old though, making him the oldest player on the roster. Not sure really what his role is in the organization, other than maybe to help out the young pitchers. Baez went to the opposite field all four at bats tonight, resulting in two hits and two flyouts.
Travis Howell saw 22 pitches in five plate appearances tonight. He took seven called strikes, including three in a fifth-inning strikeout, but also walked and singled three times, so I suppose a Jack Cust comparison is justified. It looks like Howell is going to work counts when he can.
Luis Nunez made two great plays tonight --- one on a ground ball in the first-base hole that he snagged with a dive, then threw to first from his knees to get the out. The other came on a chopper up the middle that he was able to run down in shallow center. His jump throw to second to get a force out was just a bit off line.
The AquaSox and Volcanoes wrap up their three-game set on Sunday at 5:05 PM in Keizer. I'll file a report from game three late tomorrow night.