Every team needs a stopper. That is certainly true in the major leagues, where every team in a losing streak knows that a great start from its ace could change everything, but it can be true in the minor leagues as well. Wins and losses do not matter as much, but the Bowling Green Hot Rods had lost 13 consecutive games and it was wearing on them. They needed somebody to finally lead them to victory. As it turned out, German Marquez was that pitcher.
Triple-A International League: Durham Bulls 6, Norfolk Tides (BAL) 5 (10 innings)
After looking dominant in his first two starts, Mike Montgomery threw out a clunker in his third outing and you had to wonder how he would respond. Was it a bump in the road or a sign that Montgomery’s inconsistency would never go away? Luckily for everyone involved (well, except for the Tides), Montgomery battled to get right back on track in this game. Montgomery needed 99 pitches to get through 5 innings, but he allowed just 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. He departed with a 5-2 lead before Adam Liberatore blew the game in the following inning, allowing the Tides to tie the game up at 5. But after 4 combined scoreless innings of relief from Jeff Beliveau and the recently signed Doug Mathis, Robby Price drilled a go-ahead single in the 10th as the Bulls won 6-5.
The heroes of the game offensively for Durham were two of the teams veterans: Justin Christian, who went 4 for 6 with 3 doubles and 3 runs scored, and Ray Olmedo, who went 3 for 5 with an RBI and 2 runs scored. The prospects did not have the best games, but twice did they deliver a huge stolen base: Kevin Kiermaier after pinch-running in the 9th, and Mikie Mahtook ahead of the go-ahead run in the 10th. That is a dimension that the Rays are sorely lacking to their team right now, but Kiermaier and Mahtook provide hope that the Rays could get back to their basestealing ways in coming years.
Double-A Southern League: Montgomery Biscuits 6, Mississippi Braves 2
Richie Shaffer‘s huge start could very well be the biggest story of the Tampa Bay Rays minor league system in the early goings. Shaffer kept it going in this game, going 1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and an RBI to raise his slash line to .264/.371/.642 line in his first 62 plate appearances of the season. Shaffer is far from the only prospect in the Biscuits lineup, and quite a few of them contributed in this win, with Cameron Seitzer going 2 for 5 with 2 runs scored and Jake Hager, Luke Maile, and Joey Rickard all going 1 for 3 with a run scored. But it was actually two of the less regarded prospects who came through with the critical hits for Montgomery in this one, with Taylor Motter going 1 for 3 with a walk, 3 RBI, and a run scored, and Willie Argo going 1 for 3 with a walk and 2 RBI.
On the pitching side, Jared Mortensen was excellent for the third straight outing, going 5 innings allowing just 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. We knew right off the bat that Mortensen would not be your typical independent ball signing, and his early results in affiliated ball have been extremely encouraging. Jimmy Patterson, Andrew Bellatti, and Braulio Lara tossed shutout ball for the final 4 innings for the Biscuits, who improved to 12-6 on the year.
High-A Florida State League: Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 2, Charlotte Stone Crabs 1
Never fun to get 4-hit, but that exactly what happened to Charlotte in this game. Roberto Gomez had a nice outing for the Stone Crabs, going 6 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1, but that was not enough in this game. Parker Markel finished the game in style for Charlotte, striking out 2 in 2 perfect innings. His conversion to relief has gone well after a rough start, and it will be interesting to see what the Rays decide to do with him if this keeps up. Will they give him another chance to start or will they start pushing him towards the major league bullpen? On the offensive side, Leonardo Reginatto had the one RBI, going 1 for 3 with a double and a walk in the game, and Patrick Leonard went 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.
Low-A Midwest League: Bowling Green Hot Rods 7, West Michigan Whitecaps (DET) 4 (10 innings)
They did it. At long last, they did it. After losing 13 straight games, the Hot Rods finally broke through with a victory, topping the WhiteCaps 7-4. German Marquez started for Bowling Green and had far from his best stuff, but he battled to throw 5 strong innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 1 while walking 2. His groundout to walk ratio was a strong 8-2. Marquez’s stuff is what gives him a chance to emerge as a real prospect for the Rays, and you have to impressed by the poise that the 19 year old showed in a critical game against older competition. But Ian Kendall then had a disastrous outing, allowing 2 runs in 2 innings of work to put the Hot Rods behind 4-2. However, the Hot Rods just refused to go down.
In the 8th, Kean Wong delivered an RBI single to make it a 4-3 game. Then in the 9th, Granden Goetzman tied the game with an RBI double to send the game into extra innings. Finally, Armando Araiza picked a perfect time for his first homer of the season in the 10th, drilling a 3-run blast that provided the winning margin. Stone Speer, a reliever who has struggled as much as anyone in the system, allowed just 1 hit in the final 3 innings to earn the victory. The players who have starred for Bowling Green all season, like Goetzman, Wong, and Johnny Field, certainly made their presence felt, but it was the unsung heroes like Speer, Alexander Simon (2 for 4 with 2 doubles and 2 runs scored) and Ty Young (1 for 3 with a double, a walk, and a run scored), who made all the difference as the Hot Rods finally found a way to win. May it be the first of many.