Jeff Nycz (Mid-South Images)

Lake Elsinore Storm hitters struggle in loss to Rancho Cucamonga Quakes

Defensive lapses, struggles with men on cost the Storm as they dropped their second consecutive home game against the Dodgers' Quakes club.

Lake Elsinore, Calif. - A couple of ugly defensive innings and a wind-aided homer cost the Storm on Saturday night as they dropped another contest to the Quakes 5-3 on Friday night. 

The game did not begin auspiciously, as Javier Guerra dropped a pop fly after drifting with it as the wind carried 20 feet to his left, allowing Quakes leadoff man Andrew Toles to reach second base. On the very next pitch, Luis Urias rushed on a grounder hit right at him, putting runners on first and third.

Storm starter Michael Kelly, who worked in the low-90s with his fastball most of the night, then got help on a would-be single to right field when the Quakes runner missed second and was ruled out on a force play. While he did surrender one unearned run in the frame, he ultimately induced an inning-ending double play off the bat of the Dodgers' $15.5 million man from Cuba, Yusniel Diaz.

With the wind blowing strong out to right field, Kelly was tagged for a few extra-base hits on the night which might otherwise have been outs, including a two-run homer by Paul Hoenecke in the third. Overall, the 2011 first-rounder gave up four runs in five innings. While the box score shows three were earned, neither the run in the first nor the fifth should be, and you can expect an update in the next 24 hours. Kelly struck out two, including one looking on a terrific slider, and walked one.

At the plate, Urias, Trae Santos and Jose Ruiz each collected a pair of hits, but the team went just 3-for-10 with men on and struck out 11 times with some fairly ugly swings. Guerra whiffed twice more and now is hitting just .125 on the season with 15 strikeouts in 30 trips to the plate. In both games I've seen, he has looked like his timing has been off, but Manager Francisco Morales sees it differently.

"I don't think he's pressing, I just don't think it's going to be easy," said Morales. "It's nothing physically, it's not his swing, it's the pitches he's swinging at."

Ruiz, still just 21 years old, has looked more comfortable at the plate early going this year after posting a meager .517 OPS in Fort Wayne last season. The big-armed catcher looked impressive on one throw, nailing Michael Ahmed with a laser, but also airmailed one into center to allow the go-ahead run to come around.

The bullpen had another strong outing for the Storm as Jose Torres and TJ Weir each threw two innings. Torres, who is the rare Single-A reliever on a 40-man roster, hit 96 on the gun repeatedly and mixed in a few nasty breaking balls. He was charged with one run, but struck out three. Weir, made his fourth appearance and has not allowed a run in 5.2 innings so far.

News and Notes - Fernando Perez's trip to the disabled list was necessitated by a balky throwing shoulder. It doesn't appear to be a major issue and the organization considered leaving him with the Storm to DH, but ultimately opted to give him a bit of time to recuperate this early in the year. ... River Stevens, who took Perez's spot on the roster, went 0-for-4, but hit a rope to first that was caught for an easy double-play in the sixth. Stevens also made one of the fastest ball transfers you'll see on a grounder down the line at third base to record an out that looked much easier than it was. Urias may have the most fundamentally sound approach at the plate in the organization. Twice with a runner on first, he hit a ball the other way, then with the bases clear, he sprayed line drives to center and the 5.5 hole. ... As rough as things have been for Guerra, the Dodgers' Diaz has scuffled even more. The 19-year-old Cuban is just 3-for-25 in his stateside debut and has had trouble catching up to any velocity the two times I've seen him.

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