Bullpen blues hamper Rogues in loss
For the first six innings to open Saturday’s doubleheader, the Medford Rogues pitching staff was able to work its way out of trouble more often than not.
Come the seventh, though, it was a completely different story.
The Fresno Athletics mounted a seventh-inning rally for the second straight game against the Rogues, as the visitors from California’s Central Valley scored four runs to hand Medford a 6-5 loss in Game 1 at Harry & David Field.
“We just haven’t really been playing to our potential, and both physical and mental mistakes have been the difference,” said Rogues head coach Bill Rowe.
“When you have another team that’s really gunning for you — their coach told me that this is really their biggest series all season — so we know they’re playing hard and we can tell by the way they’re celebrating when they beat us.
“You just can’t make mistakes against teams like that. They’re going to be on their best, so you have to match that or else that’s what happens.”
Rowe, in his third year at the helm, has seen his team struggle to find consistency over the course of the first three weeks of the summer season.
The loss in Game 1 dropped the Rogues’ record to 6-6 and allowed the Athletics to take the weekend series after rallying in the seventh inning Thursday night to score a 5-4 win.
The second game of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader was not completed as of press time.
“I don’t know,” said Rowe when asked about why his team has been unable to reach its full potential thus far. “I’m desperately trying to figure that out and what to tell these guys. In the meantime, I’m going to keep trying new combinations and hope that they can rally around each other and get the job done.”
All four of the Athletics’ runs in the seventh came against Rogues relief pitcher Jake Liberta, who had previously allowed just one run in four appearances spanning 7 1/3 innings.
To add salt in the wound, Fresno’s two biggest hits in the inning came with two outs and immediately followed Liberta striking out cleanup hitter Cameron DeMaria.
Roman Rosales, who hits right behind DeMaria, tied the game at 4-all with a two-run single. Kameron Bryant followed that up with the eventual game-winning hit, a two-run double to right-center that gave the Athletics their first lead of the day.
“I think (Fresno) just did a good job putting our guys in tough spots on defense,” said Rogues designated hitter Carson Blatnick. “They had some good swings at the end of the game when they needed it and we didn’t. That’s kinda where they got us.”
Liberta was one of five pitchers the Rogues used in Game 1, with the previous two relief pitchers — Gavin Schmidt and Kris Weulfing — allowing just one hit combined.
“Really, it’s just the way that we’re using our pitchers — we’re getting all of our guys work,” said Rowe. “Even if we have a guy that’s dominating, we’re not necessarily going to throw him out because we have another arm that we need to get innings for. It’s really about who’s going to have it and who’s not going to have it in a day, and hopefully you can come in with a lead and get the game taken care of. And if not, sometimes it ends up like this.”
The Rogues were able to cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the seventh when leadoff hitter Mike LaVigne scored on a wild pitch, but couldn’t get the potential tying run on base.
Three of Medford’s five hits in the opener came during its three-run second inning.
Grant Henry and Grayson Grinsell accounted for four of those five hits, with both players 2-for-3 with a run scored.
“We got into good counts,” said Rowe, “but sometimes when we get pitching that’s not quite at the same velocity level we’re used to we tend to expand our zone a little bit instead of being picky. That’s just what happened there.”
Rogues starting pitcher Evan Massie began his day well, throwing just eight pitches in the top of the first and then recorded a pair of strikeouts an inning later to keep Fresno off the scoreboard.
But as control issues started playing a bigger part of his day — all four of his walks came in the third and fourth innings — the high-leverage at-bats became more and more of a constant.
Fresno got to Massie with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth, as Joseph Portwood sneaked a seeing-eye single through the right side to make it 3-1 before Jacob Mainer cut it to a one-run game with a sacrifice fly to left-center.
The Rogues pushed it back to a two-run lead at 4-2 when LaVigne scored on a two-out error, but they weren’t able to record a hit the rest of Game 1.
Massie was handed a 3-0 lead to work with as he headed back out for the third after the Rogues scored three times in the bottom of the second. Henry broke the deadlock with an RBI single to shallow center before a LaVigne fielder’s choice and Fresno’s first error in Game 1 resulted in two runs.
“It’s just about taking advantage of our opportunities when we have them,” said Blatnick. “I think there were some times there today when we could have put up some more runs but we didn’t do as well as we could have and didn’t put up as many runs as we could have.”
The Rogues will face the Oregon State alumni team in an exhibition at 6:35 p.m. Sunday evening before opening a three-game series Monday against Northwest Star Academy.
“It’s just about capitalizing on mistakes, or whenever they’re making mistakes don’t let them get in the way and have bad swings,” said Blatnick. “Keep putting the pressure on them, keep taking good at-bats and having one good at-bat after another. Hopefully the momentum and the snowball effect will come through and everybody will start stringing good at-bats together.”
Fresno Athletics 000 200 4 — 6 8 2
Medford Rogues 030 010 1 — 5 5 1
Avalos, Cronk (6) and Anderson; Massie, Schmidt (5), Weulfing (6), Liberta (7), Erickson (7) and Young. W — Cronk. L — Liberta. 2B — F: Bryant; M: Gra. Henry.
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.