After claiming Texas League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2007, Josh Geer was awarded the start to open the season – and it was a smart decision. Geer allowed a single hit over seven innings, a solo homer in the fifth inning to former San Diego farmhand Justin Leone.
He walked one and ended up pitching to one over the minimum thanks to a pickoff and a double play grounder after an error. Geer retired the first 11 batters he faced, striking out the side in the third to account for all but one of his strikeouts. It is the first time in his career that he has given up a single hit in a start. His previous best was a two-hitter over seven innings on May 22, 2007.
Geer made one start in Portland last season, allowing two runs on six hits over six innings to pick up the win – one of 17 wins he mustered over 27 starts in 2007. The Rice alumnus went 16-6 with a 3.20 ERA for San Antonio, allowing 163 hits in 171 innings.
Each hitter in the starting lineup notched a hit but it was Marshall McDougall who broke the game open with a pinch-hit double with the bases juiced in the bottom of the eighth, clearing the bags with his two-out hit. Those runs would prove to be vital. McDougall split 2007 between Double-A and Triple-A in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, hitting 22 homers and driving in 95 runs across the leagues. McDougall went 7-for-22 in big league camp this spring with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs. He also drew seven walks compared to four strikeouts for a .483 on-base percentage.
After going 3-for-21 this spring at big league camp, Matt Antonelli reached base three times on Thursday and was the only Portland player to notch a multi-hit game. The second baseman went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. He tripled and was hit by a pitch. Antonelli notched five triples last season, splitting time between High-A and Double-A; he was also plunked seven times in 2007. Antonelli did commit his first error of the year, although it did not lead to a run.
San Antonio lost 6-4 to Northwest Arkansas (Royals)
For the fourth time in five years, Mike Ekstrom got the Opening Day nod at a minor league affiliate. Ekstrom, who earned the win to clinch the Texas League Championship last year, went five innings, allowing five runs, four earned, on 10 hits and a walk while striking out five. He allowed three runs across five innings in his first start last season for San Antonio and went on to post a 7-10 record with a 4.76 ERA over 27 starts. He allowed double-digit hit totals twice last season.
Brett Dowdy, coming off MVP honors in the Championship Series last season for San Antonio, hit a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth inning but it would end the Missions bid for a comeback. Hitting in the leadoff spot, Dowdy was 1-for-4 with a walk. The utility player hit .379 in the playoffs last year with four doubles, two triples and 11 RBIs – all numbers that led the team. Dowdy hit five homers during the regular season in 2007 and his first didn't come until June 19.
Kurt Isenberg made his system debut, working two-thirds of an inning. While he didn't yield a hit, Isenberg did allow an inherited run to score. Thursday marked just the 11th relief appearance of Isenberg's minor league career and first since 2006. The southpaw has 113 career starts under his belt over a five-year minor league career with the Toronto Blue Jays after getting picked in the fourth-round of the 2003 MLB Draft. Isenberg was a Rule 5 pick in the minor league phase during the Winter Meetings.
Lake Elsinore lost 9-4 to Rancho Cucamonga (Angels)
"I am excited to watch a little baseball," Jake Peavy said prior to the game, as a packed house of 8,269 came out to the Diamond. "I am up here to enjoy the night."
Peavy stayed for the entire game, enjoying the contest with his grandfather from a suite on the pressbox level.
"If (Nathan) Culp wouldn't have been down for 10 days in spring, he would have been the starter. Brooks (Dunn) has the experience," pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said of his decision to give Dunn the Opening Night start. "He has been here the longest. He has put up pretty good years in the minor leagues. He deserves it as much as any of the other guys. Give it to the guy that has a little bit more seasoning."
Three of the first four batters reached base to open the game against Brooks Dunn, but the left-hander was able to get a 1-2-3 double play to end the frame without a scar. He was not so lucky in the second frame. Six hits and a sacrifice fly RBI accounted for a five spot, and through two innings, Dunn yielded eight hits. His night was over after three with six runs in on 10 hits and a walk. Dunn had never allowed double-digit hit totals in any game since being drafted in 2006, which included 18 starts.
Jim Edmonds, batting cleanup, fanned looking on a 1-2 fastball in the second inning. In the third, Edmonds popped the ball up behind the shortstop and was called out on an infield fly rule. With two runs already in, Edmonds came to the plate with the bases juiced in the fourth but went first-pitch swinging and hit a high fly out to left to end the inning.
"I missed (hitting) some balls," Edmonds said after he was lifted in the middle of the fifth. "I have been playing day games and had four or five days off – tomorrow will be better. (I am) moving around pain-free."
Jeremy Hunt hammered the first pitch he saw from Sean O'Sullivan over the right field fence to put the first Storm run of the season on the board. Hunt would add a ninth inning single, ending his night with a 2-for-5 mark. The first baseman led the Fort Wayne Wizards with 13 home runs in 2007 and split time for much of the year, getting over 100 at-bats just once in a month.
"I was excited to see Jim Edmonds (batting) right in front of me," Hunt admitted. "I don't want to hold myself to a certain level (with homers). I want to put up numbers, especially in the California League."
Dylan Axelrod was the only Storm pitcher not to be tagged with a run. The right-hander pitched two scoreless frames, striking out three. Axelrod split time between the AZL Padres and Fort Wayne in 2007. He posted a 1.27 ERA over 10 appearances with the Wizards, going 2-1 while striking out 15 over 21.1 innings.
"I was just trying to throw strike one and get ahead," Axelrod said. "I had good command of everything – one of those lucky nights where you are dialed into the pitch. The slider was really good. I wasn't trying to be too perfect – going right after them. I think that is how you have to pitch all the time."
Axelrod was particularly happy to get into the game after a long spring training where he felt he threw the ball well.
"I had some close friends from this area that went to UC-Irvine in the stands," Axelrod said. "It was exciting to get out there in the first game. I had a good spring and worked on some stuff. It was getting kind of long there and it was nice to start the season."
Fort Wayne won 7-1 over Lansing (Blue Jays)
Angel Mercado put the first runs of the year on the board for the Wizards, hitting a two-out, two-run homer to left field in the opening frame – the only runs Fort Wayne would need. It was the only hit in five at-bats for Mercado, as he swatted a 2-2 changeup after breaking his bat in the same at-bat. The outfielder hit six bombs last year for the AZL Padres and half of his 38 hits went for extra bases. He had seven multi-RBI games in rookie ball a year ago.
Jeremy Hefner got the Opening Day start and pitched five scoreless innings, allowing three hits, not walking a batter and striking out five to pick up the win. The right-hander's first start last year for Eugene was a two-hitter over four scoreless frames. He opened last year allowing one earned run over his first 20.1 innings. Hefner went 2-5 last season with a 3.90 ERA but struggled down the stretch with a 5.75 ERA over his last eight starts.
Allen Harrington worked the final four frames, striking out six while allowing a single run on three hits and two walks. Harrington also earned the save for his efforts. Harrington began last year in Eugene before getting promoted to Fort Wayne in early July. While he went 0-2, the lefty posted a 1.74 ERA over 18 appearances, including three starts. In 41.1 innings, he walked just nine batters and did not issue a free pass in his three starts a year ago.
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