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• Clinton starter Michael Ballard turned in one of his best performances of the year on Thursday night. The University of Virginia product scattered four his over five innings, walking none and striking out five. The lefty kept the ball down in the zone, as only one out was recorded in the outfield.
Ballard featured a three-pitch repertoire that included a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a changeup. Ballard's fastball ranged anywhere between 86-90 MPH throughout the five innings, but it generally sat at 88 and 89. His curveball, which had an 11-to-5 motion at 71-72 miles per hour, was used as his strikeout pitch for most of the night. The southpaw didn't mix in a changeup until the fifth inning, but he did record a strikeout swinging with it.
The Norfolk, Virginia, native picked up his ninth win of the season, making him the first LumberKing pitcher to win at least nine games since Eric Hurley and Michael Schlact did so in 2005.
• Left fielder Chad Tracy had the game's big blow with a two-RBI double in the bottom of the fourth inning.
"I had faced their starter quite a bit," said Tracy. "I faced him in Vancouver last year, in the instructional league, and a couple of times this year, so I know what he's got. He threw some good pitches and I just waited until I got something to handle and I put the barrel on it."
Tracy's double was his team-leading 21st of the season. With the two RBI, Tracy now leads the Midwest League with 57 runs knocked in. Part of the reason for the high total has been his ability to hit in clutch situations. The Pepperdine product is currently hitting .353 with three home runs and 48 RBI with runners in scoring position.
"You've got to realize that in those situations, the pitcher is the one in trouble," said Tracy of his approach with runners on base. "The pressure is on him, especially if there are less than two outs. You don't want to go after something that he wants you to go after."
While Tracy's advanced bat tends to draw most of the attention, the former catcher is playing in left field for the first time in 2007. Tracy says he struggled to make the adjustment early on.
"[Playing left field] was something we wanted to try in spring training and see how it goes," explained Tracy. "Throughout the year, the big thing for me was getting comfortable with it. Early on I was not comfortable. Balls would come flying out there and I wasn't sure how to approach them."
But the outfielder believes he has improved as the season has progressed.
"Now I'm to the point where I'm comfortable and I feel confident that I'm going to make plays."
• There wasn't much offense on Thursday, but young centerfielder David Paisano did provide a spark with his speed.
The native of Venezuela, who was acquired in the John Danks trade this past offseason, swiped second base after walking on four pitches in the fifth inning. Paisano then advanced to third on a passed ball. When Kane County pitcher Andrew Bailey made a pickoff throw to first base, Paisano took off for home and made it in just under the tag.
• Backstop Manuel Pina, whose outstanding arm had drawn comparisons to former Ranger Ivan Rodriguez, lived up to the comparison on Thursday. Pina gunned down Kane County leadoff hitter Mike Massaro at second base after a Michael Ballard curveball.
• Switch-hitting second baseman Jose Vallejo had three at-bats, all from the left side of the plate. Vallejo blooped a single to left field in his first plate appearance and laid down an outstanding bunt down the third base line for a single in his last time up.
After the rain-shortened 3-0 victory, Lone Star Dugout caught up with winning pitcher Michael Ballard for a short interview.
Jason Cole: What are your general thoughts on your start last night?
Michael Ballard: I felt like things were going pretty well. My arm was definitely fresh with those three days of rest. It was just a great night. Guys played great defense, the game moved along pretty quickly, and we got some timely hits. We were able to walk out of there with a quick little victory last night.
Cole: Was it disappointing to only go five innings with the way you were throwing?
Ballard: I guess maybe a little bit. That was one of those times where you walk out there and you feel like everything is really working. It was one of those nights where I felt that I had at least a couple more innings in me.
Cole: You mentioned the All-Star break. What did you do during the break?
Ballard: I was here in beautiful Clinton. I just hung out and ran some errands. We got a microwave for our apartment. We went and got groceries for the first time and hung out around the pool.
Cole: You struggled in Spokane last year but you're doing well with Clinton this year. What adjustments have you made between last year and this year?
Ballard: It's been four years since I had Tommy John surgery. Every time I go out there now I just feel stronger and healthier. Last year was just a long season. I threw the most innings I'd ever thrown. I threw 95 innings in college and then came back and threw 67 with Spokane. I was just worn out by the end of the year.
Cole: Is there one pitch that you're focusing on right now?
Ballard: Probably establishing my fastball and being able to locate that. But I also want to be able to throw my curveball in any count.
Cole: You didn't throw your changeup until the fifth inning last night. Is that something you try to do when you face hitters for the second and third time?
Ballard: Yeah, you always want to go into a game with a certain plan. The fewer pitches the other team sees from you, the more effective you'll be later in the game. They hadn't seen my changeup, but in the fourth or fifth inning, it gave them another pitch to keep in the back of their heads. It gives me a little more advantage out there.
Cole: The area of Virginia that you're from (Norfolk/Virginia Beach) has produced a ton of Major League talent in the last couple of years. Did you get to play with any of those guys while growing up?
Ballard: Yeah, I did. One of my very close buddies is Ryan Zimmerman. We grew up together. I played with David Wright and B.J. and Justin Upton. I worked out with a good number of those guys this past offseason. We all kind of work out at the same place back in Virginia Beach.
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