Naturals blasted by Missions, 13-1

RC is in Springdale, Arkansas, taking in the NW Arkansas Naturals' first series of the season. On Friday night, NW Arkansas pitching was torched for 16 hits as the Naturals fell in a bloodbath, 13-1. Inside, RC provides all the details.

SPRINGDALE, Ar. – One day after holding San Antonio's potent offense at bay, NW Arkansas pitchers were pounded on Friday night, yielding 16 hits as the Naturals were trounced by the Missions, 13-1. The carnage began early, as starter Mario Santiago was tagged for three unearned runs in the first inning. After retiring the first two batters of the game, Santiago surrendered four hits sandwiched around a key error by third baseman Kurt Mertins, staking San Antonio to a 3-0 lead. With Simon Castro – the Padres' top-ranked prospect – on the mound, the three runs were all the Missions would ultimately need.

Of course, the Missions weren't taking any chances. They added another run in the fourth, and then sent 10 men to the plate in both the fifth and sixth innings while building a 13-0 lead. Santiago (4.1 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K) exited the game with two on and one out in the fifth, giving way to Kelvin Villa. Villa was ineffective, however, retiring just one of the six hitters he faced before being replaced by Ben Swaggerty.

Swaggerty ended the threat in the fifth inning by striking out the first batter he faced, but the Missions got to him in the sixth. The 27-year-old southpaw recorded just two outs in the frame while surrendering five runs (three earned) on three hits and three walks. With the bases loaded, second baseman Johnny Giavotella committed a costly two-run error on a routine ground ball, making a poor throw up the line that got away from first baseman Clint Robinson.

Federico Castaneda entered the game with two outs in the sixth and restored order, and he pitched the final 3.1 innings without allowing another hit. Unfortunately, the Naturals' offense failed to keep pace or even mount much of a threat at all against Castro, whose mid-90s fastball and devastating slider subdued NW Arkansas hitters for much of the night.

The Naturals' best chance to climb back into the game occurred in the fifth inning, when they loaded the bases on two walks and an error. With two outs, designated hitter Ernesto Mejia strode to the plate with an opportunity to do some damage. After a good at bat, however, he grounded weakly to second base, ending the threat.

Trailing 13-0, the Naturals again loaded the bases on three consecutive singles in the seventh, and they finally got on the board when Giavotella grounded into an RBI fielder's choice. A strikeout by Clint Robinson and a weak liner to first by Mejia ended the rally, and the one run was ultimately all the Naturals could muster on the night.

Highlights for the Naturals were few and far between, but centerfielder Derrick Robinson turned in a strong game. The athletic outfielder's struggles from the left side of the plate have been well-documented, but those troubles weren't evident on Friday. In the third inning, Robinson pounded a fastball to left-center off of Castro, one-hopping the outfield wall for a booming double. Later in the game, he smacked a hard ground ball single to right, again off of a righthanded pitcher. On the night, Robinson finished 2-for-5 with three hard hit balls, all from the left side of the plate. Left fielder Tim Smith also tallied two base hits, finishing the night 2-for-4.

The Naturals and Missions square up for the rubber match of their three-game series on Saturday night. Eduardo Paulino is scheduled to take the hill for NW Arkansas, opposed by San Antonio's Jeremy Hefner.

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