Behind Ricky Nolasco, the Southern League’s 2005 Most Outstanding Pitcher, the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate blanked Carolina through eight innings on Thursday night, eventually overcoming ninth inning misfortunes to knock off the Mudcats, 2-1, in Game 2 of a best-of-five series at Pringles Park.
Nolasco threw eight scoreless innings in a no-decision, allowing six hits and tying a season-high 11 strikeouts while walking two. The right-hander, in his second season at Double-A, stranded eight on base and struck out the side in the fourth inning.
It was the second straight night the Jaxx received phenomenal pitching from its starters. Renyel Pinto hurled seven shutout innings in the series opener on Wednesday, coughing up just three hits. The Mudcats have been reeling from the effects of late-season promotions to their parent club, the Florida Marlins. Top prospects Jeremy Hermida and Robert Andino are two such examples. Jaxx pitching combined for a staff ERA of 3.35 in the regular season--first in the Southern League.
In the ninth inning, Andrew Shipman came on in hopes of notching his 17th save of the year but instead served up the Mudcats’ first run of the post-season. With two outs and a runner on third, Dennis Anderson’s RBI single to center scored Drew Niles, who doubled with one away to put the tying run on base.
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, shortstop Ryan Theriot tripled with one away, and Mudcats reliever Chris Resop proceeded to intentionally walk third baseman Casey McGehee and pinch-hitter Aaron Sisk to load the bases.
Resop then faced the successful task of getting first baseman Brandon Sing to strike out swinging before starting center fielder Buck Coats stepped to the plate with two outs. Coats would hit an infield single to third, scoring Theriot for the win and giving the Jaxx a 2-0 series lead in front of 1,009 fans at “The Big Chip.”
“It was a good feeling tonight,” Nolasco said after the game. “I felt good, made a lot of good pitches when I needed to, and kept them off balance. Every game these past few weeks has pretty much been a championship game. Knowing that every pitch counted and that the game was just 1-0 made it all the more exciting.”
The Jaxx tallied their first run in the fourth inning when McGehee doubled and later scored on an RBI groundout from Sing. For his part, Nolasco was 14-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 27 starts during the regular season. He was third among Southern League starters in ERA (Pinto was second) and first in strikeouts with 173. Nolasco tied Class-A Peoria right-hander Sean Gallagher for the most wins by a Cubs minor leaguer in 2005 and was also tied with Birmingham’s Sean Tracey for the most wins in the Southern League.
“Tonight I had really good command of my fastball, especially down in the zone,” Nolasco added. “My breaking ball was my out-pitch tonight. I got most of my strikeouts tonight with it. It was huge for me.”
“It’s hard to say he’s not the ace of the staff,” said McGehee, who was 1-for-3 in the victory and now 3-for-7 in the series. “When you have the Southern League’s pitcher of the year backing up a guy like Renyel Pinto, you know you have a good staff.”
Right-hander Nick Ungs started for Carolina and gave up four hits in six innings. Resop suffered only his third loss of the year in relief. Ungs no-hit the Jaxx back on July 29 in Jackson.
The Jaxx will go for the sweep Friday night with right-hander Carlos Marmol scheduled to start Game 3. First pitch is slated for 5:05 p.m. CDT. Marmol will be looking for his first win since July 28. He was 3-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 14 starts at Double-A after being promoted from Class-A Daytona following an All-Star first half in the Florida State League.
The 1,009 fans in attendance on Thursday was a slight improvement over the 627 recorded for Game 1. Despite a plethora of noteworthy promotions and free giveaways this season from the club and fan-friendly General Manager Jeff Parker, the Jaxx finished last in attendance in the Southern League this season, drawing on average of 1,654 a night. The team's average for 2004 was 2,342 a night. Second lowest in league attendance for 2005 was Mobile's 2,929 average.
The Jaxx teamed with WNWS Radio 101.5 FM and Rhodes Phillips 66 Service Station in Jackson to give away $1,015 in free gas to one lucky (very lucky) fan in attendance on Thursday.