Lakeland MLN: Breakout with Offense Explosion

The Flying Tigers ended another rough stretch Tuesday night with a 9-1 win over visiting Ft. Myers, in which they exploded for seven runs in the third inning. It was their highest-scoring inning of the year and their best since May 23, when they erupted for six against St. Lucie.

Kody Kaiser led the offensive charge, going 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and his first home run of the year. Kaiser's .358 batting average is still tops in the league, and after a 12-for-27 week with six extra-base hits, he's slugging .750 for the month of June and .535 on the year, currently fourth in the league.

"Its really special to see a kid blossom into a hitter," manager Andy Barkett said of Kaiser. "I've seen him learn his craft in the last two months, and its a really gratifying feeling."

Kaiser is also third in the league with a .931 OPS and second in triples with six.

Only one offensive player failed to get a hit against Ft. Myers Tuesday night, and all but one scored at least one run. Francisco Martinez also belted his first home run of the year.

Meanwhile, amidst the offensive surge, Brayan Villarreal quietly allowed no earned runs on just three hits in seven innings, and 63 of his 99 pitches went for strikes.

"I challenged him to get more ground ball outs than strikeouts," pitching coach Joe Coleman said. "And he won the bet."

Villarreal struck out five and recorded nine outs on the ground, including two double plays. In his previous start at Bradenton, he lasted just 3.1 innings, allowing four runs on six hits. Though erratic at times against Ft. Myers, walking three, hitting a batter and throwing his first wild pitch of the season, he recorded his league-best seventh win of the year.

"He attacked the hitters," Barkett said. "He has a rough game last week. I feel like he felt the responsibility to pitch a good game and go out and get a win for his players."

With Tuesday's win, the Flying Tigers remain within striking distance in the first-half pennant race, trailing the first-place Dunedin Blue Jays by just 1.5 games in the Florida State League North Division.

Despite the win, the Flying Tigers dropped 4-of-7 last week, falling to 33-25 on the year.

Adam Wilk had a dominant performance against Bradenton last week in which he allowed just two hits in six scoreless innings with five strikeouts. With just nine walks in 65 innings, he has the second-best walk ratio in the league at 1.25 per nine innings.

Charlie Furbush also turned in a solid performance, allowing one run on three hits in 6.2 innings against Ft. Myers on Saturday night. He not only leads the league in WHIP with 0.92, the only FSL player under 1.0, but his 98 strikeouts leads all pitchers in pro baseball at all levels.

Despite being selected to this Saturday's All-Star game, he will not pitch, as he is scheduled to start Thursday night when the Flying Tigers travel to Tampa.

Lakeland continues to outscore its opponents, allowing just 25 while scoring 33 in the latest seven-game stretch. After this weekend's All-Star break, the Flying Tigers will play 13 games in 13 days, all against Daytona and Brevard County, a combined 16 games below .500.

Notes: Lakeland shortstop Gustavo Nunez was added to the FSL All-Star roster. Nunez currently leads all shortstops in fielding percentage at .972, committing only eight errors in 287 total chances.

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